It’s a story most of us all know. On the morning of December 15, 1981 Gold Coast entertainment changed forever. Seven years after taking ownership of an 85-hectare parcel of land beside the Pacific Motorway, John Longhurst opened the doors to Australia’s largest theme park, Dreamworld.
As expected, many rides have come and gone throughout the park’s 35-year history. Some have managed to prolong their lifespan via a re-theme or relocation, others, such as the Reef Diver have been replaced for newer rides in this case TailSpin, and some have, well, some are still kind of there but not there, like the Mine Ride, which is fortunately hidden by the huge Gold Rush mountain that it sits inside.
To its credit, the park has been predominantly incident free for the last 35 years. However, since October, for the first time since the tragic Luna Park Sydney Ghost Train fire of 1979, lives were lost at an Australian theme park. The doors were indefinitely shuttered on Australia’s largest theme park & rumours were rife about what happened and the future of a mainstay Australian icon.
Months passed, as did the storm of news article and speculation. Parkz (Australia’s mainstay discussion board for theme park folks) was a daily read for conversation about what would become of the park. As summer grew near, and despite sounding cliche, just like a phoenix from the ashes, Dreamworld opened its doors once again on Saturday, December 10, 2016, 46 days after its closure.
By all accounts, guest numbers were down as expected. Dreamworld chose not to advertise the reopening, instead opting for a “quiet, respectful weekend”, a goal certainly achieved.
I took a visit to the park on the Sunday afternoon not only to show my support for the reopening of an Australia icon, but just to see what had changed. With the majority of attractions still being closed pending certification, I was also anticipating this would be the closest I’d ever be likely to get to visiting a closed park after hours. Dreamworld however, somehow felt just as alive as you’d expect on a quiet off-peak rainy day, just without the rain. Guests were happy, the staff had returned to mostly normal, and the animals were just as active as ever.
In saying that, the park certainly had a sombre vibe to it. I’ll admit, i’m one of those people who would have gone on the rapids even the day after the incident if the option was there. Be that as it may, it somehow felt insensitive to visit Gold Rush, so it was avoided.
The Big-9 Thrill Rides were all still closed, each displaying this now familiar sign:
Credit must go to the park on this. Whether you’re the cynic claiming the park is just trying to save face in the wake of the tragedy, or someone who believes they’re doing it with their hearts in the right place, there’s no questioning Dreamworld’s commitment to the safety of their workers and guests. Along side this, Dreamworld has raised over $157,000 across the opening weekend for the Red Cross charity for the families of the victims.
Before reopening, each ride will be required to pass four separate safety assessments to ensure they’re all completely safe for guests to ride once again.
While at this stage we know for certain Thunder River Rapids will not ever be reopening, this has put eyes on the Rocky Hollow Log Ride, Dreamworld’s last remaining water based attraction, which itself recently had its own safety scare, albeit not at all the fault of the park. Regardless, both the Log Ride and Rapids ride had freshly adorned red fences, sealing them as much as possible from guest view.
All signs are pointing to the ride being decommissioned. Like the rapids, this was an in-house design from the 80’s and as is, only time will tell if we get to ride again.
Back to my visit, most of the afternoon action seemed to be centred around Tiger Island.
It certainly seemed like the tigers were happy to be showing off to a crowd again, and the trainers were having a ball playing with them. The show could be seen as a tech-heads nightmare though with the tigers playing fetch and catch with $500 GoPro cameras. Hopefully that footage gets released from the park soon.
Where to from here for Dreamworld?
Ben recently posted an article on the seemingly likely potential for Dreamworld and White Water World to consider themselves as the same park and firmly cement their claim as “Australia’s Largest Theme Park”. It makes sense and seems the logical progression for the park now, especially with the potential Sea World expansion in the coming years.
Even a quick glance at the Dreamworld park map hints at their intention for both parks to become one.
Dreamworld really does need some big capex spending, and soon. With the new HyperCoaster opening down the road in September 2017, not counting the Tiger Island refurbishment, which was excellent, the last big new attraction at Dreamworld was TailSpin in 2014.
Theme park enthusiast or not, everyone should make the effort to go and support an Australian icon, and I have no doubt that it won’t be long before the park is back up to full strength once more.