Freelance writer, science student and incurable smart aleck.
Published April 4th 2014
Melbourne has a rich and vibrant history for such a young city. Firstly, we've got parts of the CBD that are built atop old cemeteries (the Queen Victoria Market, for instance, is reported to still have the remains of up to 9,000 people underneath the car-park and sheds. Flagstaff Gardens is another Melbourne landmark built atop a former graveyard.)
Melbourne is where Australian Rules Football came to be and is home of the dim sim and the Cherry Ripe. If that is not enough to cement Melbourne's place as a city of awesome historical importance, it has also been home to a number of strange and now forgotten theme parks.
Ashton's Lion Safari Park Bacchus Marsh
Owned by the Ashton family, of Ashton's Circus fame. It closed its doors in the late 80's. It is believed this was due to legislative changes enacted in 1985 that made it harder for the park to turn profit. Also surrounding the park are rumours of escape, a number of incidents with the people being attacked by animals and animal welfare concerns, all coming together to close the doors.
The park itself was a drive through Safari, wherein the public drove their cars through to see a number of African animals roaming free.
As mentioned earlier, there were a number of incidents involving the animals. A 12 year old boy was mauled by a lion at the park in 1978 and an 18 year old in 1979. Also in 1979, a tiger smashed through a partly opened window and pulled a women from the car, killing her.
In a rather sad end, a number of the animals were left to fend for themselves after its closure. The two hippos that reside at Adelaide Zoo (Susie and Brutus) are actually refugees from this ill fated theme park. A number of lions and tigers were not so lucky.
Bullen's African Lion Safari: Western Hwy Rockbank
Again, this park was owned by a circus family, but this one was owned by the Bullen's.
Much like the Ashton's, it was a drive through Safari. It had giraffes, lions, tigers, camels and elephants as well as pony and donkey rides. The camouflage painted toilet blocks still stand on the Western Hwy today. Much like the park run by the Ashton's, there were incidents of people being attacked by the animals. A man was severely bitten on the shoulder after a bear attacked him through the open window of his car on Jan 3rd 1977.
The site is currently home to a nursery and restaurant.
Cremorne GardensBanks of the Yarra River - Richmond
Lithograph of Cremorne Gardens / State Library of Victoria via Wikimedia Commons
Opened in 1853, its is the earliest amusement park on the list. The gardens were home to paddle steamer rides, a bowling alley,nightly fireworks displays and a small collection of exotic animals.
Even though, for its day, those attractions would have been spectacular, the gardens were oft times criticised as they became a haunt for prostitutes and the availability of alcohol was of concern. In spite of this (or perhaps because of this) the park thrived after ownership changed hands in the mid 1850's.
The gardens were also the start point of the first ever balloon flight in Australian history in 1858. An Englshman by the name of William Dean floated a balloon from Cremorne Gardens to Brunswick.
The gardens were closed in 1863 after George Choppin, the owner, declared bankruptcy.
Dinosaur World Creswick:
Okay, I'll grant that it is was not technically located in Melbourne, but Dinosaur World is certainly worth mentioning.
Opened in 1982, had 18 giant Dinosaur models, a flying fox, playground with trampolines and onsite museum with fossils and activities. Although it was evidently rad, the park closed in 2002 due to sky-rocketing insurance costs. Now all that remains are couple of old sheds
Dreamland - St Kilda(located roughly where Luna Park sits today)
Dreamland Theme Park / State Library of Victoria via Wikimedia Commons
Opened on Nov 2nd 1906, it was only in operation for a very short time. The park was demolished in 1909, but the roller coaster remained in operation up until 1914. Was originally built on a drained lagoon, and occupied the area that Luna Park occupies today.
Leisureland Fair Langwarrin
The roller coaster at Leisureland Fair Urgeback at en.wikipedia
An amusement park that opened in Langwarrin in 1984. Most known for its mini golf course, log ride and roller coaster. It had its own steam train that would transport the patrons from the car park to the park itself, and back again.
The park closed in 1992, was pulled down and had a housing estate built in its place.
Whistle Stop Amusement Park Skye Rd Frankston
Small amusement park opened in the early 60's, with an adjacent caravan park. The park had a chair lift which is now located at the Carribean Gardens. as well as a narrow gauge railway, paddle steamers and go karts.
The park only operated for 10 years before it was closed, and has since had a housing estate built over the top of it. There is, however, Whistle Stop Reserve, a playground and dog park on Skye Road that occupies a small portion of the same land as the original. It stands as a small reminder of times gone by.
Wirth's Olympia Circus: Now the site of the Melbourne Arts Centre.
In 1907 the Wirth's circus family rented the Olympia building (which stood where the Art Centre does today.) This was to run Australia's first permanent circus and by 1911, had added an amusement centre with ice skating rink and hippodrome (horse racing track.). The location of this famed theme park, is the actually the reason behind the circus mosaic which resides on the exterior wall of the Arts Centre, on St Kilda Rd. It closed after being gutted by fire on the morning of December 27th 1953, causing over £70,000 in damage.
Wobbie's World Vermont South
The infamous Wobbies World Helicopter Lakeyboy at en.wikipedia
Any child of the 90's will no doubt remember the ads for Wobbie's World (or the D Generation skits, if you're a little older.) It opened in 1970 and consisted of a bunch of slow moving rides aimed at toddlers and primary school aged children.
Some of the attractions that lured young people to Wobbie's World included a stationary helicopter, a monorail, small log ride, mini golf course, trams, fire trucks and trampolines. The park closed in 1999 and is now the site for the new Forest Hill police station.
With such an array of interesting and quirky theme parks in our recent history, one can only wonder which of the ones that remain will fall next? And whether we will, in years to come, remember them.
thanks for the trip down memory lane.
absolutely loved bacchus marsh lion safari as a kid. we had a lion jump on our bonnet - thanks to the solid cars of the day. we also had one sit on our roof, so we couldnt drive out until he was off.
leisureland, i had forgotten about, but i loved the roller coaster.
wobbies world, oh my... hahaha. the helicopter was the monorail ride and scared the crap out of me at the last turn. they also had the noisiest mechanical construction piece that had metal treads - like a tank, on metal surface. hated that one.
oh the fun we had as kids, i pity the kids of today. :)
We lived at Meager street, Deer Park when the Rockbank Lion park was open! A policeman came to our home one evening to notify us that a Lion had escaped and to stay indoors, and bring our pets inside as well! Where we lived at the time was approx. one and a half miles from the Lion Park.
Such an interesting article, Charelle - thanks! I grew up in Bacchus Marsh in the 70's, and the Lion's Park was such a big part of the town, including the various escapes and rumours of who had just been 'eaten'….!
I grew up in Deer Park and the son of the owner of Bullens Lion Park went to the local primary school. I remember thinking it was soon cool that one of the staff used to come pick him up in a big old yank tank with giant buffalo horns mounted across the grill of the car. NO ONE got picked up by car in those days, you walked home or rode your bike full stop so ANY car would have been unusual but this was something else.
This was fascinating i lived just up the the road to the rockbank safari part as a kid and also often had dreams about lions escaping and surrounding our house. Hasnt put me off my love of big cats though :)
by Leanne Sampson-Bowden (score: 2|122) 2049 days ago
I remember going to Wobbie's World as a kid. The helicopter scared the hell out of me and I loved the monorail. When I drive to Ballarat I see the remains of the Rockbank Lion Safari and wish I was born just a few years earlier so I could have experienced it. Great article!
As a young child i remember going to the bacchus marsh lion park and having 3 lions pounce onto the bonnet and roof of our Holden HK station wagon i clearly remember the lions large tail sweeping back and forward on the rear window. we had park workers come to our rescue and shue away the lions we were tpold the feeders cars was exactly the same car and color than the feeders drove to feed the lions.
I was told 12 months ago the helicopter from Wobbies World was used in the hunt for the Prime minister Harold Holt I have no idea if that is right but it now is on Frankston - Dandenong road in Carrum Downs near Thompsons road.