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In Pursuit of Truth

By Dr Marjorie O'Neill, Member for Coogee on June 3, 2021 in Other

Where there’s smoke… Photo: Herman Phillips

There are some core beliefs that unite us as a tribe here in the East. We love the beach, the lifestyle and the fresh air. We also have the freedom to enjoy all sorts of activities, unrestricted by our locality.
As they mature, we allow our children freedom of movement and we understand that this is important for the development of their independence and self-reliance. We let them explore, and although we worry about their capacity to make good decisions we expect them to return safely. We trust in the infrastructure around us, including safe transportation systems and good policing. We set our children out in the world knowing that they will be operating within a sound legal and protective framework. We have good government.
What we have never had in our immediate locality is a real fun park. Indeed, in the entire city of Sydney the only such venue has been Luna Park, but for us Easterners it has always been ‘over the bridge’. Notwithstanding this geographic limitation, Luna Park was a magnet for generations of people from our local area. Many of us, as well as our parents and grandparents, tell stories of great days and nights at Luna Park, of the huge slippery slides, breathtaking rides over the water, scary experiences, standing on moving pathways trying to keep a balance, and of laughter and fun.
For the older members of our community, the fun came to an abrupt halt in 1979 when a fire destroyed the park and took the lives of innocents, including four Waverley College students: Jonathan Billings, Richard Carroll, Michael Johnson and Seamus Reilly. The fire also killed John Godson and his two children, Damien and Craig.
Naturally, it was the death of the four Waverley College boys that attracted the most attention in the Eastern Suburbs. The memorial to these boys within the chapel at Waverley College has provided a continuing reminder of their loss for the generations to follow.
While most in our community accepted the tragic story at face value – that an accidental fire had occurred – it has sincebecome evident that the Luna Park fire was almost certainly the result of a deliberate, calculated and criminal act. We must acknowledge and thank the amazing ABC staff who revealed the truth of this story, including Caro Meldrum-Hana, Patrick Begley and Jaya Balendra.
Many members of our community were directly affected by the Luna Park fire. Parents, siblings and relatives still feel the pain, and friends, teachers and many others still feel a connection with this tragic event. The aftermath lingers on.
Even before the recent revelations that an intentional fire probably caused the death of seven innocents and the destruction of a Sydney icon, that fateful day had cast a long, dark shadow. Since 1979, Luna Park has not been perceived as a fun place to visit by many people, especially those who witnessed the fire.
The excellent ABC exposé has shone a new and informed light on the Luna Park fire and has raised important questions and concerns regarding the role of criminals in the fire occurring and the role of police, politicians and other influential people in its cover-up. The NSW Coroner has recently requested that NSW Police review their evidence surrounding the fire.
For these reasons, I have requested that the NSW Government conducts a new, independent special commission of inquiry into both the events of Luna Park in 1979 and into the subsequent investigation by the NSW Police. In the absence of a special commission of inquiry, a second inquest must be conducted.
The truth is important, and it is the very least that we can offer to the families and friends of the seven people who visited a fun park and never came home. If you have any concerns about the issues I have raised in this article, please contact my office on 9398 1822.