The 2004 Wonderland sign at the Junkyard in Londonderry.

Wonderland 2.0 – What’s the plan?

The Western Sydney marvel deemed as “Wonderland” was a world of escape for families for almost 20 years. In 2004, the theme park closed its doors. 

Ten years following its closure, property developer and former Wonderland employee Ammar Khan announced his plan to resurrect the amusement park.

The master plan for the Western Sydney area is an entertainment precinct with attractions, resort hotels and a shopping area. In the plan, there are three theme parks including Sydney’s Wonderland, a proposed water park that will rival with Wet’n’Wild, and a wildlife park.

“The previous Wonderland had three parks in one, if we consider that the Wildlife Park and The Beach were individual sections. While devising a new business model for the new park, it made economical sense to allow each park to operate individually. That way they would be much more affordable and will create individual full day experiences without leaving the guests to try and cover everything in one day,” Mr Khan said.

The precinct plan gained momentum in 2015 when Fox Petroleum Limited signed a deal to invest $1 billion into the first stage of the theme park’s development. This stage is set to be complete by 2021. A location for the three mega parks is still to be finalised.

However, since 2016 there has been no major update about the progression of the proposed theme parks.

A shot of Wonderland from an aerial view. Source: Australia’s Wonderland History Facebook group.

What was Wonderland?

Australia’s Wonderland first opened in the summer of 1985 in Eastern Creek in Western Sydney. The park was modelled heavily around Canada’s Wonderland based in Toronto. It was sought to be the alternative attraction to Luna Park by the original developers. It was claimed to be the largest theme park in the southern hemisphere when it opened.

The park had three themed areas: Goldrush, Medieval Faire (later renamed Old Botany Bay) and Hanna-Barbera Land (later renamed Little Wonders Land). The Hanna-Barbera Land was based around the popular characters like The Flintstones, Yogi Bear and Scooby-Doo who were a part of the Hanna-Barbera productions. At its peak, the park had 24 rides including three rollercoasters.

The park expanded and added new areas to its precinct including ‘The Beach’ in 1988 and ‘Australian Wildlife Park’ in 1990. ‘The Beach’ was a seasonal attraction which was only open from October through to May. The ‘Australian Wildlife Park’ was open all year-round.

The park’s flagship ride was the large wooden rollercoaster known as ‘The Bush Beast’. The ride was designed and based heavily on the ‘Wild Beast’ wooden rollercoaster in Canada. It was an original attraction of the park. Other popular rides included the ‘Snowy River Rampage’, the Pirate Ship, ‘The Beastie’ rollercoaster and the ‘Demon’ rollercoaster.

Looking back at Wonderland

While the theme park was extremely enjoyable for those who attended, the work environment seemed to be just as fun. Mr Khan said he joined the Wonderland team in 1995 for what was meant to be a short-term school holiday job. However, he stayed on until the theme park’s very last day in 2004. “That place was magical. More than just the world’s best work environment, it was the land of childhood memories for me and a lot of people, and it was an icon for Sydney.”

Former Wonderland employees and now husband and wife, Simon and Cheryl-Ann Leggatt, said that working at the park was a special experience. “It was a magical time. I loved every moment and would jump at the opportunity to work there again,” said Mrs Leggatt, who worked administration.

Mr Leggatt said Wonderland was his first job. “We didn’t really know what we were in for. I consider it a unique experience that has impacted on my life and understanding of an incredible workplace that I will never forget,” he said.

Past employee Janet Jones worked across all three areas of the park while it was open as a games supervisor to a supervisor of photos, food and merchandise. Mrs Jones said that working at Wonderland was by far the best job she’s ever had. “I loved going to work every day. I worked there for 10 years and I would still be there if the place was open.”

From the friends she made to the multifaceted job itself, Mrs Jones has many fond memories of the theme park. “I remember I met my husband at Wonderland. We had our wedding there after hours.”

When the news broke that the park would be closing its doors, the employees were devastated. “Even though I hadn’t worked there for a long time, it was like a friend dying,” Mrs Leggatt said.

Mr Leggatt said when he found out, it was like he was getting hit by a bus. Mrs Jones said she was living in Queensland when she heard the news. She said she was upset and wished she could have returned to the park before it closed.

Among these employees, their response to whether they were excited about the new theme park was a unanimous yes. Mr and Mrs Leggatt said they will absolutely be there on opening day and Mrs Jones said she would love to take her grandkids there in the future.

Despite some of the past employees and the wider public looking forward to a new theme park in the Western Sydney area,  devoted Wonderland admirer Patrick Prins isn’t quite on the same level. “I’m not excited about the new park. I just don’t think it will compare.”

Mr Prins is one of the admins of the Wonderland History page on Facebook and still collects Wonderland memorabilia to this day. He owes some of the best memories of his childhood to the theme park. “I went to Wonderland what feels like hundreds of times a year. I lived, and still live, walking distance from the site and spent my entire holidays and some weekends there.”

“I loved the escapism of being in a fantasy world. Luna Park is nothing like it,” he said.

In a survey of 47 people, 91 per cent are excited with the concept of a theme park returning to Western Sydney. As well as this, 85 per cent said they hope the rides will be similar to the original park. One respondent said that the return of the theme park will be beneficial for everyone. “[Sydney needs] another major attraction to service Sydney’s west as well as build the economy and create more jobs. This will also open up a wider demographic having it similar to Wonderland as people would return to recreate memories.”

Another respondent believes the park is needed in Sydney but it should be aiming for a bigger title. “I think Sydney needs a Disneyland. (It would be a) potential boost for greater tourism and give people extra things to do especially in winter when our beaches and Wet’N’Wild are too cold.”

“Wonderland provided an escape world, a fantasy world in which you easily forgot about the outside. Being older now with kids of my own, I would still enjoy it as much as I did when I was a kid,” one participant said. Overall, all responses were positive towards the idea that Sydney needs a theme park.

So what’s the go?

Mr Khan said an update will come once there is significant progress to show. “We look forward to presenting new information only once we stand on our own land.” In 2016, Mr Khan said Badgerys Creek was an “ideal” location but nothing was set in stone.

With the plan for the Western Sydney airport approved and estimated to be finished by 2026, Mr Khan said the airport is a highly welcomed opportunity of global proportions coming right into the region. “We will patiently adjust around all the infrastructure soon to be built in our city. But with a final location approved, we may open for business sooner than the airport.”

“A theme park in Western Sydney is much needed and long overdue,” he said.

So, as they say, good things come to those who wait. Be patient theme park lovers. 

– Olivia Silk

The video of ‘The Bush Beast’ rollercoaster was sourced via the Wonderland History website.