Culture

Clive Palmer’s Palmersaurus Might Just Be The Saddest Place On Earth

We visited the resort eight months in. Things are not looking good.

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It’s a perplexing idea to most Australians: That a billionaire would think a craptastic robotic dinosaur exhibit — the biggest in the world! — could help turn around the fortunes of his fading resort in Coolum.

But this is Queensland: the capital of theme parks, the land of Brisvegas, and home to the overly-tanned, gold-chained Gold Coast where they fought to hang onto their bikini clad Meter Maids because they represent “Australia’s crowning cultural achievement”. Perhaps it makes perfect sense that an unpredictable mining magnate-cum-federal politician would choose to bring a real-life Jurassic Park to this part of the world.

Unfortunately, only eight months after Palmersaurus opened, it feels a little more like Jurassic Park II. That is, it’s kind of gone to shit.

As you drive up a suburban Sunshine Coast street, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d taken a wrong turn – until you see the dino-themed sign posted at the entrance. Heading into the expansive Palmer Coolum Resort, you’re welcomed by Jeff, a T-Rex that sits at the ninth hole, flanked by golf carts.

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Previously owned by the Hyatt Regency until Palmer bought it in 2011 for a reported $70 million, the resort used to be home to the Australian PGA Tour — until Jeff materialised in 2012, transforming the ninth tee into what now resembled a mini golf course. The tour moved to another resort the following year.

The day I visit, Jeff is broken and unable to roar, mirroring the declining fortunes of the resort itself; earlier this year, Courier Mail estimated that Coolum was bleeding a staggering $500,000 per month. A couple of golf pros look on suspiciously as we repeatedly attempt to get Jeff’s ‘press to roar’ button to work. (One might be tempted to assume that an enterprising staff member has disconnected the button, haunted too many times by a dinosaur growl that put off everyone’s game.)

But Jeff is just the first taste of Palmersaurus, an outdoor exhibit of 160 to-scale robotic dinosaurs that roar, blink, sluggishly move their limbs, and slowly gnash their teeth.

The dinosaur park sits aside Palmer Motorama, a garage filled with vintage cars: a 1-2 punch of crappy exhibits that have a combined $60 entry fee. Palmer has previously defended the entry fees (a visit to Palmersaurus only is $37.50 for an adult), saying “It’s a lot cheaper than going to Disneyland.”

It’s also a lot shitter.

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We’re met with a virtual tumbleweed as we approach the park’s official entrance, its gates decorated with a somewhat haunting disembodied Brontosaurus that idly swings its head from side to side as we pass under the threshold. Even the bored teenage attendant doesn’t seem convinced by our enthusiasm, assuming we’re taking the piss: “Yeah, I’m sure you’re REAL excited to visit…”

But most of the working dinosaurs are genuinely pretty impressive; they move, they make noise, and they’re huge. Even if they are bizarrely backdropped by unoccupied rooms that loom over the robots, or the occasional golfer attempting to make par while two idiots repeatedly press the ‘roar’ buttons and giggle loudly.

Even if some of them, perplexingly, baa like sheep.

Although there is some fun in having huge moving dinosaurs all to yourself, there’s a cloud of sadness and disappointment that looms over the desolate park; in a weird way it feels like we’re trespassing on an abandoned fairground, stained with long-forgotten memories. Which I guess we kind of are.

Somewhat optimistically, Palmersaurus is fitted out with six different ‘party areas’, abandoned and unkempt, that now mostly look like this:

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Palmersaurus’ Tripadvisor reviews have been mixed, but if one were to sum up the entire experience, this is probably it:

“Drove 3.5hr round trip to take my 4 year old to Palmersaurus… He loves Dinosaurs and I have never seen someone so excited, but when we had reached the far end of the park (which took 20 mins at a very slow pace), and he says “OK dad. Lets just go home.” -1 star

But as someone who once did a 1,000km road trip purely to take a photo in front of as many ‘big things’ as I could, I thought the whole thing was hilarious. Most excellent. Much dinosaurs. 5 stars. Only ironic visits need apply.

Bianca O’Neill writes for Channel [V], Eventfinder and Time Out Melbourne, and founded AlphabetPony.com.au. She set-up a Palmersaurus Instagram for all your political dinosaur jokes; if you want in, hit her up on Twitter.

All photos © Bianca O’Neill 2014.