Thrilling rides, zany decorations, and a discombobulating mix of colour and noise; and all set aloft one of Australia’s largest and most expensive shopping centres.
Dazzeland lasted just a few years on the top two floors of the Myer Centre in the 1990s, but it remains a treasured memory for a generation of South Australians.
Curious Adelaide didn’t have to go far to find people who would fondly reminisce about the daring roller coaster, the miniature train, the arcade games and the starry ceiling.
James Magnusson was curious about this unique addition to Adelaide and asked us:
“What happened to Dazzeland?”
How did it all begin?
In 1989, Fairfax newspapers reported Adelaide’s new Myer Centre would be Australia’s “largest downtown shopping centre”.
When it opened in June 1991, about 200,000 visitors came to witness the “shopping complex of the future”.
Adelaide’s Myer Centre and Terrace Towers complex under construction in 1991. (Supplied: State Library/Rann Communications)
It had a six-level Myer store (the biggest outside of Melbourne) and eight levels of specialty shops, including chains never seen in Adelaide before.
But the crowning glory of the $570 million centre was “razzle, dazzle Dazzeland”.
In Dazzeland, $5 gave you unlimited roller coaster and dodgem car rides, and a mere $3.70 bought you a chicken burger, fries and a soft drink to keep you going.
Steve Goodman, a senior lecturer in marketing at the University of Adelaide, remembers the heady days when centre opened.
“Myer split — half of the store got sent to Hindley Street, half of the store got sent to Pulteney and Rundle Street, and there was this big hoo-ha about this amazing new building that was being built, where you could ride a roller coaster around the ceiling,” he said.
“There was a heck of a buzz for a good six months, and we may have ducked an afternoon off school to see what it was like.”
Adelaide Lord Mayor Martin Haese began his retail career in Rundle Mall during the 1980s.
“I was at the opening of the Myer Centre, and there were thousands of people here, it was an enormously successful launch,” he recalled.
“Dazzeland really was a big attraction. It brought families and lots of kids, because there’s never been anything like it and there’s been nothing like it since.”
Dazzeland’s roller coaster ride
The extraordinary cost of building the Myer Centre quickly became a problem for the State Bank of South Australia, which had underwritten some of the development for its owners, the Remm Group.
When the State Bank collapsed in 1991, South Australia was left with debts of $3 billion.
Dazzeland’s Jazz Junction roller coaster on a busy day in the Myer Centre. (Supplied: State Library/Rann Communications)
An Auditor General’s report into the Myer Centre stated the bank’s losses in the project could be well in excess of $250 million, because the building’s value was deemed far less than its cost to build.
Then there was the tragic death of 16-year-old Adelaide schoolboy, Clayton Derwent.
The teenager overbalanced and fell from an escalator on the fifth floor.
Myer management had been warned to install additional railings to prevent falls, but the retailer told a coroner’s inquest the escalators met Australian standards.
Mallrats, screams and sensory overload
Dazzeland was eventually confined to the centre’s top floor.
In 1997, Myer Centre manager Nick De Bruyn announced its complete closure, saying although it was returning a profit, their team wanted to add more style to the complex.
“It’s very difficult for us to do that now, while we’ve got an attraction like Dazzeland at the top of the centre,” he told the ABC.
The Myer Centre said there was considerable interest from potential replacements, including a sports injury clinic.
Shoppers might remember the regular screams of riders on the Jazz Junction roller coaster heard throughout the building.
Steve Goodman said he could understand why the Myer Centre began to have second thoughts about the theme park.
“When we think about the kind of people that would meet in a shopping centre, that would use amusements, we’re talking about the good old-fashioned mallrats — high school kids that are going to catch up with friends.”
He doesn’t believe the so-called mallrats were a problem, but rather they didn’t want to hang out at the family-friendly theme park.
Looking down in the Myer Centre atrium in 1991. (Supplied: State Library/Rann Communications)
“The Myer Centre started to see that the people they were trying to attract, were seeing what they had was ultimately uncool, for them it was a case of back to the drawing board to see what teenagers wanted.”
Martin Haese also laughed off the suggestion.
“Mallrats — I haven’t heard that term for a long time,” he said.
“Rundle Mall has always been a great place for young people … they grow up with Rundle Mall, they meet their first girlfriend, their boyfriend in Rundle Mall.”
Adding to the centre’s woes were strange reports of visitors experiencing sensory overload.
In 1993, the ABC’s 7:30 Report spoke to Dr Zeldo Asinari, who complained he “blanked out” in the noisy, colourful atrium.
“He had gone into a spontaneous state of altered consciousness, much like hypnosis,” hypnotherapist Dr Tom Paterson said, adding, “… the number of people who’ve had that experience … is quite alarming really.”
Martin Haese remembers the story.
“Sensory overload is probably quite contextual, because in today’s day and age, we probably thrive on sensory overload,” he said.
Myer Centre today — where has all the dazzle gone?
Today, the top floors of the building are largely deserted, save for the Slingsby Theatre Company, which has used the old Dazzeland floor for its performances.
Steve Goodman said far from the original mallrats, there is a new breed of young people living, working and studying in the city.
University of Adelaide lecturer Steve Goodman, left, and Adelaide Lord Mayor Martin Haese. (ABC News: Tom Fedorowytsch)
“We’ve got a lot more international students, there are thousands and thousands of people from mainland China, the Middle East, Europe and the USA, and when they’re not in the lecture theatre or doing assignments, they’re walking around town looking for things to do,” he said.
“It’s a lot of expensive space that could be generating a bucket load of money — the question now to the people operating that site is what could they put up there, that would actually draw people in.”
Martin Haese is trusting the Myer Centre’s owners are looking at re-activating the space — and believes the Rundle Mall precinct remains vibrant and lively.
“That’s why things like buskers, and entertainment, and festivals in Rundle Mall … are as important as the retail, because that’s the glue, that’s what makes Rundle Mall sticky.”
The Myer Centre — which is now in the hands of a Singaporean company — was offered the opportunity to be a part of this story, but while they expressed gratitude for the interest, they declined to assist.
The Myer Centre’s upper floors as they appear today. Escalators to the fourth and fifth levels have been removed. (ABC News: Tom Fedorowytsch)
In 1998, after Dazzeland closed, its rides and attractions were auctioned off for a fraction of their original worth.
The helicopters went for $62,000, the plane ride fetched $94,000, and Melbourne developer Brian Amatruda snapped up the roller coaster and “$5 million worth of equipment” for just over $120,000, the ABC reported.
We’re not aware the rides and amusements have ever resurfaced, but there’s no denying the dazzle remains in the memories of South Australians.
More about our questioner:
James Magnusson is a self-described “Gen Y” who visited the Myer Centre as a child.
He remembers being “freaked out” on the roller coaster and was surprised Dazzeland closed down.