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?
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.
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.
Source: Museum Victoria