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caught out on Melbourne's wheel
January 11, 2009 .
PERHAPS it was the balmy summer afternoon. Or the thrill of
getting hot and heavy high above the city rooftops. Whatever the
trigger, this couple (picture above) obviously found the view
from the Southern Star last Thursday not nearly so tantalising
as the sights on offer inside their glass capsule.
After a cursory glance at the city's expanding skyline, the
couple embraced passionately before moving their 120-metre-high
public display of affection to the carriage's wooden bench.
Unaware that Sunday Age photographer Ken Irwin — and no doubt
other patrons on the slowly revolving giant wheel — had spied
them, the pair gave the bench, and each other, a full workout.
A CCTV camera — each capsule is fitted with one — would also
have captured their sexy romp.
The Southern Star's chairman Fred Maybury laughed when told of
the incident. "I suppose it had to happen," he said.
When Britain's giant wheel, the London Eye, opened in January
2000 it took until July before the first couple — a pair of
17-year-olds — was caught in the act, sparking tabloid headlines
such as "Mile Eye Club".
The Eye's operators immediately banned couples from taking trips
on their own, but Mr Maybury has ruled out such a ban on the
"There are definitely no plans to stop couples from enjoying
flights together at this stage," he said.
In fact, the wheel's operators are unlikely to turn anyone away,
with visitor numbers already well below anticipated levels.
Projections by the wheel's owners that 1.5 million people will
pay to take a "flight" on the wheel each year now seem ambitious
according to one worker. "We're not as busy as we hoped we'd
be," she said.
"If you come early in the morning or late in the evening it's
very quiet, with the wheel running well below capacity.
"Considering it's the school holidays, which should be the
busiest time of the year, it's a bit disappointing."
The Sunday Age visited the wheel thrice last week and on each
occasion the number of passengers was well below the 342 per
hour needed to reach the 1.5 million projection.
On a balmy Thursday evening, just 72 people took a flight on the
wheel between 6.30pm and 7.30pm. At one stage 12 of the wheel's
21 pods were empty.
The Southern Star's owners refuse to say how many customers they
have had since the $100 million attraction opened but insist
they are satisfied with the numbers. Mr Maybury said demand from
locals had been strong but "it will take time to build up the
numbers from people interstate and overseas".
The Southern Star's owners claim that 20 per cent of visitors
will be locals, 30 per cent Victorians from outside Melbourne,
30 per cent from interstate and 20 per cent from overseas.
If the Southern Star were to reach its annual visitor
projections of 1.5 million it would double the numbers of
Melbourne's other main attractions. Both the Melbourne Museum
and the aquarium had just under 750,000 visitors during 2007.
Tourism expert Professor Brian King of Victoria University
believes that the wheel's delayed opening may have contributed
to lower visitor numbers.
The opening initially was planned to coincide with the 2006
Commonwealth Games but was repeatedly pushed back.
"With any big new tourist development it's important to generate
momentum with the expectation about its opening," Professor King
"The London Eye was opened by Tony Blair on (millennium) New
Year's Eve and it became a global event in itself."
He said he had no doubt Melbourne's wheel would develop an
international profile in time.