Finding Australia's forgotten urban wonders

Gia Cattiva in her element (Andros/Exploring with Andros)
Gia Cattiva in her element (Andros/Exploring with Andros)

A natural curiosity and an adventurous spirit is what it takes to be an urban explorer - a nickname and a bit of craziness wouldn't go astray too.

Well, that is according to Sydneysider Gia Cattiva. Her name translates to 'naughty Gia' in Italian, and it couldn't be more fitting.

She has spent the past three years hunting out abandoned spots to explore and document in photographs for her blog ShhSydney.

"I've always been interested in history and am really nostalgic. I love reminiscing about old ads on TV from back in the day, pre-internet era, anything like that," she says.

This led to hours of researching places like the long-forgotten Magic Kingdom Amusement Park from the '70s.

"I'd spend hours online researching these places out of personal curiosity and one day just thought 'hey, why not go out there and investigate it for yourself?'."

The 33-year-old says it was like experiencing Narnia from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

"From that moment, I was hooked," she says.

The abandoned El Caballo Blanco entrance gates (ShhSydney)

Urban exploring has become more popular with the rise of social media. New Zealand's own urban explorers are well-known for sneaking into the Christ Church Cathedral and taking photographs after the earthquakes left it in ruins.

It's not for everyone however, as Ms Cattiva says you need to be brave enough to enter sites that have been uninhabited for a long time.

Urban exploring is controversial in that you put yourself in danger and are ultimately trespassing.

"It's a risk all urban explorers are aware of and take precautions for. I'm pretty good at not noticing private property signs" she says.

"I think the public really enjoy seeing what their city was like, reminiscing about the past and learning about what their surrounds were like in years before."

The places have a historical and social interest she says, particularly if they are going to be lost to bulldozers and contractors.

The El Caballo Blanco amusement park in southwest Sydney has fallen to this fate.

Opened in the 80s, Ms Cattiva, who works in the digital media trade, has fond memories of visiting the Spanish-themed park as a child. It was one of the first sites she explored and her most favourite to date.

She returned recently to document the remains again before it's gone forever.

"Horses roamed free on the property and it was an amazing experience taking photos while being followed by a curious herd of horses," she says.

"It was like being instantly transported to an alternate universe, almost apocalyptic and was quite an emotional experience getting to interact with the horses in the abandoned amusement park."

The site is being demolished and redeveloped for housing.

El Caballo Blanco's Ice Cream parlour (ShhSydney)

Ms Cavttiva says she chats to explorers from New Zealand through social media and online Urbex forums. She would love to make a trip across the ditch to seek out some abandoned gems.

"New Zealand's known as a land of many natural wonders and beauty, so it's not surprising you guys also have some pretty spectacular places to explore."

The eerily-empty sites often have a story or two to go with them, like Magic Kingdom's ghosts that haunt it after dark.

Some are more gruesome, such as Luna Park and the tragic incident of the ghost train fire that claimed the lives of seven people in the 70s.

Ms Cattiva says the wild and overgrown parks make her feel alive.

"I become enthralled by the tiniest of things in abandoned places, they make me really notice the little things in life," she says.

"[They] can take on a new meaning and feel very special and significant."

The ShhSydney Facebook can be found here and Instagram here

A stranded boat left behind in El Caballo Blanco (ShhSydney)

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