The new generation may find it hard to believe that an African Lion Safari Park existed at the Melbourne suburb of Rockbank in the 1970’s and 80’s. Rockbank then was a country town with a mixture of farms and tree less plains that were the hall mark of Melbourne’s west. Near the Ballarat road exit of Western Freeway, Bullen’s African Lion Safari owned by the then younger generation of the famous Bullen’s Circus family, attracted people from around Victoria.
Alfred Percival Bullen and wife Lilian jointly with Alfred’s brothers used to run a travelling Circus Carnival in the mid 1910’s, of which main attraction was a Merri go round. With their hard work and their ability to dream, by the 1920’s it grew into Bullen’s Circus. In the 1940’s to 60’s Bullen’s Circus was counted as one of the prominent among Australian circuses. With the arrival television, circuses around the world were bidding adieu to the entertainment world and Bullen’s followed suite with their last performance on 25 May 1969.
Alfred Percival Bullen’s sons under the leadership of Stafford Bullen diversified into Safari Parks around the country and opened their first Bullen’s Lion Safari and Dolphinarium at Warragamba in Sydney in 1968. Bullen’s Animal World was a circus style theme park operated at Wallacia in Sydney and Wanneroo in Perth, Western Australia. At its peak the family also owned Bullen’s Lion Park and Multi Animal Display at Beenleigh in Queensland, Bullen’s Lion Park at Two Wells in Adelaide, South Australia and Cattle Donkey and Deer Ranch at Mudgee in NSW. An African Lion Safari operated from Rockbank from early 1970’s to 1982.
At the Rockbank Lion Safari, visitors could drive through the open range safari park in their cars to view lions, bears, camels, giraffes, emus, deer, tigers and an elephant. Gregory Bullen (Greg Bullen) was the man behind the running of Rockbank Lion Safari Park. There were twice a daily circus acts at the compound performed by birds and other animals for the enjoyment of the visitors. In its short span of existence, the park also had its own tragic moments. On 3rd January 1977, a Canadian bear, largest of the five bears at Rockbank, bit a man on his shoulder after he opened his car windows to take a photograph, while his wife and two children were also inside the car.
The advertisement for Bullen’s Lion Safari was as follows
Over 200 Wild Animals, 9 Different Free attractions, including new Safari Express Train rides
All just $8 for a family of 4
Only 17 miles from Melbourne. 100 acres of roaming wild animals; a five kilometres safari drive through lion, bear, bison, water buffalo, camels, deer, donkeys
Plus 9 completely free family attractions; new safari express train rides, children’s circus with animals – clowns, Famous Cockatoo circus, Camel rides, donkey rides, wild animal feeding from public trailer, Trampolines, Merri Go Round, Playground with adjacent BBQ and picnic grounds and kiosk.
Whole day for a family of four $8, Adults $3, Children $1, Open 9 every day 7471273
BULLENS AFRICAN LION SAFARI, BALLARAT ROAD, ROCKBANK’’
During the 1970’s many stringent regulations were introduced on keeping exotic animals and movement for animal liberationism was gaining strength across Australia. The Safari Park was closed in 1982. The lions and bears at the park were transferred to Bullen’s animals park in Sydney and the remaining animals were auctioned off. The land was sold in 1988 and today a plant nursery operates at the location.
But the Bullen’s Lion Safari Park at Rockbank lives on in the childhood memories of Melbournians. We hope people’s experiences shared at some of the facebook groups setup to cherish those memories would definitely tingle our readers childhood imaginations; so, we share it here.
“Remember it …and not wanting to go I sh*t scared sat in the back seat of my mum’s friend Toyota Corolla windows up !!!’’
‘’ I remember going and the lions scratching my dad’s car 🤣 I also remember being terrified’’
‘’ My parents went to see the lions and left us kids with that donkey going around in circles at the front’’
‘’ I had a pic taken with a lion cub on my knee when I was 5yrs old . We used to love that place! We went there often!! They had cockatoos that rode little bikes too’’
Courtesy: Facebook group – History of Lost Western Suburbs
Courtesy: City of Melbourne – Facebook Group
‘’ We lived in Rockbank and mum and dad took us…….a lion tried to jump into the back of the ute and dad took off lol …….. Rhiannon’’
‘’ Who can forget it . I sometimes think mum took us there to feed us to the lions 😂😂’’
‘’ Still remember the lions climbing all over my dads 4wd & 1 sitting in the wheel on the bonnet😬😃’’
‘’ I can remember this like yesterday so freaking scary there is no way in the world as an adult /parent would i go there if it was still open let alone take my car there so they can climb all over it😲😲😲😲😲😲’’