28/03/97 - Australia's Wonderland sold for $50m

Date: 28/03/1997
Publication: The Age
Page: 3
One of Australia's biggest theme parks, Australia's Wonderland in Sydney's western suburbs, has been sold to a Malaysian unit trust for $50.1 million.

The sale crystallises losses of around $15 million for the four founding partners that banded together in 1984 - James Hardie Industries, which owned 23.75 per cent, the SAS Trustee Corp (33.75 per cent), Leighton Holdings (18.75 per cent) and the US-based Jacor Broadcasting (23.75 per cent).

Australia's Wonderland was touted as the first big attempt to capture the family entertainment dollar, but its early years were troubled and there was public scepticism about the potential success of American-style theme parks in Australia.

In recent years, however, Australia's Wonderland appears to have capitalised on the broad resurgence in consumer spending on family entertainment that theme parks such as Dreamworld and Movie World are enjoying.

It recently sought applicants for up to 200 jobs, and in recent years expanded its range of thrill rides.

It decided also to open every day of the year, in contrast to the weekends-only arrangements of its early years.

Australia's Wonderland originally centred on three theme areas including Hanna-Barbera Land, a surprisingly successful entertainment zone based on cartoon characters such as the Flintstones that were created by the US Hanna-Barbera group.

More recently, it has invested in exciting thrill rides including the Snowy River Rampage and the Tasmanian Devil.

But one of the most popular recent arrivals is the $7 million Space Probe 7, which sees patrons ascend a 23-storey tower in a machine that plunges them towards earth at 120 kmh.

While the theme park's profitability is believed to have been erratic in earlier years due to high continuing costs, its recent track record made it a "viable business", in the words of one of the founding shareholders.

Hartford Lane, acting as trustee for the Kuala Lumpur-based unit trust, Sunway Australia, bought all the founding shareholders' stakes and the management company, Sydney Theme Park.

Sunway Australia is connected with Sunway Lagoon, a leisure division of the Kuala Lumpur-listed Sunway City Sdn Bhd.

James Hardie Industries said the sale of its 23.75 per cent generated $11.9 million and represented a loss after tax of about $1.5 million.

For James Hardie, the sale is part of its long-running efforts to sell a diverse bag of non-core assets and streamline operations to focus more tightly on the growing fibre-cement businesses and related building activities.

SAS Trustee Corp is the trustee for the NSW State Government employees' superannuation funds, which are managed by Axiom Funds Management.