20 January 1885 – L.A. Thompson patents the roller coaster

My new wife and I rode The Demon, a roller-coaster at Australia’s Wonderland, in 1995, back when Australia still had room for wonder. Wonderland is gone now, replaced by an overpass at the confluence of two motorways.

The Demon itself was a Dutch-designed roller-coaster whose pitches and rolls you ran through twice. First forward. Then backward.

As the catchcar was winching the carriages backwards from the station up the first lift-hill, I could see that Lyndall was anxious about that first drop. Already anticipating the speed and dislocation we would experience as gravity undid the work of the winch.

So I began to sing the song “Turn Around” from They Might Be Giants’ fourth studio album, Apollo 18, which was released in 1992. It’s a smooth crooning song and has a nice swing to it, and it’s one of our favourites from that album. I remember reaching the chorus, with its cheery and macabre repetition,

Turn around. Turn around.

There’s a thing there that can be found.

Turn around. Turn around.

It’s a human skull on the ground.

Human skull on the ground.

Turn around.

Then, a second before the winch disengaged and our carriages began their barely-guided freefall down the rails, I stopped singing. The words of the song were gone. My wife was gone. Only the ground remained. And the distance between me and it. And my desire to have not left it for a single second.

After the ride was over – one minute of plummet and corkscrew and roll and twist, followed by a brief forward winch up the second lift-hill and then the backwards drop to wind through everything in reverse, another minute of plummet and twist and roll and corkscrew – I stepped out of the carriage and walked off the station platform without speaking to my wife.

At the entrance to the ride, the operators were selling photographs of each carriage for those who wanted a souvenir of the event more lasting than nausea. In the photo of our carriage, three of the four people photographed as they passed under the station awning at the bottom of the first drop (Lyndall included) have their arms in the air and their faces show that unique fun-park combination of terror and delight.

My arms are locked firmly by my sides and my face is ashen. Drained of all colour and expression. A pale human skull, with something like a face pasted on.

I heard that after Wonderland was closed, The Demon was sold and shipped off to Alabama where theme-park patrons know it as The Zoomerang.

File under: almost certainly a metaphor for something | the most fun you can have while at the mercy of sadists and torturers

(Image source: parkz.com.au)


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I’m presuming you didn’t line up for a 2nd turn! You have to admit it was smooth…accentuated the jerking of the `bush beast’

You’re right, Kath. The bush beast really threw you around! And no, I didn’t line up for another go.

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