Australia’s Dreamworld is the result of one man’s wish back in the latter half of the 1970s to build a theme park and today it is one of the Gold Coast’s premier attractions, as Andrew Mellor discovered.

WE all have dreams and for some I guess they do come true. Certainly in the case of Australian John Longhurst his dream to create a theme park did eventually come to fruition.

Built in Coomera, Queensland, on Australia’s Gold coast, the site Dreamworld now occupies once belonged to a John and Sarah Williamson, an English cattle raising family who in 1874 decided to name their house Hollywood Cottage, putting the name on a hardwood beam which was then placed above their front door. Their original cottage still stands intact on Dreamworld grounds, as part of Gold Rush Country, where the descendants of the Williamson’s stayed on until 1989.

Ninety-five years later John Longhurst, on a flight between Hawaii and Japan, envisioned what would later become Dreamworld. He was a man from a simple background, having begun his working life as a truck operator and mechanic, later becoming a successful lawn mower manufacturer, which in turn led to him successfully graduating as a builder and boat maker.

After purchasing 85 hectares of land in the Coomera area, Longhurst bought a second-hand bulldozer and for a period of two years set about creating his theme park dream on 30 hectares of the site, working a 12 hour day, gouging out 800m of waterway, 30m wide and 3m deep; it was later filled with water and called the Murrissipi. This would be his signature upon the opening of his “kingdom.” Longhurst was later joined by Sydney furniture retailer Ken Lord and they developed the site together, employing Disney designers to design the park, which was further elaborated and completed by Australian architects.

The park officially opened on December 15, 1981, operating from Tuesdays to Thursdays and with approximately 220 employees. Attractions at that time included Main Street, Central Station, City Hall, vintage cars, the Cannon Ball Express, an Imax theatre, the Rocky Hollow log ride and the Captain Sturt steamboat-style paddle wheeler.

Throughout the 1980s investment continued to be made in a range of new rides and attractions. During the second year of operation, for example, the world’s longest (at the time) double loop roller coaster, The Thunderbolt, built by Meisho of Japan, made its debut (it was removed in 2004), while the following year the Blue Lagoon waterpark opened. 1984 saw the park move to seven days a week opening and in 1986 Gold Rush Country opened, featuring the Mine Ride, log ride and rapid river ride, which continues to be one of the park’s most popular attractions. Koala Country opened in 1987.

A change of ownership of Dreamland took place in 1989 when Bruce Jenkins’ Dreamco purchased the park from its original owner. However, with financial problems arising in 1990, Ernst & Young, receivers and managers, were appointed by the mortgagee to take control and with a newly restructured management team managed to increase visitors by 51 per cent, with the annual figure currently standing at approximately 1.4 million. Continued investment ensured further success and in 1994 Dreamworld successfully came out of liquidation.

The following year the park was again sold, this time to Singapore based Kua Phek Long, while in 1999 it was acquired by Macquarie Leisure Trust, managed by Macquarie Leisure Operations Ltd., a subsidiary of Macquarie bank. In 2009 the name of the company was changed to Ardent Leisure.

Throughout this period and since the last change of ownership, investments have continued to be made and Dreamland today boasts an impressive array of rides and attractions akin to any major theme park.  Tiger Island, one of only two interactive tiger exhibits in the world, opened in 1995, while the Tower of Terror Intamin reverse freefall coaster, which takes riders up to 118m, followed two years later.

In January 2001, a new, four hectare wildlife sanctuary, the Australian Wildlife Experiencee, opened following a AUD$5m redevelopment of the former Koala Country, and in December of the same year the 40m high, 800m long Arrow Dynamics-built Cyclone was added.

In 2002, Nick Central, based on the number one kids TV channel, opened, instantly becoming the biggest kids cartoon attraction zone in an Australian theme park, with 16 different rides, attractions and activities. The first ever Wiggles World made its debut in 2005, while in the park’s 25th. anniversary year of 2006 the AUD$60m waterpark WhiteWater World was opened, bringing a new form of entertainment to the offering, with the first Hydrocoaster in the country, the world’s first eight-lane Octo-Racers, the B.R.O., Nickelodeon’s Pipeline Plunge and Wiggle Bay, among a host of other attractions.

In 2007, Australia’s first motorbike coaster was introduced with the opening of Mick Doohan’s Motocoaster, from Intamin, while bringing things right up to date, in 2009 Dreamworld opened AVPX, a next generation laser combat experience themed to reflect the cult sci-fi movie Alien Vs Predator.

While the theme park covers 27 hectares at present, the adjacent WhiteWater World currently covers four hectares and there is almost double this total amount of land available for future development. Both parks operate all year round and inevitably, staff numbers depend on seasonality, with the number almost doubling to more than 1,100 during the peak summer/Christmas season.

As far as the park’s target age group is concerned, Dreamworld is positioned as having something for everyone, with thrills for the three year old at Wiggles World and an adrenalin junkie’s paradise with the Big 6 Thrill Rides. This works well for the modern blended families, where children can range in age from 3 through to 23, according to public relations manager Shelley Winkel.

As a result, Dreamworld predominantly appeals to the teen market and the family market and as well as some of the rides already mentioned offers a wide variety of additional attractions. Other thrill rides include the Giant Drop, Wipeout and The Claw, while for the family there is Nick Central’s Runaway Reptar Roller Coaster and the IMAX theatre. Nick Central provides a host of attractions themed on today’s top Nickelodeon cartoon characters, including the Rugrats, Blues Clues and  SpongeBob SquarePants, while Wiggles World takes its cues from one of Australia’s most successful toddler’s brands to offer kids the chance to ride in the Big Red Car, dance and sing at the Fun Spot Activity Centre, climb around on the Shimmy Shack, sail the seas on the S.S. Feathersword and take a spin on the Rosy Tea Cup ride, as well as meeting The Wiggles Friends live every day of the year, among other activities.

The Australian Wildlife Experience provides the chance for guests to cuddle a koala, feed a kangaroo, get up close with crocodiles and learn about endangered animals and birds, while Tiger Island is home to six Bengal tigers, eight Sumatran tigers and two cougars who entertain guests along with their trainers.

Not surprisingly, live entertainment is also provided and comes in various forms. Nickelodeon Central has two live shows daily, including Stories from Bikini Bottom and Slime Time, while the Australian Wildlife Experience has a number of shows including Oakey Creek Farm Show (four times a day), Australian Animal Presentation (once per day) and Croc Feeding Experience (once per day). Tiger Island hosts two tiger presentations and a cougar presentation daily and additionally, there is the seasonal MTV Plugs into Dreamworld – Summer Series Live shows (which ran from December 26, 2009 – January 22, 2010).

Special events are also held during the year. For adults, the regularly scheduled events include New Year’s Eve Amped (a rock and ride festival of sound), DreamDate, the ultimate singles event on February 13, and Screaming Queens, targeting the pink market. For the youth market there is a series of Screamworlds and Night WhiteWater World events which are held on Friday nights and target the 13 – 22 year age bracket, while the park also opens the thrill based rides to regular guests on Friday and Saturday nights, including Redline and Flowrider.

For hungry park-goers Dreamworld offers a seated, air-conditioned, fully halal-accredited restaurant plus six other outlets offering convenient foods and sandwiches, as well as the Yummy Yummy café which is targeted at children. WhiteWater World features three eating outlets.

Various ticket options are available for both parks, with one and two day “World” passes on offer, which allow access to each venue during the chosen period (via an internal gate). Admission gives guests access to all the attractions and facilities on offer, although additional charges are made for items such as the Redline simulator, Flowrider surf experience and the helicopter ride. The average length of stay is two days based on the popularity of the two day World Pass.

Brands are clearly an important aspect of Dreamworld and, according to Winkel, over the past five to eight years the strategy has been to align with brands “that have massive appeal and cut through with different demographic segments (i.e.  Wiggles World for toddlers, Nickelodeon Central for “tweens” and Mick Doohan for thrill seekers). This last summer we also teamed up with MTV for a series of live shows daily.”

For the future, Winkel notes that at some stage a second phase of the waterpark will be added, although details are yet to be made available, while Dreamworld itself will no doubt continue to add attractions and grow further as it maintains its position as one of the big Gold Coast draws.

At a glance side panel

Opened in December, 1981

Owned by Ardent Leisure

Operates all year round

Covers 27 hectares

1,100 staff during the peak summer/Christmas season

Whitewater World waterpark on adjoining four hectare site

Key areas include Nick Central, Wiggles World, Australian Wildlife Experience and Tiger Island

Main attractions include Tower of Terror, Mick Doohan’s Motocoaster, Giant Drop, Wipeout, The Claw,  Nick Central’s Runaway Reptar Roller Coaster, IMAX theatre and Captain Sturt steamboat-style paddle wheeler