When the acclaimed American director Peter Bogdanovich visited Sydney some years ago, he was asked what impressed him most during a jaunt around the harbour on an evening media cruise. It was not the Bridge or the Opera House that captured his attention but the bright lights of Luna Park. Less impressed in more recent years have been the many grumpy residents whose million dollar apartments overlook the heritage listed Park.
In most cities in the world amusement parks are well separated from residential dwellings but not of course in Sydney where almost every inch of zonable harbourside land has been exploited for the much sought after ‘view’. Luna Park opened in 1935 at Milsons Point but it wasn’t until decades later that developers moved on the neighbouring land and the tower blocks shot up
The story is a familiar one, a bit like the yuppies who move into a once working class suburb, buy a house within earshot of the local pub and then complain about the noise generated by bands on a Saturday night. And so for the last three or more decades noise levels at Luna Park have been a constant source of annoyance and complaint on the part of nearby residents.
Some five years ago the Park installed the thirty metre high ‘Hair Raiser’ in which excited patrons are hoisted to the top and then dropped to the bottom at a speed of around 80kph. A large number of neighbouring residents grizzled about not only the supposed visual pollution but the constant screaming – even the hoonish behaviour of patrons attracted to the gut sucking ride.
North Sydney Council responded to their complaints, labelling the ride ‘visually intrusive’ and more recently going to the Land And Environment Court to seek a ruling that would prevent the Park from installing a new ride called the ‘Flying Carousel’, without seeking development approval. Luna Park replied by saying this kind of planning crackdown could well see the demise of this much loved Sydney icon.
On the surface it seems just another blip on the radar when it comes to the tumultuous and at times controversial history of Luna Park, that despite closures, the 1979 Ghost Train fire, changing public tastes and a series of different owners has managed to survive – situated on what is now one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the entire harbour.
Admittedly not all of the nearby residents have a problem with the noise and bright lights of the rides but as we know it only takes a vocal minority to put the kybosh on people having fun. When the Park closed in 1996 after suffering a series of financial woes and noise restrictions on the ‘Big Dipper’ its future looked particularly bleak and the real estate developers were hovering, like a flock of hungry vultures.
It took eight years for the Park to be resurrected and when it did finally reopen the much loved ‘Big Dipper’ was gone. The original wooden roller coaster, similar to the one that still exists in Luna Park Melbourne, was demolished in 1981. Replaced in 1994 by a very funky but short lived model, the new Dipper snaked its way around the relatively narrow confines of the Park, at times coming in what seemed almost arm’s length from the neighbouring apartments.
‘The Rotor’ and the ‘Wild Mouse’ are great but a ‘Big Dipper’ is always the crowning glory of any old style amusement park. It will probably never happen but I would love to see it back at Luna Park – maybe they could route it right through one of those soulless concrete towers that currently stand solemnly by like giant party poopers. Perhaps in some way out futuristic world somebody will pay good money to even have the Dipper run right through the middle of their living room. Now that would be something to scream about!