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 (14)

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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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
Ioanna 30 July, 2015 21:42
I am now nearly 60, but going to Luna Park was very much apart of my childhood and teen years. My friend and I were obsessed with the Big Dipper and would ride on it many times in a row. I recall many years down the track seeing the carriage just sitting on the ground as a relic. I also recall it being red and yet pictures don't show this. Aside from the wonderful memories on the BD, Luna Park generally had many wonderful areas that eventually shut down. There was also a smaller fair near The Pallais Theatre. We we went regularly to Luna Park and seeing how it had changed so much was upsetting to say the least. It was always buzzing with people in our time. I had wonderful memories with my family and friends. So sad it just isn't the same. The big void of course being the famous Big Dipper.
danny 9 August, 2015 05:25
Went to luna park yesterday very dissapointed way overpriced and not many good rides . Much better 25 years ago . Nothing can replace the big dipper
Hayden 8 January, 2016 23:31
Hi I was one of the last generations to experience luna park at what I remember as its best in the mid 1980s. It was always full of people and exciting to say the least. Without restoring the main attractions & replacing such icons with trailer rides is just hideous. If these lost treasures are not reconstructed to what they once were then it will never be the same again. My whole family has experienced this including my 84yo grandfather. Total disgrace today. Although I admire it. Cannot understand the senseless destruction of our icon. Does anyone know where I can find images or video of a journey on the Big Dipper. Photos of the tracks and structure prior to removal. OR any rare images of this great ride? I'd appreciate if anyone could let me know. Thank you.
Discovery Centre 26 January, 2016 11:54

Hi Hayden

Thanks for your heartfelt comment – some of us also remember the Big Dipper in its best period, although it was quite frightening too!  Our volunteer researchers have found some online photos and other records - there are not many, and you may have seen some of them.  You might look at this site which covers other aspects of Luna Park too. You might also look at this one as a good general record of a roller coaster ride of the period.

Hayden 10 January, 2016 12:10
Can anyone tell me the track length, cart speed, and how long the 'Big Dipper' ride went for when it existed at luna park stkilda, Melbourne?
Discovery Centre 26 January, 2016 11:54

Hello again Hayden, Our volunteer researchers haven't had a lot of luck finding those specific details, but there are details of the type you ask for the Sydney Big Dipper, and the Melbourne one may have been similar.  See this site . The Big Dipper in Melbourne ran from 1923 to 1989.

John 19 March, 2017 14:42
Hayden. The Big Dipper ran up & down one side of Luna Park. The Scenic railway has 5 big drops then several smaller ones. All of it's corners are taken slowly as it has no side wheels. The BD has these ( same ride as the Sydney BD, which was first at Glenelg SA)so it cornered quite quickly. Its first drop was imidiatly after the lift hill, from a hight roughly = to top of SR (maybe a little more?)but the drop was steeper & unlike the Railway, drpped all the way down to terra firma. After the following rise, the track is still high & loops back but I've found no clear photos of the next 2 drops. Then there's another loop around they tracks about 2 storys high so while the speed may still be decent, big drops are over, a much faster ride than the Scenic Railway. The SR top, about 60 KM/H & many slow bits.BD 80 KM/H on drops and above 50 most of the short (800m) ride. With only 1 really big drop I don't think rebuilding the Big Dipper is at all viable,much as I'd like to see it. Take a look at Blackpool's old Big Dipper, for example,it beats the hell out of the Big Dippers Australia had. One huge drop after another, along the side fence. like the Scenic Railway on steroids.
Colliric 21 March, 2016 03:41
The big dipper was meant to be replaced by The Titan, one reason it was demolished at that specific time. The Titan roller-coaster is the ride that was located at the temporary World Expo Park in Brisbane. However for whatever reason(possibly the noise factor, or cost of transporting the ride to Melbourne, etc) this deal did not eventuate. The Titan sat unused until it was finally purchased by Wonderland Sydney in 1993. It is currently still in operation in Alabama, USA as the "Zoomerang" coaster. I am personally disappointed Luna Park could not secure the ride, as it was itself a great modern roller-coaster, and it would have been a fantastic addition to the park.
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