“That’s when we knew there’s something much bigger at play here”

As Caro Meldrum-Hanna held interviews around a 1979 Ghost Train fire, even she was shocked by what she heard.

In 1979 at Sydney’s Luna Park a fire broke out in the historic Ghost Train ride.

Tragically six boys and one man perished in what was attributed to an electrical wiring fault.

But a new 3 part documentary Exposed: The Ghost Train Fire will uncover new evidence and hear from eyewitnesses that will contradict the official version by authorities.

“The investigating police officer announces the day after the fire…. smoke is coming off the ground… and the police officer conclusively determines the cause of the fire,” says ABC investigative reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna.

“How on earth any police officer could determine a conclusive cause of a multi-fatality fire so quickly, is beyond comprehension. It just does not add up.”

Meldrum-Hanna who recently produced Exposed: The Case of Keli Lane, has spent 2 years investigating a case that has long been forgotten, except by survivors at the heart of the story.

They include Jason Holman, a friend to schoolboys Jonathan Billings (13), Richard Carroll (13), Michael Johnson (13) and Seamus Rahilly (13); and Jenny Godson, the widow of John Godson (29) and mother to sons, Damien (6) and Craig (4). There are also elderly parents, patrons who were in attendance, former Luna Park staff and emergency workers.

Meldrum-Hanna and journalist Patrick Begley conducted dozens of interviews, and trawled over archival photos, videos, documents and plans to piece together that fateful night and a possible cover-up.

“It’s 40 years later, the tyranny of time can often kill stories like this. Are people going to remember? How fresh are the memories? Many people would have passed on by now. But it wasn’t that at all, we realised very quickly that there are so many people still out there. Their memories were so vivid and so fresh,” she explains.

“Many of them in the first phone calls would burst into tears”

“Many of them in the first phone calls would burst into tears and say, ‘I’ve been waiting for someone to contact me about this.’

“That’s when we knew there’s something much bigger at play here.”

Episode 1 recounts the night of the fire and the stories behind the victims, who were out for a night on the town. Meldrum-Hanna hears from those in attendance and surviving family members -many still living with guilt.

“In Episode 2 it takes a big, gritty shift. Patrick and I are on the hunt for answers. We tear into the police investigation. Who was leading that investigation? What were they telling everyone? What did they really know? What were eyewitnesses telling them?

“You will meet people who have held onto these silences, but also who were silenced at the time. Their allegations are very serious, but what they heard and saw, never saw the light of day. Never came out in the inquiries. They’ve felt that the truth has never been told and have carried this terrible sense of injustice for years.

“Back in those days, it was, ‘Don’t make a fuss, trust the police”

“Back in those days, it was, ‘Don’t make a fuss, trust the police. Leave it to the authorities. Get on with your life.’ There was no such thing as counselling,” she continues.

“They’re still having nightmares and night terrors. They can still hear screaming, they can smell the fire.”

In tracking down dozens of people linked to that night, Meldrum-Hanna is also able to share new facts with them, bringing a sense of relief to those who have been haunted by memories in isolation.

“You mean I’m not alone? The police didn’t tell me that”

“We tell them, ‘You know you’re not the only one who saw that, you’re not the only one who heard that?’ They say, ‘No. You mean I’m not alone? The police didn’t tell me that. They told me something opposite.’

“We’ve done almost 80 interviews -more than what the police, the inquest and the National Crime authority investigation did after the fire.”

She cautions on the revelations and allegations that will unfold as the series unfolds, shocking even the most seasoned of reporters.

“As a journalist, you shouldn’t be brought to a speechless point”

“As a journalist, you shouldn’t be brought to a speechless point. But it happened in interviews for episode two and three. The allegations are so serious. What they’re saying they experienced is so shocking, that we were all just sitting there,” she reveals.

“I didn’t find the words. I was so stumped, asking ‘I’m sorry. Could you repeat that?'”

But recreating the story for television was not without its challenges. Luna Park in 2021 looks very different to 1979, and substitute ghost train locations are not exactly commonplace.

“ABC built a massive part of the ghost train”

“ABC built a massive part of the ghost train: the carriages, the skeletons, the spiders. We had multiple locations. We were in studios for parts and then we were out in a quarry for the final remainder of the shoot where we had pyro-technicians and the fire brigade.

She adds, “ABC Production Designer Andrew Raymond is an absolute genius. What he managed to do on an absolute shoestring…”

Filming of the series also was challenged by COVID restrictions, with sensitive interviews that could not be filmed on Zoom meetings. But the immersive doco series, co-created with producer Jaya Balendra, places Meldrum-Hanna into the story as she hears it. She hopes it will bring justice to those who have lived with pain, guilt and potentially, lies.

“You see the ripple effect”

“You see the ripple effect. Yes, we have these families whose lives were destroyed. But then all of those other people that were there have all carried this piece of that night with them, for all this time. You see a lot of redemption in it, too,” says Meldrum-Hanna.

“‘I feel shame’ or ‘I feel guilt’ or ‘I feel fear’.’ But they all have suspicions of what went down that night. Even after all these years, they can’t hush it up.

“In the words of someone in Episode Three after they’ve been presented with all of our findings …. ‘It stinks to high heaven. These families deserve a public apology and an inquiry must be reopened.'”

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

One Response

Leave a Reply