Sydney: Luna Park Turns 85


Luna Park, the heritage-listed amusement park located alongside the Sydney Harbour Bridge, is nothing if not a survivor.

Since opening on October 4, 1935, it has experienced numerous closures, faced fierce opposition from nearby residents, struggled to recover after a fire on the ghost train claimed seven lives, and had rides bulldozed, burned and auctioned.

Then along came COVID which saw many casual workers let go and operating hours cut back.

There’s no doubt the three hectare fun park has had more ups and downs than its famous wooden rollercoaster, the Big Dipper, which was torn down in 1996 after persistent noise complaints from Milsons Point locals.

Against all odds, Luna Park has survived and is toasting 85 years this weekend.

To mark its longevity, Sydneysiders who visit until October 11 will enjoy numerous surprises, including free giveaways and an obligatory slice of birthday cake.

Modelled on New York’s famous Luna Park which open in 1903, and the success of Luna Park Melbourne which opened at St Kilda in 1912, Luna Park Sydney was an instant success.

One of the most memorable experiences when visiting Luna Park is walking through the 30-foot-wide smiling face at the entrance. The giant clown face – made from polyurethane and modelled on an image of Old King Cole, hasn’t always been so welcoming though.

Earlier versions – there have been eight since the park first opened in 1935 – were a lot more sinister, as the images above show.

In its heyday, people would queue for hours to ride the Big Dipper, glide down the giant slides at Coney Island or take a spin on the vomit-inducing Rotor – a ride that still exists to this day.

Spinning at 30 revolutions a minute, the Rotor has a 1 to 1.5 g-force that pins riders to the wall as the floor drops away. These days it seems a lot tamer than I remember it in the 1980s.

A Chequered Past

In April 1979, 13 people were injured when one Big Dipper car smashed into another that had stalled following a malfunction.

But its darkest day came two months later, in June 1979, when seven people (one adult and six children) died in a fire on the Ghost Train, a tragedy that saw the park shut down indefinitely.

The park closed again in 1988 when inspectors found several of the rides were unsafe. In 1994, noise complaints from residents in nearby apartment blocks led to another closure.

When Luna Park reopened in 1995 with greatly restricted hours, financial difficulties soon forced yet another closure.

The park reopened in 2004, owned by the Luna Park Reserve Trust, a government agency. It handed developer Brookfield Multiplex a 40-year lease on the heritage-listed site and park – a deal that doesn’t expire until 2044.

With newer and safer rides – including updated favourites such as Coney Island, The Rotor, The Ferris Wheel and The Wild Mouse rollercoaster – Luna Park has again established itself as one of Sydney’s most popular harbourside destinations. 

Luna Park: A Rollercoaster Ride

October 4, 1935: Luna Park opens in Sydney on the site used for the construction of the Harbour Bridge. 
1936: Admission charge is removed.
1969: An application to develop the site as a trade centre is refused. 
1972: The park opens for year-round operation. (Previously it closed for three months in the winter.) 
June 9, 1979: A fire on the ghost train claims the lives of one adult and six children. The park is closed indefinitely.
1981: Many of the original amusements and artworks are auctioned. 
1982: Luna Park reopens. Application to redevelop the site with high-rise towers refused. 
1988: Luna Park closes. 
1990: The NSW Government passes the Luna Park Site Act making the site crown land dedicated for public recreation, amusement and entertainment. 
January 1995: Luna Park reopens. 
1996: Luna Park closes following Big Dipper restrictions. 
1997: The precinct of Luna Park and its associated heritage items are classified and placed on the Register of the National Estate. 
April 4, 2004: Luna Park reopens; Brookfield Multiplex takes a 40-year lease on the site.
October 5, 2020: It’s all smiles as Luna Park celebrates 85 years.


© 2020 Bernard O’Riordan (Travel Instinct). All Rights Reserved 

You Might Have Seen Our Work In These Publications

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.