A Brief History of Sydney’s Luna Park

Sydney is internationally famous for the wide open mouth of Luna Park. Seeing the face that greets visitors to Luna Park is expected but exciting when taking a Sydney Harbour cruise and, like the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, Luna Park is one of Sydney’s most iconic and treasured features.

Seeing Luna Park on a Sydney Harbour cruise…

Luna Park welcomes many visitors each year and even more people observe the entrance to the famous amusement park from the water — being transported by ferry, enjoying an afternoon sailing on a private vessel on the harbour or taking in the spectacle of the harbour by night on a Sydney Harbour dinner cruise. While the sight of the park is impressive and memorable, many people overlook the fact that the park and the area in which it is located have a rich and interesting history.

Early history:

The first inhabitants of the land on which Luna Park stands were the Cammeraygal people of the Kuringgai Tribe. In the early 1800s, the area was farmed by James Milson and, in the 1830s, ferry services from the city to Sydney’s North Shore began in the Luna Park area.

What we know today as Luna Park is located in Milsons Point, which was and continues to be a significant transport interchange.

1924 — 1932:

At the time of construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the site of Luna Park was used by contractors to house workshops necessary for components of the bridge itself to be made and assembled. When the building of the bridge was complete, the workshops were demolished.

1935:

In October 1935, the amusement park, Luna Park, officially opened at its Sydney location. Based on the concept of the original Luna Park, which opened in Coney Island, New York, in 1903, the idea travelled to Australia with American entrepreneur Herman Phillips, who also opened Luna Park in Melbourne in 1912 and Luna Park in Glenelg, South Australia, in 1930.

World War II — 1960s:

Excitement and considerable success followed the opening of the park, and this continued throughout World War II. Through the 1950s and 1960s, the rides and sideshows of the park were expanded and considerably enhanced as a result of overseas excursions and insight into the sorts of amusements that were popular in other parts of the world.

1970s:

The arrival of the ‘70s saw artists commissioned to redecorate Sydney’s Luna Park. Because the lease of the park expired in 1975 and the park continued on a week-by-week basis, investment in the park’s infrastructure and assets was limited, and this resulted in some of the park’s older rides being replaced with portable, temporary versions.

Sadly, a fatal fire in the amusement park’s ‘Ghost Train’ ride occurred in 1979. This resulted in the park closing and the NSW Government’s inability to locate and appoint an appropriate operator.

1980s:

The ‘80s were an eventful decade for Luna Park:

  • ‘Friends of Luna Park’ — predominantly artists who had worked at the park — organised public rallies and meetings to save Luna Park
  • The old lessees were ordered by the NSW Government to vacate the site, but shortly before the date at which vacation was to be complete, an auction was held to sell off and remove many of the park’s detachable amusements and artworks. Following this, Harbourside Amusements came onto the site and commenced demolition and building work.
  • In 1982, Luna Park reopened with many new rides replacing their predecessors
  • In 1988, the park closed for renovations and an application to redevelop the park as an ‘adult entertainment centre with high-rise towers’ was unsuccessful.

1990s:

Some of the most important developments affecting Luna Park during the 1990s were:

  • The commissioning of a heritage study
  • Major restoration of significant buildings, creation of a new public boardwalk and installation of a new rollercoaster and rides
  • Closure in 1996
  • The Luna Park Site Amendment Act 1997 was passed allowing for a wider range of uses for the site (including restaurants, theatres and function rooms)
  • In July 1999, a 40-year operating lease was granted to Metro Edgley and their redevelopment proposal was accepted

2000s:

In 2004, Luna Park reopened with redevelopment focused on maintaining the character and identity of the site while updating and modernising its features. In 2010, Luna Park was listed on the NSW State Heritage Register.

Sydney’s Luna Park has a colourful and rich history and remains an icon and important attraction in NSW.

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