Author: Sue Rosen
Client: Godden Mackay for the NSW Department of Planning.
The major themes associated with the history of the study area at Milson's Point and Lavender Bay are entertainment, transport, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and in later years development pressure and suspected corruption. From the mid 1930s the history of the area is predominated by the history of Luna Park - an institution with which many Sydneysiders and visitors have had some association. The distinctive artwork and architecture of Luna Park, like that of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, have helped create a cultural icon linked by juxtaposition with the aforesaid institutions. There exists a contrast between popular and elite culture with the Opera House; and the Harbour Bridge, that solid engineering masterpiece is contrasted by the fantasy facadism of Luna Park. The uncertain future of Luna Park in recent years and questions regarding the bona fides of its proprietors since the 1970’s have increased the interest of the general public in the site. The extensive media coverage given to proposals affecting the future of Luna Park in particular, and the study area generally both reflects and fuels this interest.
For most of its history the study area has served as an important transport interchange for persons crossing the Harbour and in fact the extent and nature of development in the immediate area was directly linked to the development and accessibility of cross harbour transport facilities. However, on the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932 the Lavender Bay area ceased to serve as a major transport interchange and the area occupied by Luna Park was allocated for public recreation purposes. The lease for the site was granted to Luna Park (N.S.W.) on condition that 80,000 pounds was to be spent developing the site in the following six months as an amusement park.
Amusement parks relate historically by function to the European pleasure gardens initially provided by benevolent nobles who allowed peasants to utilise parts of parklands for entertainment purposes. The establishment of amusement parks in Australia reflected aspects of both English and American cultural influences. Fair grounds at Bondi Pier, Coogee Pier (1928), Tamarama (1887), Manly Pier (1931) and White City (1913) served Sydney at various times during the early part of this century, however none were particularly successful distinguishing themselves from their American counterparts mainly by the respectability and decorum of their patrons. The Luna Parks as imported from the U.S. by the Phillips Brothers were however, predominantly American in style and culture with some Australian motifs employed in the artwork. Luna Park, Sydney, was named after Luna Park, on New York's Coney Island, that had commenced operations in 1895 and which ceased operation due to the pressure of land prices and development in 1970, a fate similar to that, which has threatened Sydney's Luna Park.