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The Perth Zoo Carousel

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by Shannon Meyerkort (subscribe)
Writer. Storyteller. Find out more at
Published January 1st 2013
Does Perth Zoo's Carousel Have A Brass Ring?
To reach for the brass ring is to strive for one's best, or reach for the unattainable. It's a rather old-fashioned phrase coined by the brass rings that used to adorn carousels and merry-go-rounds during their popular heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The rings could be attached to the carousel's roof or, more commonly, a mechanical arm which would dispense the rings, would swing out when the ride was in motion. To reach out and claim a brass ring would win you a prize, usually another (free) ride of the merry-go-round.

Back in 1997 adults were still allowed on the carousel

The ride at Perth Zoo is one of less than 200 original working carousels in the world, and most of these are in the US.

Originally built in 1918 by master merry-go-round builder Percy Wright, whose creations graced not only locations in Western Australia but the UK as well, the carousel actually started life as a smaller merry-go-round.

The lights are dazzling, you can feel the history

Confused? A merry-go-round will have stationary boats and other animals such as swans, while a true carousel will only have horses. The original merry-go-round was substantially smaller, powered by steam and had two boats and 12 horses. It was originally located at Point Walter.

In 1947 Perth Zoo purchased the merry-go-round and employed Mr Wright to enlarge it, install a new electric motor, and add extra horses so it was able to carry the two boats and 20 horses.

It wasn't until 1968 that the two stationary boats were removed and replaced by four more horses, finally making it a true carousel.

In 1991, when the carousel was over 70 years old, it underwent a full restoration, including repainting all the horses, and the Walt Disney cartoons that graced the upper screens were replaced with paintings of Australian native birds and animals in a style appropriate to the carousel's vintage age.

Painting of native animals replaced the Walt Disney figures back in the early 90s

The carousel is open from 10am to 4pm every day the zoo is open, and although the ticket price of $4 may seem a little pricey, the conservation of this piece of heritage is both continuous and costly. The Perth Zoo carousel is claimed to be the only permanently installed merry-go-round structure in Western Australia (although there is a smaller one at Country Life Farm in Dunsborough), and is undoubtedly a part of every Perth person's childhood memory.

Kids only, I'm afraid

During the day, only children are allowed to ride the hoses (adults can accompany them by standing on the platform) but at night, the carousel can actually be privately hired (if you have also booked the Rothschild Room) and many a wedding photo has been taken against the vivid colours and hundreds of light bulbs.

So, does the carousel at Perth Zoo have a brass ring?
If it did originally, it is long gone by now. It has suffered the same fate as metal slides, boat swings and climbing rockets.

15 years later, the black horse still rides

The fear of litigation caused by overzealous riders falling in their attempt to reach the ring, mean that worldwide, few original brass rings still exist (although some do).

These days, reaching for the brass ring is more metaphorical than literal, and the absence of one at our own Perth Zoo shouldn't stop you from extending yourself, and reaching for the prize.
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Why? Reach for the brass ring (itís a metaphor)
When: The carousel operates 10am-4pm daily
Phone: (08) 9474 0444
Where: Perth Zoo, Labouchere Rd, South Perth
Cost: $4 for a ride (plus admission costs)
Your Comment
Hi. Great article. My family business did the restoration works on the carousel in 1991 and it was good to see it mentioned.
by david (score: 0|7) 3254 days ago
Hi Shannon,
Great article. I love finding out where old phrases originated, and this is one I didn't know. I love old-fashioned carousels (& merry-go-rounds) too, but they always make think of that rather wild scene in Alfred Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train".
by Geraldine Massey (score: 3|8170) 3258 days ago
great story!
by sasha (score: 0|4) 3257 days ago
Love the article Shannon, so well researched. I must admit I had never heard the expression before but it is a colourful way of telling someone to extend themselves.

I think there is still a carousel here in Semaphore although they have been struggling over the years.
by Dave Walsh (score: 4|11307) 3249 days ago
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