The great escape mystery

Once an icon of the Perth coastline, the ‘Great Escape’ amusement park at Hillarys Boat Harbour once stood tall among the trees – an attraction for people of all ages and home to a variety of attractions.

Video footage of the now vacant space at Hillarys. Video: Anthony Matteo.

But in September 2016, the park, which contained three water slide attractions, a Whacky Putt, trampolines, adventure course and a jumping castle, was closed for business, with many people questioning this decision.

That was more than three years ago and the future of the site is still not clear.

For Grilld team leader Lachie McLean, the park’s closure had an immediate impact on surrounding businesses in the area.

“I’ve worked three summers at Grilld, one was whilst the Great Escape was still active, and that was the busiest summer by far,” says Mr Mclean.

Hillarys Boat Harbour is a popular coastal attraction. Photo: Anthony Matteo.

“It was the harbour’s main selling point. Without it, I think the harbour has lost a lot of business as a result.”

In 2018, plans were announced to build a pirate-themed mini golf course, which would feature a pirate-themed adventure park, and a first of its kind to WA, a Flowrider wave pool.

The plans were drafted by WA investment company Wyllie group, in conjunction with McGees Property and the land owners, the WA Department of Transport.

Image of the proposed theme park destined for the vacant land. Photo: supplied

However, three weeks after these plans were announced, they were terminated, after links were allegedly made between an historic sex crime and someone involved in the redevelopment.

A spokesperson on behalf of the City of Joondalup stated plans were ‘in discussion’ after the theme park idea was scrapped.

“Currently, a number of exciting options have been put forth by the council, as well as investment groups.

“We want to ensure that the plans selected this time are not only stable, but will provide Hillarys Boat Harbour with the best outcome.

The vacant land can potentially have lots of exposure. Photo: Anthony Matteo

“We had a great vision for the previous pirate-themed adventure park, however it just was not meant to be.”

For local Dome barista Ryan Courtie, the absence of a main attraction at Hillarys is a wasted opportunity.

“Although there is a small beach area, leisure activities for children are scarce at the harbour,” says Mr Courtie.

“Some shops, particularly during the summertime, have seen a significant loss, particularly nearby restaurants such as Portside and … 3Sheets, as well as the fish and chip shop Seafood Nation.”

Sorrento Quay is popular with families and tourists. Photo: Anthony Matteo.

For tourist Jennifer Schwazer, not only was she unaware of what was previously there, but was curious as to why it was empty.

“When we sat down next to it, I asked my friend why it so barren.”

“It is a shame, a theme park, something, anything, would be great for this space, especially during the summertime.”

For Mr Courtie, all the businesses in the area, along with Hillarys itself, could hugely benefit from a new and exciting attraction being placed here.

The vacant site where Great Escape used to be. Photo: Anthony Matteo.

“I feel the benefits of the space being occupied will certainly outweigh the costs for both businesses and the general public,” he says.

Mr McLean believes surrounding businesses have been the biggest loser, and need to act quickly to fill the land.

“Businesses around the harbour have lost a lot of business since the Great Escape came down.

“With Mindarie Marina getting more popular and Ocean Reef Marina coming soon, the harbour needs to occupy this area if they want to stay competitive among its competition.”