Inside Wonderland’s decaying graveyard
Just 14 years ago, Sydney's Wonderland was filled with the screeching of roller-coasters, the scent of dagwood dogs and the laughter and excitement of schoolkids spending their pocket money at Australia's most loved theme park.
For almost two decades, Wonderland operated more than 20 rides in Sydney's Eastern Creek. It was an institution for many, and a hotspot during school holidays.
But finally, in 2004, "persistent losses incurred and difficult market conditions" saw the theme park shut its doors for the last time.
Once the largest amusement park in the southern hemisphere "where there was magic on every corner", the Wonderland management company, Sunway Group, blamed a multitude of factors for its closure including the September 11 attacks and the collapse of Ansett.
"When we took over eight years ago, the park's future was uncertain," Wonderland's then chief executive Stephen Galbraith said two months prior to the theme park's last day of trade. "Since then, we have lifted the overall performance of the park, completely rebuilt its image and brand awareness but this had not been enough. Wonderland's 400 employees would get their full entitlements and help to find new jobs."
But instead of being cleared away, the bones of the theme park still haunt the grounds in which they were dumped as rubbish all those years ago.
In 2017, amateur filmmaker Phil Van Gerwen decided to take a trip down memory lane, and venture to the site where rides have been dumped following the park's demise.
During his exploration, Mr Van Gerwen discovered remnants of rides and pieces of signage that made up the Wonderland fun.
This week, the 27-year-old decided to go back for a second visit to Wonderland's graveyard - complete with a drone - to see what he may have missed during his first visit two years ago.
"I'd only been to Wonderland once before as a kid and I can barely remember it," he told news.com.au.
"But it was so popular - I really wanted to explore it. And my friend wanted to take a drone, so we went out again this month."
Shooting an 18-minute video this time around for his YouTube channel "Abandoned Oz", Mr Van Gerwen was able to see more detail than what he captured last time. The professional gardener said the site is still filled with rotting material, with some parts of the land holding more debris than he expected.
"I'm really surprised with how much stuff is still there," he said.
"The first thing we saw was the paddleboats … and a few old signs to do with ice cream and The Flintstones.
"There's also a lot of piles of wood."
Australia's Wonderland opened in December 1985 on a 219-hectare parcel of land in western Sydney.
At its peak the amusement park featured 24 rides across five themed sections. The most notable attractions included The Demon, The Beastie, The Bush Beast and the Snowy River Rampage.
The park was set to be an alternate option to Luna Park, and included rides that featured Yogi Bear, Scooby-Doo and The Flintstones.
During Mr Van Gerwen's recent voyage to the wasteland, he documented the condition of six paddle boats from Magilla Gorilla's Floatillas, plastic water slide tubing, piles of wooden planks possibly from the Wizard's Fury train ride, parts of the Fred Flintstone's Splashdown sign and the carcass of an old water raft.
There was also signage from an old food stand, listing ice cream for sale.
In 2016, Sydney electrician Dave Naylor made a similar visit to the site with friends, describing the area as a "boneyard" of fond childhood memories.
Speaking to Nine News at the time, Mr Naylor said visiting the site brought back memories he had as a child.
"We couldn't get the smiles off our faces," he said of the visit.
"I saw things I remember clearly as a child, pieces of rides I used to love that were still just sitting there, fading."
"The most depressing thing was realising we were standing on the exact same spot where the actual Beastie used to be," he said, referring to the park's smaller wooden rollercoaster.
"It was sad to look out and see there really was nothing left of it. It really was gone," he said.
"I honestly think I would have gone to Wonderland every second day in the school holidays. It was where everyone went; it was just awesome.
"If there had been one thing I wish could have found when I was out at that boneyard it would have been a piece of the Bush Beast.
"If you could have told me for sure that I had found even a small part of that ride I would have taken it home and hung it on the wall."