I’D like to think that everyone has some sort of life changing experience as an adolescent that maps out your future and the way you see the world as an adult.
It could be your first crush or kiss. Your first job. Your first car even. Your first car accident. For the kid in my favourite film of last year, The Way Way Back, it was getting a summer job at a water park. For Elliot, it was meeting ET. For Justin Bieber, well, that is yet to be determined.
In my case, it was Australia’s Wonderland. No, it wasn’t just going there, although I at least visited once a year during the late 80s (I had a Wonderpass long before I had a learners permit).
I worked there as a ride operator. The majority of my lifelong friends came from that time and place. I met my first serious girlfriend there. My band, which coincidentally is celebrating 20 years together this year, played our first gig at a Christmas party in the park. I have friends that are happily married with children who I met working there.
With a few drinks in the system (water of course), it doesn’t take very long for my circle of friends to start retelling old stories from AWL. And now I’m telling them to you. Let’s start with celebrities…
One school holidays the park was graced with a few weeks of performances from The Flying Fruit Fly Circus, a youth circus from Albury-Wadonga.
For some reason, let’s call it stupidity, I took to reminding the guests on the ride microphone to check out “The Flying Fruit Bat Circus” every time I had to do my safety spiel.
That would be every three minutes or so. Of course, yours truly completely forgot that being a youth circus, the performers would be enjoying the park between shows. Let’s just say that having a group of 20 circus kids in the ride queue hear their ever popular show be besmirched is not going to generate a positive response.
So my apologies, 20 years late, to The Flying Fruit Bat Circus.
Remember Take That? Featuring a young Robbie Williams, the UK boyband was in the park to promote its latest single.
After a night time performance in the Sundown Theatre, I was asked by my manager to stay back when the park closed as the band had requested to ride The Demon roller coaster and Bounty’s Revenge, the pirate ship that went the full 360 degrees.
My experience with Take That was brief but they seemed to be having a ball. I got a handshake from each of them at the end, and had the “honour” of minding their hotel room keys during the ride cycle.
If I had a time machine, I would go back and get their autographs and warn Robbie against recording his terrible swing albums.
My band had debuted in 1994 with a staff concert at The Beach, the waterslide area of the park.
One of our dubious covers was a version of Lee Kernaghan’s McBeefsteak jingle, which was on television at the time promoting the latest McDonald’s atrocity.
Shortly after, the park manager arranged for my band to meet Mr Kernaghan backstage at a Wonderland gig. He mistook us for real fans and asked us what was our favourite song from his repertoire. My response, “Ah, I really like all your stuff, especially the McBeefsteak song.”
Another night I was drafted to do some crowd control for a night event, most likely a dance party featuring a pop act with a name that consists of three letters (KLF, OMC, CDB).
These events were traditionally hosted by a B grade celebrity, usually from Home and Away. Sure enough, I ran into an “actress” whom I had worked alongside for a year on a TV show.
We had an awkward reunion. She was clearly embarrassed to be seen talking to a theme park employee in a green and white striped shirt. We swapped numbers. She never called me. I’m proud to say that my career as a roller coaster operator lasted longer than her fame.
Next week: the rides.