Inside the Collection

Where is Wonderland? – Tamarama’s secret past.

Photograph of Bondi Aquarium about 1891
The grounds of Bondi Aquarium in 1891, later to become ‘Wonderland City’ , 85/1285-848, collection of the Powerhouse Museum.

The name Wonderland evokes a sense of magic and mystery, something otherworldly and out of reach – much like the famed Alice and her trip down the rabbit hole. Sydney has more than one connection to the use of this name, most recently, is the title of a television sitcom set in an apartment block along the coastline of the eastern suburbs beaches of Sydney. The second more historical, but still recent connection was as the title of a theme park which ran for some 19 years at Eastern Creek in Sydney’s western suburbs between 1985 and 2004. Curiously, both the television series and the theme park have a connection to a third much older use of the term ‘Wonderland’ in Sydney.

Originally named ‘The Royal Aquarium’ and ‘Pleasure Grounds’ and opening in October of 1887 on what is now the eastern or seaside part of Tamarama, the site was also known as the ”Bondi Aquarium’ and consisted of the aforementioned aquarium building, skating rink, seal pond and shark pool.1

The aquarium and pavilion were destroyed by fire in 1891 and re-built within a year, a close up of one of the Powerhouse Museum’s glass plate negatives details the reconstruction as taking 11 weeks to complete.

Detail of newly built Bondi Aquarium
Detail of signage for newly rebuilt Bondi Aquarium, 1891, 85/1285-848 collection of the Powerhouse Museum.

The novelty of the enterprise gradually fell into decline, partly from a waning of interest from the public and competition from other similar set-ups along the coast, such as ‘The Centennial Coogee Palace Aquarium’ and swimming baths which opened in the same year (on the current site of the Palace Beach hotel) and which included  a 70m toboggan.

Photograph of Canadian Tobbogan at Coogee Beach 1887
View looking south at Coogee, 1887 or after, 85/1285-749 collection of the Powerhouse Museum.

By 1906 the Bondi Aquarium was finished and a William Anderson bought up land around the Tamarama beach area and acquired the lease of the beach which was a government reserve, 100 feet wide, from the Department of Lands (except for a 12 foot wide strip measured from high watermark which the department insisted be kept free for public use). A ‘road’ down to the beach on the northern side was part of the deal so that public could have access to the water.1

Anderson created a new venture ‘Wonderland City’ opening on the 1 December 1906 using many of the existing structures and modelling the site on the famous Coney Island. Attractions included ‘an artificial lake, a roller-skating rink (run by George Marlow), double-decker merry-go-round, Haunted House, Helter Skelter, a switchback railway (moved from its original site above the beach to the rear of the Tamarama park), a maze, fun factory, one-kilometre miniature railway (on the south slope), the Airem Scarem (a captive airship that tracked on a wire from cliff to cliff by electricity), wax works, Katzenjammer Castle, Hall of Laughter, Box Ball Alley, a boxing tent, seal pond, circus ring, movie house, penny parlour, Alice the elephant and other animals, the Japanese tearooms and Swiss Chalet (slide). The Kings Theatre, a kind of music hall, could seat 1,000 people.”2

Photograph of Bondi Aquarium.
View of Bondi Aquarium, later Wonderland City, 1891 or after, 85/1285-1139 collection of the Powerhouse Museum.

Again, over a short number of years interest from the public waned and with displeasure from swimmers and locals for beach and water access increasing, the days of Wonderland City were numbered and Anderson’s venture finally closed in 1911.


Photograph of Wonderland City, Tamarama
View looking east over Tamarama bay at the rebuilt Bondi Aquarium later to become Wonderland City. 1891 or after, 85/1285-453, collection of the Powerhouse Museum.

Today Tamarama’s colourful past is remembered by Wonderland Ave situated on the north side from the beach.

Written by Einar Docker, Assistant Curator, 2013



1. Tamarama,  A Settlement paradigm by Warwick Mayne-Wilson and Ari Anderson, 2010.

2. Tamarama Park Plan of Management by Waverley Council adopted June 2007. See:

Saltwater People of the Fatal Shore by John Ogden. 2012 Cyclops press.

Eastern Suburbs Album by Portia Fitzsimmons, 1985, Atrand Pty Ltd, Sydney by Kimberley Sullivan.

A Nation in the Making by Alasdair McGregor, 2011. Australian Geographic.

An Edwardian Summer, Judith Ainge, Alan Davies, Howard Tanner, edited by Caroline Mackaness, 2010 Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales.

9 responses to “Where is Wonderland? – Tamarama’s secret past.

  • Please can you let me know whether the tamarama wonderland was there in 1896-8 and what attractions either were there or are likely to have been there?
    Kind regards Helen

    • Hi Helen,
      According to Einar’s post the Royal Aquarium existed on the site from 1887-1906, so would have been there during the period you’re interested in. In 1906 the Acquarium closed and Tamarama Wonderland opened in its place.
      I hope that helps.
      Kind regards,
      Sarah Reeves, MAAS

  • All photos of the Bondi Aquarium’s switch-back railway showing it crossing the sand of Tamarama beach itself can only date from 1888 to 1889.

    Ron Madden

  • “Madame Flaro” performed at Wonderland City for a time in 1907. She would set herself alight and then slide down a length of cable extinguishing herself in water. I am trying to find a photo of her during this time.

  • Hi, I have newspaper articles showing my 2nd great grandfather Carl Franks was meant to have worked at Wonderland City in January 1910. The Newspaper article involves a fight with a David Hepburn who was also apparently working there at this time.
    If you have any information I would appreciate it. Thanks.

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