IN 1978 Jim Eddy was a real estate broker with no experience in tourism.
But a year later he decided to make his first strategic investment in the industry by spending $1 million on a chairlift, restaurant building, car park and a grass ski slope on a dairy farm at Jamberoo.
The grass ski centre opened in May 1980 and 40 years later Mr Eddy is able to reflect on the hundreds of millions of dollars he has invested in continually developing the theme park, the tens of millions of fun seekers who have enjoyed its rides and the thousands of people he has employed at Jamberoo Action Park.
It all began when Mr Eddy became aware of a big craze in grass skiing occuring around the same time the NSW Government decided to share Illawarra's milk quota with the North Coast. That reduced income on the dairy farm by 18 per cent prompting Mr Eddy to look at other ways for the farm to generate income.
He decided to open a grass ski facility on a hilly section of the property after watching a film called Green Snow showing how the Italian Olympic team trained during summer on grassy slopes in the Italian Alps.
Mr Eddy thought he would only need 20 pairs of skis and 50 pairs of boots but after media coverage in Sydney more than 100 people were lined up waiting to have ago when the gates opened on the first weekend.
Within three months he had 150 pairs of skis for the hundreds of people who drove down from Sydney every weekend to walk through cow manure and then hang on to an old rope tow with a Holden 186 motor to pull them up the hill.
Many people told Mr Eddy his idea would never work but they were soon eating humble pie.
By 1981 Mr Eddy opened the first water slide in what quickly grew to become the biggest theme park in NSW.
The decision to invest in water rides was very timely because the 1981/82 drought turned the grassy hills around Jamberoo to dust which meant grass skiing was not possible.
Mr Eddy has been on a roller coaster ride of mostly ups and very few downs ever since. With a unique ability to make key strategic investment decisions at just the right time.
"It has been a very exciting industry to be involved in because you are breaking new ground all the time. You can't just do it once. You have got to do it again and again," Mr Eddy said.
"We had the first grass ski park in the world, the first bobsled ride out of Europe, the third water slide in Australia and The Rock had never been built anywhere. There have been a whole lot of firsts at this park. What makes it interesting for me and the staff is we are constantly creating things that come from an idea. We design and build it and when people come and enjoy it you get this great sense of satisfaction and achievement".
Grass skiing remained at Jamberoo Action Park until 1992 when the public liability insurance crisis prompted Mr Eddy to come up with a new plan. And the investment hasn't stopped since.
But the last six months has been the hardest. The devastating summer of fires prompted calls for Sydneysiders to stay at home and not head down the coast at the busiest time of the year. And that was followed by COVID-19.
Mr Eddy describes it as the biggest challenge he has faced in the park's 40 year history. But it is not going to stop his plans to keep investing in the park.
The $7million investment in a high adrenaline" dual waterslide called Grand Gorge Falls and a new family water play area called Koala Kove has been pushed back a year or two but will proceed and be followed by more new rides.
"We had actually moved forward with our plans and were going to do the new ride this year but then the virus hit and closed us down. We have put construction of the ride off which I think is a good decision until we get a clear picture of what the recovery post COVID-19 is going to look like.
"We have a development application which is still current that will take us through at least the next 10 to 15 years. The rides in that DA are already state-of-the-art and the designs are continually being improved.
"If we get a stable environment to operate in with no more fires or coronavirus we should be okay. I think we dropped about $1.2 million in sales early this year. We were up in December. It was going very well and we thought the season was going to be a good one. But then the bushfires and COVID-19 happened".
Mr Eddy described the start of 2020 as diabolical. But he expects many seasons of fun.
As Jamberoo Action Park enters its 40th year many are remembering the first water slide, bobsled run, boats and grand prix track that took centre stage by 1985/86.
In 1987 plans were drawn for The Rock, a second mountain slide, landscape golf and a large maze that all opened in late 1988. Some of the early favourites have made way for major new attractions over the years but the memories will always remain.
Mr Eddy would love to hear those stories and see photos leading up to the opening of the 40th anniversary season in September. He said only time will tell whether all restrictions will have been lifted by then but Jamberoo Action Park is preparing to celebrate with families who have been visiting the attraction for four decades. As well as those who have never been before.
Because last season was cut short with the premature closure in March season passes have been extended for the first four weeks of the new season. But season passes for the summer of 20/21 won't go on sale until Mr Eddy gets a clear idea of what is happening with social distancing restrictions. He is hoping it will be business as usual.
He said the success of any business relies on building great teams and making continual investments to keep things exciting and new.
"Jamberoo has a very good team it has built up over many years. We have one employee (Ros Vause) who has been with us for 40 years and two others who have worked here more than 30. They are very valuable to us. They are a very competent, professional group of people and we can't afford to lose them. If you don't have great employees you don't have a business. People who have been with us a long tell me they love working here because it is a very dynamic and exciting".
Mr Eddy said it was great to be in a business enjoyed by three generations of many families. And is keen for the community to help Jamberoo Action Park celebrate 40 years by posting memories on social media using the hashtag #jamberooactionpark.
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