After the Park was Dark and the Laughter had Stopped

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By: John Harrison

I remember, as a younger lad in the late eighties, I would finish up my shift at St Kilda Video at 10pm then head across the road for a few rounds at the Doulton Bar, often ending the night either dancing with drag queens at Bojangles on the Lower Esplanade, hanging with the stoned and drunken flotsam that crammed themselves into the Lindentree on Fitzroy St, or watching the smacked-out strippers gyrating for drug money at the long past its prime Casablanca disco in the next block up.

On a few of these occasions, making our way home at three or four in the morning, my friends and I, fuelled by a heady cocktail of booze, pot and the odd stupefying sniff of amyl nitrate (then still being sold over the counter at the Acland St sex shop), would climb the fence into Luna Park and spend a few hours walking around in the dark, exploring all the rides and amusements by moonlight and feeling as if I was trapped within my own surrealistic horror movie. One time we scampered up the scenic railway rollercoaster track and sat atop the iconic big mouth entrance, smoking joints and soaking in the view that, as passengers on the ride, we had only ever had a few seconds to enjoy. Another time we climbed up the cold metal cobwebs of the giant ferris wheel, sitting ourselves in the top cars while we downed a six-pack and looked out across the blackened Port Phillip Bay, enjoying the silence and the sting of salty air on sweat as it hit us in the face. We even got into the ghost train ride once and wandered around the track in the pitch dark, with only cigarette lighters to guide our way and all of us scared witless. Not by the gloriously gaudy papier mache monsters and giant plastic spiders that dangled from the ceiling, but by the thought that at any second we could suddenly stumble upon some grizzled street bum (or worse) who had decided to make the ride their home for the night. It was an idiotic thing to do in retrospect, one slip of my drunken or stoned foot on those precarious climbs and that could have been it, but the experience and sense of secret wonder it filled me with was more than worth it.

We never tried any of that again after we finally got busted by a security patrol one night, who thankfully let us go with just a warning (after taking down our well-rehearsed fake names and addresses). I think the security guy could sense that we weren’t in there for theft or vandalism, but purely to experience Luna Park in a wholly unique way (and yes, the perceived element of ‘danger’ certainly added to the excitement of it all).

I had the utmost respect for the property and its rich (and sometimes sordid) history, but looking back now I kind of regret that I never helped myself to at least one small, unique memento as something tangible to remember those increasingly distant nights with (especially considering that most of things I could have taken have no doubt long since been consigned to the trash heaps of time and ‘progress’).

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