What would we give to be back at the opening of Luna Park on December 13, 1912? Picture the magical scene: over 22,000 immeasurably excited people milling through the iconic Mr Moon mouth (can the Mr Moon mouth ever be described without the use of the word ‘iconic’? We tried and failed), with over 80,000 lights switched on, illuminating the foreshore and cockatoo-studded palm trees. Glorious pandemonium!
And yet, a century on, just the sight of it still gives us a thrill. Without Luna Park – its towers, its roller coaster, its iconic Mr Moon mouth – St Kilda might be a run-of-the-mill beachside suburb. It may have changed hands a number of times since established by American showman JD Williams’ Amusement Company (who scoured the world for the best rides and amusements, and modelled it closely on the Luna Park at Coney Island), but its heritage is painstakingly maintained.
To celebrate its centenary, in December Luna Park will play host to a series of free events as well as a Back to 1912 weekend on December 15-16 – in which the park will be dipped back in time with horses and carts, vintage stands, staff in historic uniforms, a revival of the high tea Tea Terrace and dixieland jazz.
One person working hard behind the scenes to help all this happen is maintenance worker 29-year-old Dalida Azar. Formerly a beauty technician, she drove past Luna Park one day and succumbed to an urge to apply for a job there. She was accepted as a ride operator and served a four-year carpentry apprenticeship. As the tattoo of a pin-up girl wielding a drill on her arm would suggest, it’s a role she’s entirely fallen in love with.
Six years on, she works chiefly on the world’s oldest continually operating wooden roller coaster – or the Great Scenic Railway, to give it its proper name. (The nervously inclined will be pleased to hear it’s her job to regularly replace every piece of timber in its structure.)
“I also help to install the mosaics on the Palace,” she says cheerfully, “and on weekends I do ride testing and walk the track.”
The train is winched up the tracks to start, then uses its own momentum, with a ride operator travelling with it to apply the brakes manually from the middle. Every time you ride it you’ll actually pass through Azar’s maintenance shed… but at that velocity, you’re highly unlikely to notice. Come down in December and test your observational skills – and keep checking the website for all the celebratory events.
There’s another surviving Luna Park in Sydney… but there was once also one in Glenelg, SA and Redcliffe, Qld.
The world’s ﬁrst full-length feature ﬁlm, The Story of the Kelly Gang, was filmed on the site of the future Luna Park in 1906.
The opening season had sideshow acts like Baby Ben – a 12-year-old ‘World’s Fattest Boy’; Electro and Electra, who gave electrical demonstrations; a Curious Flea Circus and Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton.
In the days before TV, Luna Park had titillating entertainment. International high-wire stars Granada and Fedora used to perform high above the crowds, dressed as an elephant. Miss Marie Thelin would dive off a 50-foot-high platform into a small pool while on fire and trick motorcyclists circled the Wall of Death.