Mr Moon Face

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He’s got a few wrinkles, but for someone who’s fast approaching 100, Mr Moon Face looks pretty good. He’s even got all his teeth.

Newly opened Luna Park

Visitors first entered his gaping mouth when Luna Park opened its doors on the evening of Friday the 13th of December 1912.

The heritage amusement park was built in an area once regarded as a seaside country town. During the 1800s through to the turn of the century, people would travel to St Kilda by bullock cart to escape the city and breathe some fresh air.

With a crowd of approximately 20,000 people on its opening night, Luna Park was an immediate success. In the years following, people flocked to enjoy the live entertainment and experience a variety of cutting-edge attractions.

The frivolity of the park proved to be much needed amidst the trials and tribulations of the twentieth century. While Luna Park operated on a restricted basis during World War I, it provided some light-hearted relief for many during the years of the Depression.

“I don’t think you could say that people had a lot of discretionary income during the Depression, but Luna Park remained a place of escape, and fantasy… from what were very taxing and depressing times,” explains Mary Stuart, Executive Director of Luna Park.

During World War II, the park regularly hosted entertainment for soldiers on leave.

Stuart explains that Luna Park has a place in the lives of many Australians, having touched generations of families.

“Your Mum probably came here as a kid, your grandmother probably came here as a kid; even your great-grandmother,” she says.

The park has seen many changes over the years, but one ride which remains a centrepiece of the park is the Scenic Railway.

It holds the title of the oldest continually operating wooden roller coaster in the world, and is one of only two which requires a ride-on brake operator.

Mark Harrison, the maintenance manager at Luna Park, is the longest serving current staff member, having been there since 1990.

He worked for about 15 years primarily on the Scenic Railway, and is excited at the prospect of it reaching it’s 100th birthday.

But he is quick to dismiss any suggestion that the heritage-listed coaster is not sustainable into the future.

“It’s a bit like the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It’s never going to be finished; there’s always something to do on it. Always,” he says.

Indeed, all of the attractions at the park undergo regular maintenance, to ensure they are in the best working order for the thousands of thrill seekers who pour through the gates each week.

When asked about the technology-obsessed young people these days, Stuart isn’t fazed that this poses any threat to the park.

“I think the appeal of Luna Park is that it isn’t those things. It’s not indoors. It’s not sitting by yourself playing a computer game… it’s doing things with your friends that are physical and energetic and active,” she enthuses.

Today, the park certainly wouldn’t get away with some of the attractions characteristic of it’s earlier days. Amongst these attractions was a troop of midgets, and Miss Thelin, who dove into a tub of water from a 50-foot tower with her clothes alight.

While it has changed almost completely – with the notable exceptions being the Scenic Railway and the enormous smiling face – Luna Park remains an important and special Melbourne landmark.

“I think Luna Park is St Kilda. If you haven’t been to Luna Park you haven’t been to St Kilda,” says Stuart.

Harrison agrees. “Everybody’s got sort of an attachment to that big funny face out the front. It’s part of Melbourne,” he says.

Community celebrations for Luna Park’s 100th birthday will be announced later this year.

By Phoebe Roth

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