In search of lost airships

Airem Scarem

In an earlier series of posts I discussed Australia's first airship, the White Australia, which flew in 1914. It turns out that there was an earlier Australian airship, of a sort: the Airem Scarem. Indeed, according to a 1907 newspaper advertisement it was the 'First Airship below the line' (equator, presumably). From the above photo, taken in 1908, Airem Scarem was a trim little vessel, though the envelope is a bit on the small side and the propulsion system, which seems to consist of no engine and two tiny propellors fore and aft, hardly seems adequate. Fortunately the Airem Scarem was assisted in its flights by being suspended from a cable -- which has been crudely whited-out from the above photo -- because it wasn't a real airship at all but rather an amusement park ride, at Wonderland City in Tamarama, a beachside suburb of Sydney.

Wonderland City was the 1906 creation of impresario William Anderson, though Airem Scarem itself was developed independently, according to the Sydney Morning Herald in 1960 (as quoted by the Australian Parachute Federation):

The airship (erected by a syndicate comprising George Falkiner, a tea merchant, Edwin Geach and Claude Mackay of Exeter, a reporter on the Evening News) ran across the beach on a solid steel cable, supported on the cliffs at both ends on massive wooden structures. At high tide it was actually over the sea.

Riding in the airship (at sixpence a ride, children half price) was quite an experience, and as it had a bad habit of stopping in the middle of the cable passengers had to be rescued by ladder from the beach, a somewhat hazardous proceeding.

The few photos I can find don't seem to show the supporting structure very clearly; in fact they go out of their way to hide it, as with the above and the following, more competently doctored, one:

You can get a general idea of Wonderland City with this photo, which incidentally shows a balloon which is evidently in the process of being inflated (or perhaps deflated) -- though this one also looks to be at least retouched!

Wonderland City

There were many other attractions, including parachute descents from balloon (when inflated), a renenactment of the 1897 assault on the Dargai Heights, and rides on Alice the elephant. But after legal troubles with local bathers (irate at having access to the beach cut off) and various other incidents, including the airship ride's mechanical troubles, Wonderland City closed in 1911. The fate of Airem Scarem is unknown.

Image source: State Library of New South Wales (here and here); @FairFaxArchives.

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