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Luna Park

Opened on the St Kilda foreshore in December 1912, Luna Park was the first such amusement park to be established in Australia. Throughout its history the Park has played a significant cultural and social role in the life of Melbourne and has found a place in the literature, visual art and popular culture of the nation.

Developed by Canadian, James Dixon Williams of the Greater J.D. Williams Amusement Co. Limited, renowned for building luxury cinemas, and American brothers, Herman, Leon and Harold Phillips, Luna Park was based on the amusement park concepts initiated at Coney Island, New York. Created by an international workforce of amusement park experts, Luna Park was a spectacular attraction architecturally, aesthetically and technically. The entrance gates consisted of a 35-foot diameter Mr Moon flanked by two oriental towers. Once inside, visitors were transported to a fantasy world of thrill rides, sideshows and live entertainment.

After Luna Park's successful inaugural season, Williams returned to the United States and the Phillips Brothers formed a new company, chaired by (Sir) John Monash to manage the Park. Luna Park was almost totally reconstructed in 1923 after several years of operational difficulties caused by the war, shipping restrictions and a lease dispute. It reopened with new attractions such as the Big Dipper, The Whip, and the carousel, which was constructed in 1913 by America's leading carousel manufacturer and was the only one made by the company outside America.

Adversely affected by three seasons of bad weather in the late 1920s and then by the depression, Luna Park boomed during World War II with its location in St Kilda and a new clientele of American troops. Conversely, wartime popularity and the St Kilda location gave the Park a reputation as an unsavoury family destination.

The existence of a number of original features - the Entrance Face and Towers, scenic railway, carousel and the dodgem building - have given Luna Park international significance as a rare and still operational example of an early 20th-century amusement park. In the 1990s Luna Park's declining commercial value coincided with a heritage-led preservation campaign. The Park was reopened in 2001 after a $10 million restoration and redevelopment.

Annette Shiell