The Big Dipper

24 August, 2008

Question: I remember ridding on the Luna Big Dipper Carriage when I was a child. Is the carriage on display at the Melbourne Museum from the real Big Dipper ride?

Luna Park 1942

The crowd inside Luna Park, St Kilda 1942, with the Big Dipper and the Scenic Railway in the background.
Photographer: Roy Leibig / Source: Museum Victoria

Answer: Climb aboard and hold on tight! Visitors to The Melbourne Story exhibition at Melbourne Museum are able to recreate the ‘Big Dipper’ experience by sitting an original Big Dipper carriage and watching a film taken at Luna Park in the early 1920s. The film features a rider’s eye view of the Scenic Railway and it’s quite a ride!

Luna Park in St Kilda opened to the public in December 1912. It operated sporadically over the next few years: the First World War and resulting shortages of parts caused maintenance problems with several amusement rides.

In 1922, management representatives travelled to the United States and Great Britain and new attractions were purchased including the latest ‘roller coaster’ ride. The St Kilda Luna Park roller coaster was known as the ‘Big Dipper’.

The Big Dipper carriage incorporates a patented device to hold it on the rails with wheels running on the underside of the rails. The usual configuration for each carriage set was three 8-passenger cars joined together. There were originally three sets of carriages in use. The Museum Victoria carriage is apparently car two (the middle car) of carriage set No. 3. This accounts for the number ‘3’ on the rear seat.

A Big Dipper Carriage

Museum Victoria's Big Dipper carriage before restoration
Source: Museum Victoria

After it opened in 1923, the Big Dipper ride was the most popular thrill ride at Luna Park. It was faster than other rides at Luna Park and offered steeper climbs, turns and descents.

As technology developed throughout this period, increasing numbers of Melburnians visited Luna Park to partake in this new and exciting leisure activity. In particular, a visit to Luna Park was a popular way for Melbournians to escape the harships of WW2.

The Big Dipper was demolished in 1988 following safety concerns. Museum Victoria purchased its Big Dipper Carriage from a private Collector in 1996. The carriage required extensive restoration and conservation work in 2007 by Museum Victoria staff to prepare it for display in The Melbourne Story exhibition.

The Big Dipper Carriage Restored

The Big Dipper carriage restored.
Source: Museum Victoria

Comments (6)

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John 26 March, 2011 16:05
The St Kilda Councel placed herratige status on the Big Dipperand wouldn't permit its demolition. The minister for development and planning overtuned the counels ruling and allowed the Big Dipper to be demolished. The Big Dipper site is sitting almost unused. Still beats having to grant state money to do it up and pay to run it at a loss, doesn't it ? Anyone remember the Fedral Coffee Pallace ? One of Austrialias finest 1880s boom style buildings, well oce it was gone, the intire site remained empty for years.
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Edwin Dickinson 19 May, 2011 09:42
I would like to say i feel for people of Melbourne for loosing such a roller coaster. I dont think a renovated Big Dipper would run as a lost. In fact it would be very successful. I am not sure what condition it was in at the time of it's demolistion. If it was very poor they might just replace the structure and track where its needed or scavage what would be useful and rebuild the roller coaster. This hass been done over in the United States succesfully. (zippin Pippin in Green Bay Wisconsin is getting rebuilt at this present time). Purchase new trains and you would still have something brilliant and argubaly the best roller coaster in Australia. Possibly one of the best in the world.
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Charlie B 14 June, 2011 05:14
The tragedy was that Melbourne's Luna Park destroyed it's star attraction, leaving the space to be filled with trailer rides. The demolition of the Big Dipper was actually in 1989, not '88. The ride heralded the end of the park being an exciting place to visit. Today it's a disgrace. Lindsay Fox is more a disgrace for letting children endure an average venue.
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Nick108 24 June, 2011 23:24
The day they pulled it out, I moved out of Melbourne, the place had sort of died for me. I was a Big Dipper Junkie in my youth. Between ice skates, the Big Dipper or the beach whoever took that out, destroyed what for me was 'paradise'. It made leaving Melbourne so much easier. Long live the Big Dippers Memory, or build a mint condition replica. The oldest coasters, leave some of the most modern ones for dead!
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Johnsergei 28 December, 2012 14:41
John got it in one, It's less about mistakes by a minister and more about $$$. It would cost big bucks to've restored the BD +you can bet there were deals done re its replacement ( never built). Terrable I know but we learn from our errors. 1o years ago the Russians rebult the largest orthadox chuch in the world, a dead replica of the one destroyed on Starlins orders in 1933. Everything is paid for by money that comes from a bank as loans with interest owing. While everybody (inc governments) remains held to ransom by billionare bankers we will never rebuild our mistakes. IT SHOULD BE REBUILT TO ORIGIONAL SPEC'S AND SPEED,Luna park now is a dump ( and developers have their eyes on it, why not, the bankers will happilly lend them the money to develop ( which the banks will make out of thin air)) YEP! THAT'S HOW EASILY THEY COULD REBUILD THE BIG DIPPER, THE MONEY SHORTAGE IS ARTIFICIAL THE WORLD OVER NEW MONEY IS BEAING CREATED IN MASSIIVLY EVER INCREASING AMMOUNTS, and has been for many decades, it's just not for you or I, SORRY!
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MATTY 28 July, 2013 17:42
It is interesting to learn all this information about the Big Dipper. I am doing a major performance on Luna Park and have found out different things, a sad time is when a man died while riding this ride back in March 1935. Yeah it is interesting to perform these things on a small stage and trying to make it as clear as possible. Go the BIG DIPPER!
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