Aug 10
Life With the Lions
icon4 Aug 10th, 2009 | icon2 Family, Memories |

Things were different in the ’70s. Life was simpler, people were friendlier, the sky was a brighter shade of blue. But most importantly, tourist attractions were unhindered by bothersome laws regarding public safety and animal welfare.

About thirty minutes drive from where I grew up in Newcastle there was a magical place called “Raymond Terrace Lion Park”. For just a few dollars a family of four could enter the Lion Park and drive around at their leisure – in the comfort of the family sedan – observing the most majestic of Africa’s big cats.

Let me make this clear: once inside the Lion Park, you could drive unsupervised, among the lions, in your own car! Only common sense prevented you from opening the car door and stepping out into the realm of one of the world’s most savage killing machines!

Recently, while delving through the Snubian archives, I came across some photos of the Lion Park, probably taken by my sister. This would’ve been the mid-’70s. Note the Lion Park jeep painted with zebra stripes. Also note the large male lion gnawing on the thigh bone of its latest victim.

Here are a few other rare shots.

These days you’d have to go all the way to Africa to see this

Female lion prepares to attack neighbouring horses

Thankfully, the park caretakers observed the strictest of security measures to ensure the safety of their patrons. For example, the man at the front gate would explain that you should keep your DOORS CLOSED at all times.

Not only that, but the park itself had a foolproof double gated entrance, so that none of those pesky lions could escape and go on a murderous rampage through Hexham. As you arrived in your car, a man would emerge from a booth, collect the entrance fee, and then open the first gate, at which point you would move forward a few metres into the “lion exclusion zone”. After closing the outer gate, he would check that any nearby lions were otherwise occupied, then quickly open the inner gate and wave you through. Amazing! I can picture those double gates like it was yesterday.

I don’t recall what the advice was should your car break down, or should a lion decide to consume it. But I suppose cars were more robust in those days. For example, our family car at the time was a 1967 Holden HR sedan – see below. That’s my dad leaning on the bonnet. Hopefully this was not taken inside the Lion Park, but anything’s possible.

In doing some “research” for this piece, I discovered that Lion Parks were quite common back in the day, and were usually run by circus companies. For example, the Raymond Terrace Lion Park was run by Ashtons. They probably figured they could make a few bucks from their lions in the off season. Whether such an arrangement was good for the lions is arguable I suppose, although they had plenty of space and could always supplement their diet with the occasional stray koala.

I have always had fond memories of the Lion Park, or as I knew it, the “Lion Safari” - as in “Dad, can we go to the Lion Safari today PLEEEEASE!!!!” (repeat fifty times). Incidentally, the ’67 HR was our family car up until about 1976, when we upgraded to a Holden HJ “Belmont” – woohoo! The Belmont ran like a dream right up until I wrote it off in 1988. Ah, good times.

2 Responses

  1. kaz Says:

    I wish ipswich had a lion park when i was a kid!

    Oh sure, Queens Park had Kangas and EMus and Koalas etc., but lions would have topped the pops.

  2. Snubian Says:

    Kaz, my research tells me there were indeed Lion Parks at both Yatala and Springwood, an easy distance for any self-respecting Ipswich parent to drive their children.