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Need a Face Lift, Just for Fun?

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Fairytales, fairy floss and fairy lights. These images conjure in our minds when we drive past Luna Park in St. Kilda at dusk, watching the warm glow of lights engulf the fading Port Phillip shoreline.

Melbourne’s Luna Park, built in 1912 by James Dixon Williams, is a carnival of the senses. For children, it’s a temple of laughter — a metropolis of magic, giddying rides and sugar highs. However the Park’s slogan, ‘Just For Fun’, only tells part of the story. Luna Park is as much about local history as it is about festivities.

The first of four Luna Parks in Australia, it was inspired by designer Charles I.D Looff’s Luna Park in Coney Island, USA. In the early 1900s, Luna Park was one of the main attractions for Melbournians looking to make a day of it at the beach, as it typified the classical sideshow atmosphere of exoticism, spectacle and curiosities. It boasted River Caves, an Egyptian Theatre and a Palace of Illusions. The Terrace Tea Gardens, which offered stunning views of the bay, gave parents respite as their children ran off to the Penny Arcade at lunch time. Brass bands performed to crowds as tightrope walkers, fortune tellers and circus animals captivated families.

Many of the rides that have dazzled children for decades have remained in operation since the Park first opened. The breathtaking four-row Carousel, built in the 1930s by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company has stood at the site for 80 years, undertaking restoration in 2000. The iconic ‘Mr Moon’ entrance and Scenic Railway, both constructed in 1912, are still favourites at the heritage-listed Park today. In 1926, Luna Park christened Australia’s first dodgem car, making it a truly unique experience for visitors who rode the new cars for the first time.

Remarkably, Luna Park has withstood the economic shake-ups of two world wars, the Great Depression and two fires in the early 1980s which destroyed the Ghost Train, Giggle Palace and Shoot ‘em Up Gallery. It temporarily closed during World War 1, the Scenic Railway being the only attraction still running. When World War 2 arrived, Luna Park remained in operation under blackout conditions. Throughout both wars, it was used to host patriotic events and exhibited Australian Navy monuments.

Luna Park has been a permanent landmark of Melbourne that has brought magic and nostalgia to successive generations. Its changing face throughout the decades is a testament to the changing nature of Melbourne. While the splendor of its initial days has been slowly replaced with more contemporary rides, the vintage atmosphere of the place shines through whenever one watches the dizzying blur of pastels at the Carousel or walks through the century-old Moon entrance.  The galaxy of lights that illuminates the shoreline truly makes this a Melbourne icon.

To celebrate Luna Park’s upcoming 100th birthday the City of Port Phillip is running a free tour
of the park this Saturday 17 September. The tour will be followed by owed by an afternoon tea upstairs in the Dodgem Building with viewings of historic film and images. People are encouraged to bring and share old photos, stories and memorabilia about Luna Park.
Numbers are limited, to book email walking@portphillip.vic.gov.au or call 9209 6522.


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