Wonderland City, Tamarama, 1907
In 1906, William Anderson, a theatrical entrepreneur of growing prominence, leased the land formerly occupied by The Royal Aquarium and Pleasure Grounds (generally referred to as the ‘Bondi Aquarium’) in Tamarama Park, minus a 12-foot strip of coastline to allow the public access to the beach. He also leased further land in Tamarama Gully, then known as Tamarama Glen or simply ‘the Glen’, and constructed his 20-acre outdoor entertainment masterpiece, Wonderland City.
Some of the attractions included:
Employing over 160 people, Wonderland set a new standard
for Australian outdoor pleasure grounds. Large crowds, estimated at 2,000
people came every summer weekend, with seventy turnstiles at the entrance
doing a brisk trade.
Wonderland was known for its novelty and ‘shocking’
acts, with William Anderson the consummate showman. He organised for a
couple to be married at Wonderland, and then paraded through the grounds on
the back of Alice the elephant. One daredevil performer Jack Lewis roller
skated down a ramp, through a hoop of fire and landed in a tank with sharks
– much to the horror of the crowd. Miraculously Jack always survived
Despite the 12-foot public access path to Tamarama Beach
being excluded from his lease, William Anderson installed an 8-foot wire
fence across this land. He claimed this was necessary as fare-evaders were
entering Wonderland by sneaking along the beach and under his beachfront
The barbed wire fence extended down the cliff on the
southern end of the beach, across the rocks and sand to the rocks at the
beach’s northern end. However this wire fence also blocked access for
swimmers to the beach. Some of these swimmers were influential businessmen
and having their local beach cut off incensed them.
The swimmers started an on-going battle with Anderson;
they would cut his wire fence, he would repair it and contact the police.
The police would arrive and warn the swimmers and the following weekend the
same scenario would be re-enacted.
George B. Philip, the foundation President of the
Tamarama Surf Life Saving Club, was one of these swimmers and he later
recalled how he got around one particular wire fence gatekeeper.
scaled under the barbed wire fence practically every day, I knew every nook
and corner of it – until I was caught by the gatekeeper. The outcome of
this was that I came to an arrangement with him whereby that if I carried
his billy of tea from the kiosk to (the) main gate at 5 o’clock each day,
I could walk in and out when I liked (much to the envy of my mates, who were
The stalemate between the swimmers and William Anderson continued, with the swimmers eventually taking a deputation to NSW Parliament. On 6 March 1907, the Minister for Lands, James Ashton, issued an order to resume the 12-foot strip of land fronting the beach to “give free access for all time to the beach at Tamarama Bay.”
Wonderland was the precursor of Luna Park, setting unprecedented standards for popular outdoor entertainment in Sydney. In its day it was the largest open-air amusement park in the Southern Hemisphere, and its decline does not diminish the grandeur of William Anderson’s vision.
Although little visible evidence of Wonderland survives
today, with the possible exception of the two paths on the northern boundary
of Tamarama Gully, the NSW Heritage Office still considers the site to be of
Today a mural commissioned by the Tamarama Surf Life
Saving Club on the side of their clubhouse celebrates the history of
Wonderland and the part it played in the formation of their club.
Published by Waverley Library.
Last updated 17-Jun-2007