Exposed: The Ghost Train Fire

ABC investigative reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna, who last captivated viewers with Exposed: The Case of Keli Lane, now turns her attention to a long-forgotten fire at Sydney’s Luna Park in 1979.

Seven people, one man and six boys, perished in a fire at the Ghost Train which authorities attributed to an electrical wiring fault.

But in her new three part series Exposed: The Ghost Train Fire, questions will be raised about whether arson was the cause. If so, who was to blame and why was it kept from families?

To tell her tale (only episode 1 was available for preview), Meldrum-Hanna recounts that fateful night on 9th June 1979. At the centre of the story are the victims seeking a night of excitement and spooky thrills.

Amongst the victims were four high school students from Waverley College. Jonathan Billings (13), Richard Carroll (13), Michael Johnson (13) and Seamus Rahilly (13) were known as the “four amigos” tragically out for their first night on the town together.

Friend Jason Holman was a year below the inseparable friends but joined them that night in Sydney. He was spared a ride to his death by a quick-thinking ride attendant. In this documentary he details the events of that night and the memories that haunt him.

“Why did I survive? Why Me?” asks Jason.

Elderly parents of the boys tell Meldrum-Hanna they are still living with guilt four decades later.

Jenny Godson, the widow of John Godson (29) and mother to sons, Damien (6) and Craig (4), was also there when her family perished in the inferno -only missing the ride for herself by purchasing ice-creams instead.

“I want to know how they died. I want to know the truth about everything,” she says.

There are also interviews from former Luna Park staff, emergency workers, and patrons, painstakingly painting a picture of the circumstances surrounding the fire. Meldrum-Hanna is thankful to draw upon a mountain of documents, taped interviews and plans archived by the late artist Martin Sharp -who was convinced authorities were concealing a secret.

“We weren’t told anything,” recalls one father.

“It was like an atomic bomb,” one witness adds.

“They should have got out. Nobody should have died,” says one fire fighter.

The stories are heartbreaking and confronting, with cameras capturing raw emotion whether as survivors recall emotional stories or as an embedded Meldrum-Hanna is shocked from what she hears.

No review would be complete without mention of the amazing recreation by ABC of the ghost train itself. This is a documentary after all, it requires vision to tell its story. You’ll be convinced a ghost train was torched in order to forensically bring this story to screen.

Two years in the making, this is must-see TV.

Exposed: The Ghost Train Fire 8:30pm tonight on ABC.

9 Comments:

  1. The Last Post

    We were moved to tears watching ep 1 and our hearts went out to Jenny Godson. Seeking more info, I looked it up in Wikipedia and it revealed the suspicions about the cause of the fire and who ‘could’ have been behind it.
    I hope Meldrum-Hanna’s revelations have uncovered a new trail and not a rehash.
    We’re looking forward to the next two eps.

  2. I agree with your review david this was fantastic.

    Yes slow in places but god people are so picky!! Overall this is far better than other junk we are dished up on FTA.

    So interesting to hear from survivors and so so sad as well. The reinactments are great too props to ABC.

  3. barrington bumbaclaart

    It was simply too long. The storytelling was unnecessarily slow and the episode padded out to the point where large sections were boring. Also thought the grief in the third act was overdone and almost cruel. Luckily they dialed back the self serving nature of the first series (didn’t spot Caro’s Walkley in the back of shot this time), and while the camera work was excellent, the editing was overdone – it was like the editor was trying to compensate for the lethargic storytelling by cramming in as many shots as possible to try and pick up the pace. Won’t bother tuning in to the next episodes, especially given the amount that has already been written about the story (including the SMH’s pieces last weekend).

  4. thedirtydigger

    There was a lot of padding in the first episode I reckon. Too many back to camera walking shots for my liking as well, a visual device the production simply used too much. And as for the bit where the reporter was driving to meet the survivor at Martin Sharp’s house claiming ” I don’t know what I going to find out , I don’t know what he’s going to say etc etc ” – please – do you really think the viewers believe that fake set up piece to camera ?
    It’s called Research and I’m pretty sure Ms Meldrum-Carr knew exactly what he was going to say. Simply made it look a bit melodramatic and frankly silly.
    Actually would have been good to show how they built the re-creation of the Ghost Train , how and where it was constructed , an exact replica of the original re-born etc. Viewers like that sort of thing , the lengths the production went to so they could capture exactly the…

  5. I vaguely remember the event-was covered here but only briefly as WA is a long way away, especially back then-the series seems to have a long time to fill as each ep is a full 90 mins, and the ‘podcast’ format revels in drawing things out to a frustrating level coz 4.5 hours is a bloody long time!

  6. First episode was excellent, albeit hard to watch. There’s so many strange aspects to what happened, including that police were so quick to claim it was an electrical fault the following day.

    With all the politics around the lease for Luna Park in the 70s, it’s not inconceivable that there were motives for arson.

    It’ll be interesting to see what the remaining episodes cover off.

    Great work by Meldrum- Hanna.

  7. The Sydney papers wrote thousand and thousands of words about this at the time, the inquest, the 10th Aniversary. Lots of speculation, no credible suspect or motive and zero evidence. My family used to go the Luna Park every summer holidays during the 1970s, and it was a popular place for kid’s birthday parties. By the late 70s is was rickety 40 year old wood structures with peeling paint that hadn’t been maintained and wasn’t cleaned well. Rides broke down often, there was a build up wood dust and grime covering everthing. One stray cigarette butt could have burnt the entire place to the ground.

    The inquest led to regulation of amusement parks and and they torn Luna Park down and completely rebuild it in shiny modern steel before it reopened. The Dreamworld disaster shows that vigilance is still required.

    These True Crime podcasts are full of speculation, and there are…

    • timmydownawell

      Your comments are along similar lines to my own thoughts. A 40 year old dried up wooden structure with many layers of oil-based paint would have gone up very fast. I doubt there was any foul play at hand. If someone had wanted to burn it down they would have to be particularly evil to do it while it was open. I’ll watch more of this but they’re going to need some pretty compelling evidence to convince me.

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