Australia has never been known for its theme parks. While brief interest in the 80s and 90s saw the birth of several Aussie parks like Wonderland Sydney and Dreamworld, they never attracted the near-religious fervour that parks overseas do. Theme parks enthusiasts are found the world over — and I count myself among them. But being an Aussie theme park lover is difficult because there are so few out there.
That's why it was so interesting to chat with the all-Aussie team behind YouTube Channel ReviewTyme about the fascinating history and lore of these parks.
ReviewTyme was established by Dominic Lacey and Luke Carroll in 2018 and inspired by a long-time love for theme parks. The channel focuses on theme park reviews, history and lore, with a dedicated focus on diverse parks around the world.
Lacey says RollerCoaster Tycoon was one of his primary influences, saying how the iconic sim influenced his lifelong interest in theme parks. "I would sit around for hours building my 'dream' theme parks based off rides and attractions that I had experienced in trips that I went on as a kid," he said over email.
ReviewTyme Co-founder Carroll's own love for theme parks was inspired by childhood trips to overseas theme parks, particularly Disneyland. "[My grandmother] took me to my first ever true theme park of Disneyland back when I was 8 years old and even from then I was hooked," he said. Carroll went on to work at the Magic Kingdom theme park in Florida as part of Disney's international exchange program.
After a shared trip to Japan in 2017, both Carroll and Lacey discovered a surprising lack of content available on theme parks online and pooled their resources to create ReviewTyme.
With YouTube's theme park communities often dominated by voices from the U.S. like popular channels Defunctland and Yesterworld Entertainment, it's great to see Aussies creating local content in the space.
Australia's Theme Park History
Australia's own theme park history is mostly unremarkable. While several large, popular parks were established between the 1960s-1990s, interest in theme parks quickly waned in Australia in the late 90s and early 2000s leading to financial distress for many parks.
This period waning customer interest saw the shuttering of iconic parks like Sega World and Wonderland in Sydney, Wobbies World in Melbourne, Dazzleland in Adelaide and many more.
The fact was that in the digital age, Australians had lost their interest in theme parks. The sudden drop in international tourism caused by the horrific events of 9-11 have also been cited as a reason for this sudden decline.
Currently, the Gold Coast is one of the last remaining strongholds for Australian theme parks. The city is home to Warner Bros. Movie World, Sea World, Dreamworld and Wet'n'Wild but as mentioned, there isn't the same level of enthusiasm even before the current pandemic.
Lacey believes this failure is partly because Australia's theme parks lacked the magic of those overseas. "Our parks are full of big thrilling rides that are enjoyable but often leave a lot to be desired in regards to theming and attractions the whole family can enjoy," he explained. "Australian theme parks are sorely lacking in ... family-friendly rides everyone can enjoy simultaneously."
But Australia also has a dark recent history with theme parks that could explain this declining interest.
The 2016 death of four people on the River Rapids ride in Dreamworld has tarnished the long-declining reputation of theme parks in Australia. Industry revenue saw a decline of 6.9% in the year following the incident, with the 2017-2018 period marking further losses.
A subsequent inquest in February 2020 found Dreamworld had repeatedly demonstrated poor safety practices with inadequate training for staff and poor emergency procedures.
But these aren't the only theme park deaths in Australia. Similar incidents have dotted Australia's history, including an incident at Luna Park Sydney in 1979, where seven people lost their life in a fire at the Ghost Train ride.
While similar incidents dot the theme park histories of the U.S. and many other parks overseas, none have had quite the impact on the cultural signficant and mythology behind theme parks as Australia's have.
The Unique Mythology of Theme Parks
Theme parks are genuinely fascinating places and much of ReviewTyme's content focuses on the unique lore of popular parks around the world. Many parks have decades-long histories, and so reflect the cultural values, prejudices and circumstances of the time. This makes them like living time capsules.
For example, Disney's famous Splash Mountain ride in Disneyland is a log flume based on the controversial 1946 Disney film, Song of the South. As the overt racism of the film became clearer with time and changing cultural values, the ride's connections with the original film have been severed to the point where it's been rebranded as its own property.
Theme parks have also had their fair share of criminal dealings, with multiple incidents tarnishing their reputation. As Lacey shared via email, one of the most fascinating of these incidents occured in 1974. That year, a guest snuck onto the Disneyland grounds and fired bullets into the glass window of the Haunted Mansion ride. While a spider and spiderweb were painted over the resulting hole, the evidence still exists if you know where to look.
The long and storied history of Disneyland has inspired many of the YouTube documentaries you can find online as the passionate theme park community works to decode every park mystery. It's even lead to some wild conspiracy theories involving the illuminati and secret, underground clubs.
The mythology behind these older parks is rampant with intriguing myths and legends that continue to fascinate theme park enthusiasts around the world. You can find many of these explored on the ReviewTyme channel.
Which Theme Parks Should Australians Visit?
Both Lacey and Carroll have extensive experience travelling overseas for theme parks, and they provided some helpful advice for other Aussies looking to do the same. "If you want a trip full of “Disney-style Magic” you have to leave Australia, and that’s why the ultimate theme park holiday for a lot of Australian families is still Disneyland," Lacey explained.
[Please note that while the coroanvirus epidemic continues, theme parks are closed across the world. That's not to say you can't go ahead and plan a trip for happier times.]
"The best part about being a theme park fan today is that there is so much information online to help you plan out the perfect theme park trip no matter where it is in the world," Lacey said.
ReviewTyme's top reccomended destinations to visit include:
- Hong Kong Disneyland, for a smaller and more accessible taster of Disney theme park culture
- Orlando, home to Walt Disney World, Universal and more
- Japan, which houses the best Universal Studios theme park in the world, as well as Tokyo DisneySea (which Lacey cites as ReviewTyme's favourite theme park)
The good news is that there's plenty of options out there, and a great deal of information online for travellers. If you need more in-depth tips about how to get around, ReviewTyme has you covered.