Scott Kovacevic out and about in Dreamworld with Madagascar's Alex and King Julian.
Scott Kovacevic out and about in Dreamworld with Madagascar's Alex and King Julian. Contributed

'That this could happen on the Rapids staggers me'

I COULD say I was stunned after hearing about the tragic events at Dreamworld on Tuesday, but it would really only begin to cover how I felt.

I spent more than six years working in the theme park's entertainment department, performing in shows and introducing guests to the wacky range of costumed characters, a role which placed me only one step away from the rides department.

A lot of my Facebook friends are current and ex-Dreamworld staff, and to see posts from people I know who were there when it happened on Tuesday, trying to process the events, or replies of sadness and support from those on the other side of the world who had seen the news, only reinforced the unfathomable nature of what happened.

The Thunder River Rapids was one of the park's most beloved rides.

People who would normally baulk at taking on the "Big 6” (as it was back then) would always eagerly seek out the ride as a family-friendly alternative, a chance to get wet and have some fun without worry.

I would happily direct guests to the ride, and in summer the line for the ride always seemed to stretch for eternity.

That this could happen on the rapids staggers me.

My heart goes out to the families involved, who only set out to have a family day of fun and lost their lives.

My heart also extends to friends I have who are struggling to come to grips with what happened - a process not helped by social media at the moment.

A lot is being made of the theme park's safety, and whether the park was negligent in re-opening the ride after it had to be shut down for maintenance earlier in the day.

In my view, it is misguided to think this tragedy could have been avoided.

Guest safety was always top priority for staff in the park.

Rides could be shut down for any number of reasons, from a broken restraint to a simple sensor malfunction.

Having worked in the Alien v Predator laser tag attraction, if there was anything which even looked like a hazard to the general public - from a blocked fire exit to a puddle of water on the floor - we would shut it down until we had the problem fixed.

Often this would lead to anger, and sometimes even verbal abuse, from disgruntled guests who were forced to wait in line, which would only grow as we had to run the attraction multiple times to ensure everything was fixed before we began to let guests through again.

Staff operating the bigger rides no doubt had even more stringent requirements, and emergency response and safety training was also of great import.

As an entertainer, there were a quite a few times I was called in at 6am to assist with other departments' safety training, lying on the ground covered in fake blood or being strapped to a safety board while front line staff went through procedures to ensure that, in the event of a serious emergency, every possible effort would be made to prevent harm.

To imply otherwise, as some people are, upsets me because I know a great number of my friends who were there, and whom I would trust my life to, have to read these uninformed views in the midst of dealing with the tragedy.

Is it possible something happened which could have been prevented? Yes, it is, but it will be an independent inquiry which determines that, not the general public.

In fact, for more than 30 years, with who knows how many millions of people visiting the park over this time, not a single fatality happened, thanks to the efforts made.

The question of cost-cutting has also been raised, and there's no denying it is difficult to operate a theme park in the current economic climate while trying to compete with cheaper electronic entertainment options.

Guest attendance numbers absolutely were a concern while I was working there, and to deny difficult financial decisions sometimes must be made to keep theme parks running would be to live in fantasy.

But even faced with financial uncertainty, safety was always the first thought - rides would be shut down for extended periods, often to more gnashing of teeth from disgruntled guests, if it was believed they posed any risk.

In the wake of Tuesday's events, the question is now being asked as to whether Dreamworld will ever reopen.

It's a question which saddens me because, I believe, there's a very real possibility that, even if the park reopens, there's a chance it cannot continue to operate.

There's no doubt the park should remain closed indefinitely right now, but this also places it at risk of missing the summer holiday crowd, which is the peak operating time for any theme park.

For Dreamworld to miss out on trading in this period would be devastating, which makes the questions about park safety even more pertinent because - if or when it does reopen - it will need a lot of support from the public to survive.

I have a wealth of fantastic memories of my time at Dreamworld.

The joy of working in a place which exists solely for happiness, of seeing the wonder of children meeting their cartoon heroes and hearing the laughter of people revelling in the array of wonderful experiences on offer, is something which will always sit in my heart.

That something like this has happened, which always seemed impossible, breaks it beyond words.

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