The death of Footrot Flats creator Murray Ball over the weekend will have led many of us to reminisce about the good old days.
For me, it evoked memories of reading tales about Dog and his owner Wal in dim lamplight under the bed covers after I was meant to be asleep.
It also made me wonder what ever happened to the Footrot Flats theme park which operated in Auckland’s Te Atatu Penisula from 1986 to 1991.
My vague memories of visiting the park as a child revolved around riding the small wooden rollercoaster over and over again, sliding down the giant slide on a sack, and watching the daily parade, which for some reason featured a guest appearance by Darth Vader from Star Wars.
A quick Google search doesn’t yield much information about the park, but a link to a Youtube video taken in February 1986 shortly after it opened offers a small glimpse into its early days.
Before becoming the Footrot Flats theme park, the site had been used as a driving course for young New Zealanders to practice their skills using modified go-kart like buggies which can be seen in the video. This experience was then incorporated into the park as Drivers Town, taking up a majority of the space.
Like Ball’s quintessentially Kiwi comics the park had a rough around the edges look and feel to it, modelled on the farmyard setting of Footrot Flats.
A smaller version of Disneyland’s main street experience that housed souvenir shops and small eateries based on Ball’s characters, greeted patrons as they entered the park, with a costumed Dog character doing the rounds in place of Mickey Mouse.
In fact, towards the end of the Youtube video, you can hear one of the park employees state in a thick American accent how they hope the park will one day be the Disneyland of the South Pacific, drawing in crowds from all over the world.
The signs alluding to “stage three” of the development, which would have featured shopping, restaurants, and a bowling alley amongst other attractions, showed the ambitions the owners had for the park.
Sadly the giant sack slide just couldn’t cut it when competing with the log flume at nearby Rainbow’s End and the dream of our very own Disney-like theme park ended with it.
Luckily the timeless characters created by Ball didn’t die with the park and they will live on as a much-loved part of our Kiwi culture.