EXPLORING SYDNEY: Abandoned Magic Kingdom Amusement Park Adventure – South West Sydney’s forgotten playground

Following recent rumours that Magic Kingdom was dead to the developers and had now been destroyed, of course I had to head out to Lansvale and investigate things for myself. Luckily, apart from one mysteriously missing slide, can confirm everything else seems to be there, albeit partly underwater!

Magic Kingdom amusement park opened in the 70s and was in operation until the early 90s, closing a few years after Wonderland opened. Since then, it’s been known one of Sydney’s most infamous abandoned amusement parks. This original ad from 1987 shows footage of the park during its heyday – it’s almost entirely unrecognisable from the wild marshland and dilapidated ruins that remain today.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Magic Kingdom twice now. My first visit in mid-2013 was on a warm winter day, when the threat of snakes seemed less of a concern. When I recently returned in summer 2016, the weather was humid and stormy but the patchy rain was light enough to still explore.

Unluckily though, I lost all but one of my photos from my original 2013 adventure due to an iPhone-related mishap. The silver lining to this sad tale is that the single photo I still have left is of the Giant Slide – the park’s hero attraction, which was sadly stolen recently. Plus on my 2nd trip in 2016, I was also lucky enough to personally meet the owners and get the inside scoop on the site development plans 😉

Magic Kingdom was actually the first place I ever officially explored and documented, before starting ShhSydney. While other thrill seekers were known to climb right this rusty 70s era ride and slide down as an exploring rite of passage, vertigo kept me strictly on the ground! As the only surviving photo, this image holds particular sentimental significance to me…

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As soon as I pulled up the Alfa, could tell that some small changes were about – A sign at the front gate said cleaning was in progress and can confirm the new owners done a fine job of clearing pathways obstructed by branches and removing all that lame witchy/ satan worshipping graffiti that was on the ground in 2013. Sure it’s fun to play silly buggers in abandoned amusement parks, but don’t blame them for scrubbing that lot off!

Piles of new looking building supplies were stacked up near the far end of the block, making it seem like the redevelopment was about to kick off soon. However, the owner’s son said there’s no set plans as yet and his old man bought the place on a whim when driving past one day. They’re still weighing up their options, but say the site is still zoned as an amusement park – so it’s not impossible to hope that they might consider incorporating a playground into the new development.

I didn’t get to explore the toilet block the first time, because I was too apprehensive to enter. Exploring was new to me and was paranoid about spiders and other creepy crawlies lurking in the dark.

This time, I made sure to head there immediately. Much of the block was trashed, but thankfully no spiders about so managed to get a few shots of the inside. The girls was filled with rubble and old tables, but the boys was in much better condition in comparison.

Around the perimeter there was a wasps nest to be wary of, but still managed to walk around the outside. Some good art pieces here and grass growing out of the tree stumps, which was a nice touch.

The highlight of my 1st expedition was of course the golden Giant Slide, plus the adjacent stage. The mural of quintessentially Aussie cartoon Ginger Meggs with the faded Pepsi ad was such an awesome backdrop against the long wavy slippery dip.

It felt so odd walking around the spot where the Giant Slide once stood so proudly above the flat plain. The rusted scaffolding that once supported the towering structure was completely gone, you’d never know it was there except for a few concrete markings on the ground. The adjacent stage still remained, albeit looking worse for wear. Large pieces of broken mural were now propped up against the side of the stage and spotting small pieces of the backdrop scattered around the area was a bittersweet game to play – I made it my mission to find every piece possible.

The owners say the Giant Slide strangely vanished awhile back, so they had absolutely nothing to do with its disappearance. In fact, they didn’t mind one bit as it saved them the job of having to pull it apart themselves! So looks like Magic Kingdom’s biggest attraction has been nicked and its current location unknown. How these thieves were actually able to dismantle that massive thing and transport it out of there remains the biggest mystery…

Back in 2013, I was seriously spooked by the old waterslides – the twin half pipes were becoming covered by encroaching grass and vines, which had grown over most of the faded blue half tube pipes. Only the end section of the slide were visible from where I stood, at a safe distance from the murky rectangular shaped pool at the bottom. Tall reeds poked out of the dark, uninviting water and I wasn’t at all keen to get any closer.

The 1st exploration also way too frightened to cross the rickety wooden bridge over the swamp, so never got a decent shot of that other iconic Magic Kingdom attraction – the Big Boot. The Big Boot is a throwback to that nursery rhyme ‘There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.’ It sat large, yet stout on a small island surrounded by palm trees and a rickety wooden bridge. I steered well clear of the tropical themed island and stuck to safe distance shots from the other side of the swamp.

This year, I couldn’t get anywhere near the waterslides due to flooding. Can’t say I was too disappointed not to see those up close again. I managed to get a zoomed shot from across the new lake, which was enough for water-phobic lil’ old me!

The old bridge was now completely underwater, so still no access to the infamous Big Boot – I don’t see how this could be accessed without a boat or raft, really… The land would have to dry up before I ever get up close to it.  The large palm trees were still clustered on the tiny island, giving the horizon an exotic flavour.

The canteen and ticket booth block were still as trashed as I remember, but got some better shots of them now. Looks like a few more wall pieces and cheeky tags have gone up since 2013 too, which just adds to the grungy effect.

Parts of this building still show evidence of fire damage, from a small blaze that occurred prior to 2013. Next door to the decaying canteen/ticket book is an area which looks like was part of the race car track, with overgrown weeds growing through the side walls and bursting out of the cracked cement.

The new family owners actually had no idea about Magic Kingdom or its legacy until I told them about it –  they thought it was just ‘some kind of playground’ and were pretty puzzled about the occasional explorers they catch trekking out around the property. They’d been wondering why anyone would bother coming here in the first place, so at least now they’re aware why others have an interest in their recent purchase.

While the future of Magic Kingdom still remains uncertain, a development proposal is not yet confirmed. Until new plans are approved, I’ll keep on hoping that this offbeat adventure destination could one day return to an enchanted oasis for everyone to enjoy once again.

XO Gia

EXPLORING SYDNEY: Finding Funland Abandoned Amusement Park of Warragamba Dam

Sydney does a lot of things well – but sadly, we don’t have a good track record at running amusement parks. Out of all the old attractions of yesteryear, today only Luna Park still stands. It seems our original adventure destinations are cursed – while the new localised version of Queensland’s Wet ‘N’ Wild franchise has been successful so far, it doesn’t have the same sense of quaint charm and we can’t exactly claim it as our own idea!

Although Australia’s Wonderland is hands down the most well known of all our lost theme parks, scattered around Sydney are the remains of other forgotten ‘fun lands’ that weren’t as iconic – some forgotten smaller playgrounds still survive, left abandoned and allowed to return to nature over the decades. While more modest fair-style rides than rollercoasters, they’re definitely still exciting (and sometimes scary!) to explore…

I accidentally discovered ‘Funland’ when visiting Warragamba Dam. Just a generation ago, visiting this impressive man-made structure was a popular picnic spot for families and on the weekends you can walk across the wide concrete dam wall. Only about 1 hour from the CBD, I was curious to check out Sydney’s primary water reservoir for myself and play tourist in my own city. Little did I know that by going out to Warragamba, would get two adventures in one daytrip!

Unfortunately am not known for my early starts, so arrived too late to walk across the dam wall and see the full wide span of this impressive structure which was slightly disappointing. But it was still really enjoyable to see the huge Lake Burragorang and learn that it was named after the town that was flooded to create it! The river system that runs through the valleys surrounding the lost town of Burragorang are said to feel a little bit like Kakadu, however this entire area is now a no-go zone and highly patrolled by the Sydney Water Catchment Authority. Despite the tight government-run ship, visiting the dam that supplies our city’s clean drinking water and the well-kept picnic garden surrounds was both informative and enjoyable.

Warragamba village on a late Sunday afternoon is pretty much all shut, but walking around the loop-shaped town centre set on a large communal park roundabout is still a pleasant stroll. There’s lots of original retro signage and structures from a bygone era, which are fun to spot. It’s a shame that several town shops have closed down now, with vacancy and for lease ads in a fair few windows. It makes me wonder about the long term sustainable future of the town, now that it’s all it’s main attractions are long gone…

The sleepy town of Warragamba was a really enjoyable day trip. It’s well worth heading out there to see the dam, have a picnic and appreciate the slow pace of this cute little village that’s relatively close to Sydney and an easy day trip, if you have a car at least!

The little known wonder that is ‘Funland’ appeared unexpectedly – a glint of the red train carriage appeared like a mirage in front of me as I exited the Warragamba Dam complex. Pulling the Alfa over immediately by the roadside, I did a slow, obvious lap of the perimeter. The rural area of overgrown bushland was clearly hiding a diamond in its rough exterior.

I found an easy entrance to the property and while slipping through, several cars driving down the road slow down slightly at the sight of my bright red car by the country roadside. It doesn’t bother me being spotted, because if anything untoward should happen to me out in the wilderness they might remember me and be a key witness 😉

After a few metres of thick bush and black burnt-out mounds, it’s obvious that squatters were once here. From the looks of things, their camp hadn’t been inhabited for some time and they probably had some sort of power generator source, because of the electrical equipment.

It never ceases to amaze me how grubby squats can get. Just because you’ve gone bush is no excuse for such a slovenly campsite, c’mon, guys! Seriously, this place could still be cute if someone tried to clear it up a bit…

Further into the field, I came across this clapped out old ute and squealed with joy – the Datsun ute is one of my favourite dream rides! Unfortunately this once sunny yellow Datsun is now owned by the vines, but he must’ve once been a beauty. Not sure about the age of the old cash register in the driver’s seat, so unsure if it was used during the park’s operational days.

Dotted all around the property are the remains of rusty old rides like merry go rounds, swing sets and a small ferris wheel. It’s hard to tell what some of the rides originally were and am unable to find any photos online of Funland open back in the 70s, so not quite sure what they all once were. Needless to say, none would be safe to play on or anywhere near today!

Unfortunately not much exists about Funland online, so there’s precious little about its history that I can tell you. Have read on internet forum chat that the park originally launched as ‘Funland’ in the early 70s and later changed its name to ‘Adventureland’ or ‘Amusementland’. The venue went out of business around the late 70s, likely due to the greater commercial success of nearby African Lion Safari and Bullens Animal World.

As this modest amusement park hasn’t been as well documented as others of its era, it looks like Funland was one of the earlier casualties of Sydney’s dying adventure attractions. It simply wasn’t open long enough for many people to have visited it and made memories there, plus can’t have been as exciting as the nearby commercialised African Lion Safari and other exotic creatures at Bullen’s Animal World.

Another reason why Funland isn’t well known might be its close proximity to the African Lion Safari park. It’s actually on the same block of land as the Bullens brothers owned commercially advertised attraction, so it could easily be mistaken for being part of it – in fact, when I found Funland I spent my whole exploration believing it actually was African Lion Safari and sang the catchy theme song to myself the whole time, to take my mind off the constant fear of snakes & wasps!

It wasn’t until researching later that I learnt this was actually the even more mysterious Funland. This unexpected twist is just another reason why exploring gets under my skin…sites seen and photos snapped can take on new meaning and reveal information about a place later on. Even after visiting a place, it can still manage to surprise me. Sometimes don’t have a clue what I’m even looking at, especially rusted and disintegrating man-made objects that have so beautifully been returned to bush.

Nature has now claimed Funland as its own and Sydney’s idea of adventure has certainly evolved in the 21st century – but for us underground urbex oddballs, our old abandoned amusement parks are still the ultimate in entertainment for the big kid within.

XO

Gia

EXPLORING SYDNEY: Crater Cove Hippie Huts – Hidden history of the Northern Beaches

An unmarked section along the Manly to Spit Bridge walk is the hidden pathway to an abandoned oasis.

Standing at Davey Point lookout you can get a good vantage point of a few – squint and you’ll see them on the very edge of the clifftops below Balgowlah Heights. This cluster visible on the northern side of are known are the ‘Mens’ huts and even at a distance, these cute structures clearly have multimillion dollar views of Sydney.

Now part of Sydney Harbour National Park, the Crater Cove huts date back to the depression era. Fisherman built the original structures in the 1920s to serve as temporary weekend shelters, while trying to catch food off the flat rock ledges underneath. In the 1960s,a group of free-spirited hippies set up permanent camp in the existing shacks and built several more. Here they lived a relaxed lifestyle, secluded from the rest of the rat race – until the 1980s, when the Government made it illegal to live on national parkland and kicked them out. The hippies were forced to leave their idyllic colony and the huts have remained abandoned and undisturbed for almost 30 years.

To get down to Crater Cove is pretty tricky – while the path isn’t difficult for the novice hiker, finding the right cutting between the trees isn’t exactly easy. The unmarked turnoff to take is mainly known only to bushwalkers, history enthusiasts and among local northern beaches circles. It has a deserved reputation as a sort-of secret walking trail which leads to an unspoilt paradise that most Sydneysiders are completely unaware of.

After heading down the right turnoff for a few metres the well-worn ground widens, creating a tunnel through the bush that’s surprisingly easy,  although adults would still have to duck in places to dodge branches that protrude through. This pleasant bushwalk takes about 15mins, winding down the steep hilltops, dense shrubland and overlooks some great views of Sydney Harbour from unusual angles. In some photos you can even spot a ferry or two in the background!

The whole area is protected by the National Parks & Wildlife Services (NPWS) and a group of volunteer caretakers, who are vigilant about ensuring the huts and native ecosystem is conserved. This is definitely not the kind of abandoned site where people go to paint, tag and trash  – Crater Cove is part of  Sydney’s heritage and it’s important to our history that this place remain intact.

For that reason, it’s never been publicised as a tourist attraction and park rangers visit regularly to monitor the site. It’s hard to believe anybody could come here and not be moved by its beauty. While the NPWS is notoriously overprotective of the huts, perhaps keeping quiet about this private paradise is what’s kept it so well preserved.

When the hippies were evicted most of them simply shut the doors and left, taking few belongings with them. Many items are still in their original place, making it seem that perhaps they hoped to one day come back. In fact, the huts feel less abandoned and more like loved homes.

Unfortunately, all the huts are securely boarded up now…likely to prevent opportunistic people setting up there overnight or stealing any artefacts inside! While the interior is a no-go, you can still peek through the some uncovered windows and still spot many perfectly preserved signs of the quaint life these hippies enjoyed.

All seven huts were handmade using natural and recycled materials found in the local northern beaches region, except a few sheets of corrugated iron used for the roofing. The combination of stone & wood feels quaint, yet cool. I can imagine many hipsters today would be envious of this authentic 60s hippy existence, bar the lack of wifi connection 😉

The native vegetation is really eye-catching and many  coastal species can be spotted that I’ve never seen around the inner west! There’s also an abundance of Eastern water dragons – while the lizards seemed very curious and approachable, I steered clear of them because I imagine they can deliver a pretty nasty bite!

The Crater Cove crew were clearly an ingenious bunch. They practiced sustainable farming and did their best to avoid leaving their tiny community. Their crafty setup is impressive in its simplicity, use of space and recycled materials. In steep spots, the cliff’s natural sandstone has been hand carved into stairs. Rocks were ingeniously used to create a canal system, allowing rain to flow down the steep hillside to prevent waterlogging. Slats of wood have been placed across as a makeshift bridge. A wooden seat built into the rock ledge is the perfect place to sit and admire the amazing surrounds. The guttering of one hut funnels rainwater into a tank below, maximising fresh water supply. Old bottles laid with cement create windows that must make an awesome green & gold leadlight effect. Recycled doors give an enchanting feel to the huts’ entrances, while also providing a source of ample indoor light.

From all the evidence that remains, it’s obvious that these guys weren’t a group of crazy ferals – they were bloody clever and very house proud! With sound knowledge on horticulture and off-grid living, the hippies had their own homemade oasis away from the rest of civilisation.

It’s easy to see why the people who sustained this colony for over two decades tried so desperately to stay. They took their case to stay at Crater Cove right up to the High Court, Australia’s top legal authority, but all appeals were rejected. One bloke known as Simon Flynn was said to never be the quite same again after he was kicked out of his beloved home. He moved to Tasmania and reportedly died in recent years, having never returned to visit the huts. Here’s a photo of Simon outside his shack in 1987 – note the solar panels installed on his roof(!)

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Crater Cove – Simon Flynn outside his hut (1987) Pic sourced from: http://pacific-edge.info/2007/08/hidden-path-to-a-coves-history/

final thoughts

I find the Crater Cove colony so inspiring. The idyllic lifestyle and tight-knit community they must’ve enjoyed while overlooking the rest of the rat race is enviable. The experience of exploring this hidden paradise in the heart of Sydney felt like being the little girl in children’s classic The Secret Garden – or maybe Leo Di Caprio’s cute French crush from that movie The Beach.

There’s a lot we can learn from the hippies – not just about horticulture and self-sufficient ways, but also the sense of peace that can be found in a slower pace and happiness in the simple life.  It’s great that our national parks are available for everyone to enjoy – thankfully historic sites like Crater Cove have been well preserved, allowing people to enjoy this spot and take inspiration from it for many years to come.

XO Gia