EXPLORING SYDNEY: Finding Forgotten Fairyland Pleasure Grounds of Lane Cove – History tour

The leafy bushland of Sydney’s lower North Shore hides a secret – hidden inside Lane Love National Park was once a place of amusement, leisure & a very trendy day trip destination, until its closure in 1970.

On today’s virtual journey, we discover the fascinating history behind Sydney’s FAIRYLAND of Lane Cove River, explore what remains of this site & revisit the memories of this magical place.

I will take you on a bushwalk (+ boat trip!) back in time, to find Fairyland & celebrate its history, which is of great historical importance & community interest.

Peace ✌🏽 Gia

EXPLORING SYDNEY: Inside Notre Dame, Mulgoa – Sydney’s top secret abandoned zoo

It’s not widely known that the hills of  Mulgoa in Sydney’s semi-rural outskirts hide the magnificent remains of what once was the largest privately owned zoo in the world. The secrets that lay behind the top secret walls of a once opulent 80s style mansion & its impressive grounds cannot be understated – so much so that I have kept these photos private until now. The reason for deciding to publish them is in the hopes that this site will be preserved despite it not falling under a heritage listing, as it is currently under threat of demolition by its foreign investors. After much consideration, I feel this is an important site that Sydney has a right to see. As such, ShhSydney has refrained from photoshopping/editing this photo series, so that this place can be recorded in its original state, as it was in 2016.

Notre Dame site back in its heyday: Images sourced from Google – while countless pics of El Caballo Blanco are available online, there are far fewer of Notre Dame even though it was occasionally open to the public.

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To start, we must go back to a time in Sydney’s past when there were no laws prohibiting the wealthy from owning/trading in exotic and dangerous animals, from at times exploiting countless loyal workers who devoted their lives caring for & training animals – some of whom were allegedly witness to cruelties that their bosses committed against the animals they helped to train/care for, in the name of sport, celebrity and their own amusement.

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While many Sydneysiders will reminisce fondly about the now lost El Caballo Blanco amusement park, it is much more difficult to find those who remembers its sister site Notre Dame, or anyone willing to speak about its owner, the infamous  & eccentric self-made millionaire Emmanual Margolin. Margolin made his fortune from several used car dealerships in Melbourne, before selling up & moving to Sydney. He bought the El Caballo Blanco Spanish dancing horse amusement park in Narellan & created his own private zoo at his estate in Mulgoa.

After several years of research & speaking to former workers who prefer to remain anonymous, I can only conclude in my personal opinion that Margolin was an immensely wealthy yet ruthless character, with a penchant for French provincial antiques & stuffed exotic animals. It’s said his mansion was decorated with countless animal skin rugs, heads of African animals, ivory & gold.

Margolin was renowned for shamelessly flaunting his wealth – every corner of his extravagent residence dripped with decadence, he & his wife drove matching gold Rolls Royces, ensuring they turned every head in Western Sydney, wherever they went. He was rumoured to be quite the ladies man & a real charmer, with a fiery temper who was not to be crossed. At times he was said to be kind to his workers, especially the top tier horse trainers/riders, who were allowed to party after hours at the Notre Dame manor – no doubt those parties back in the 80s were a real treat to attend (!)

The vast collection of (live) exotic animals he kept at his private residence included monkeys, lions, leopards, Spanish Andalusian horses, elephants & exotic birds, plus more. They were said to be less beloved pets & more live property to proudly show off & on occasion slaughter at his own whims, lest they not perform to his exceedingly high expectations. It’s said that some of the animals that were slaughtered were fed to the big cats.

Emmanual Margolin passed away in 2012 of motor neurone disease, at the ripe old age of 83. His lavish Notre Dame zoo & El Caballo Blanco were sold off to foreign investors & El Caballo Blanco has recently been demolished to make way for a new housing development. Notre Dame still remains, it’s abandoned ruins looked after by a dedicated family of caretakers.

I was lucky enough to visit Notre Dame on two separate occasions – the second of which included a private tour of the full site, thanks to the generous (and reclusive) caretakers, who took kindly to a gal’s genuine love of the history hiding behind the walls of Notre Dame.

The grand entrance gates

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Inside the gates of Notre Dame are countless  decaying cages, pavilions, multiple residences & arenas that have been claimed by the nature that surrounds them. Evidence of Margolin’s immense wealth & penchant for decadence is clear, with many abandoned antiques still remaining & collecting dust.

Outside the front manor at the gates – was once Emmanual’s housekeeping staff residence. As the story goes, Emmanual refused to pay for the palm trees seen planted at the front in a ‘V’ shape, as he had requested they be planted in a different pattern.

 

Inside the housekeepers quarters:

 

Margolin’s magificent mansion – note the ‘M’ on the front entrance doors. We did not enter the main mansion as it’s currently inhabited by one of the caretakers. (what a man cave!). The aspect from the front of the manor overlooking the hills of Mulgoa points directly towards Sydney’s CBD – a perfect view for NYE fireworks. The flat rooftop contains a once grand outdoor entertainment area complete with a pool, aviary & now overgrown gardens. The caretakers insisted it is now sadly too dangerous to enter the rooftop entertainment area.

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Spanish horse stables:  The dancing horses were undoubtedly the star attractions of the show. Note the faded image of the horse & caption “The Andalusion Dancing Stallions”. Behind the stables is an impressive horse training arena which we did not explore, due to fear of snakes & other creepy crawlies…The stables are surrounded by a large circular driveway, presumably to allow for horse-drawn carriages & cars to turn with ease.

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The old arena next to the mansion: Note the priceless postcard I was gifted by a friend & former employee of Emmanual Margolin, which shows Margolin (right) and an old famous actor (name now forgotten) on horseback outside the very same gates of the arena!

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Remains of the animal enclosures: While many cages are still visible, others have now been almost completely reclaimed by nature. It’s rumoured that one of the many celebrities who visited Margolin at Notre Dame was Michael Jackson, who’s infamous Neverland Ranch was inspired by his time there & his people sought advice from Margolin about the logistics of owning & operating a private zoo. Another story is that truth behind the local urban legend of Sydney/Blue Mountains ‘Penrith Panther’ originated  right here, when Margolin released his prized pet panther into the surrounding bushland…

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Outside the grand guesthouse:

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Inside the guesthouse: Note the once opulent 80s features, complete with an indoor squash court (!), bar, antiques & old taxidermied animals which Margolin was an enthusiastic collector of stuffed inside cupboards.

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The guesthouse as it once was: (photos courtesy of Notre Dame Mulgoa FB page). Note all the amazing antiques & valuable collectibles which Margolin was infamous for.

Other remains: Notre Dame’s buildings, signs & various features which show evidence of what was once the largest privately owned zoo in the world. Note the sign below shows just some of the attractions & facilities available at the zoo…

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Gardens & grounds: The Japanese feature gate were the entrance to a large koi fish pond & Japanese themed garden, now inaccessible due to overgrowth.

 

Notre Dame is now sadly owned by foreign investors, so its long term future looks bleak. The property is looked after by a very private group of caretakers & we do not recommend anyone visit this place, as they can & do call the police on any unwanted intruders. We were given special permission to access this place, so please enjoy this photo series & do not attempt to gain entry yourself.

There are just some of the many photos taken during the expeditions to Notre Dame, it would be impossible to post them all here. Also these are just some of the sites on the property & must stress that we were only able to see & capture a small part of the site’s remains. While most of the animal enclosures are in a ruined state, we saw many buildings & facilities that while overgrown, would still be functional with a little TLC. It’s my personal dream that this place be turned into an animal sanctuary & rehabilitation centre – I can’t stress enough just how deeply Notre Dame has touched me & how priveliged it feels to have been able to document this derelict, yet still decadent site. Hope Sydney folk will find this photo series as enjoyable as it was to take them.

Much love Sydneysiders

XO Gia @ Shhsydney

 

 

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