Discover Fairground Follies: An Exclusive Off-Train Experience

A ‘NSW Super Possession’ of the Main South Railway Line from Sydney (Macarthur) to Melbourne for track maintenance in March 2024 has given us an opportunity to take guests to an exclusive off-train experience. 

Rather than going to Goulburn the first day the March 2024 Riverina Rail Tour as we normally do, we have had to defer the rail tour by one day, and find new off-train experiences for our guests.

As you know, Simon and Danielle travel far and wide, just to find these experiences! So while Goulburn is off the itinerary for this tour, we are thrilled to offer our guests an exclusive visit to Fairground Follies, a treasure trove of nostalgic delights nestled in the beautiful Bowral. We have been to Fairground Follies a couple of times (thanks to the railways!) and last time Simon had a chat with Craig and Gracie (see video below).

We thought you might enjoy hearing more about this great private collection. And if you would like to experience Fairground Follies yourself, we still have some compartments available on the first Riverina tour.

Craig’s Story

“Music, history, cupcakes, lamingtons, and dad jokes, that’s part of our passion on your tour of the amazing Fairground Follies,” says Craig, the visionary behind this remarkable collection.

And while you will experience 100 year old Carousels and fairground exhibits from 1840 through to 1950, Fairground Follies isn’t just a museum; it’s a celebration of joy and shared experiences. Craig’s lifelong passion for “The Happiest Music on Earth” led to collecting, restoring and sharing these historic pieces from as early as his teen years. With retirement, came the opportunity to share his collection and give back to the community through establishing Fairground Follies.

The Tour: A Journey Through Time

During your visit, you’ll be enthralled by the sights and sounds of a bygone era. Craig and Gracie have created an indoor fairground, and when guests enter the facility, they  are surrounded by the exhibits, thousands of fairy lights, dance hall organs, violin playing machines, and more. Craig shares, “It is probably the best collection in the world and the most fun you will have for many a year.”

Craig and Gracie take guests through the facility, noting special points about an exhibit, telling the history behind each piece and even the personal stories about the restoration process.

Some of the highlights include:

The Mortier Taj Mahal (101 key)

The Mortier Taj Mahal is a magnificent organ that once graced the dance halls of Antwerp, Belgium. The Mortier were regarded as the finest machines to be used in dance halls and travelling shows. Only two were made with extremely ornate facades and extra musical embellishments and the only one remaining is this magnificent Taj Mahal!

To give you some idea, the façade is approximately 8.5 metre long by 8 metres high and was carved in Italy over a two year period and decorated with three forms of gold leaf.

Over 1000 light globes adorn the façade and these are activated by the cardboard music. The machine has over 1000 pipes, snare drum, bass drum, woodblocks, triangle, castanets, xylophone and other unique instruments including a large gong originally used to signify the change of dance partners. It is spectacular to see and hear the Taj Mahal playing modern or traditional music.

92 key Decap Jazz organ called the “Aurora Australis”

Aurora Australis (latin for Southern Lights) took its name from a popular upmarket jazz club in Australia during the 30’s and 40’s – and we think you can’t get a better name!

This is a rare 50 year old Jazz organ built in Antwerp, Belgium by Decap and entertained in dance halls in several European countries before being used in Australia. The organ consists of approximately 350 pipes, tom tom’s, bass and snare drums, cymbals, high hat, Indian wood blocks, two saxophones, four tuned temple blocks, tambourines and two accordions!

But that’s not all, the elaborate art deco facade is lit by 200 globes which change colour as the music plays.

English Carousel (Gallopers)

Another exhibit that guests fall in love with is the English steam gallopers, a century-old delight meticulously restored Carousel. The English steam gallopers are over 100 years old. They are the result of 15 master trades working together including wood carvers, iron workers, carpenters, joiners and decorators. 

Mark Gill is the only fully qualified English fairground decorator and is the third generation of his family to be involved in fairground art. He worked on decorating this machine back to its Edwardian splendour. 

There are 30 ornately hand carved timber horses and cockerels, rotating in a clockwise direction which give a galloping action as they go up and down on the carousel. An ornate centre that has sixty cut glass mirrors creates a unique Edwardian mirrorball effect.

The carousel has several Australian touches, decorated with the verse from the “Furphy Wagons”, – “Good, better best, never let it rest. Till your good is better and your better best” and on the front of the carriages is a riddle from the end of the 1900’s “YY UR, YY UB, ICUR YY 4 ME”.

Currently, Fairground Follies is only open by special appointment to groups. We are so excited to be able to take guests here once again, but as this is a change of itinerary due to track works, we don’t know whether we will be coming this way again. 

Don’t miss your chance to come with us to Fairground Follies this March!