Durban Beachfront around 1905 in the vicinity of Funworld today, which was called ‘Ocean Beach’
Durban Funworld – A Brief History
Entertainment and amusements have been a part of Durban’s Beachfront since the very early days that Durban Beachfront was promoted by the then city fathers. Up to the turn of the twentieth century swimming was only done in the harbour area and men and women swam on different days. The city fathers wanted to promote Durban as a progressive holiday venue and advertised mixed swimming at the beach area. This was considered rather dangerous so a swimming enclosure was built to protect the bathers. No sooner had people started to congregate on the Beachfront then amusement rides made their appearance.
Although Durban Funworld has operated under a few names over the years it has been owned and operated by the same family for approx. 80 years. It started out as a miniature train ride on Durban’s North Beach in the proximity of the current Circus Circus restaurant. The train was originally built and operated by Arthur Thornton, father in law of the late Nic Steyn Snr. The miniature first train began operation back in 1938.
Nic Steyn Snr began working at the miniature train in 1945 straight after WWII. In the late 1940’s Nic Steyn Snr bought the train from his father-in-law, Arthur Thornton. He formed the company Durban Miniature Railways (Pty) Ltd. He went on to build a new miniature steam train and larger diesel driven trains. He continued to operate the train on North Beach until the mid 1950’s.
In the mid 1950’s the municipality, at the time, wanted the focus of beachfront amenities to be on the Central Beachfront and requested that Nic Steyn Snr move his train to the Central Beachfront. The site that the train was moved to is the same place that Durban Funworld now occupies. Durban Miniature Railways (Pty) Ltd eventually became Durban Funworld.
After moving to the Central Beachfront Nic Snr began operating boats in the pools and over the years designed and built a number of different boat models.
In the late 1950’s after moving to the central beachfront Nic Snr acquired Peter Pan, a small amusement operation next to the miniature train. This acquisition led him on to continue building and buying amusement rides and over the years establishing Funworld as an institution on Durban’s beachfront.
Over the years Durban Miniature Railways under the leadership of Nic Snr grew from a single train to the amusement park Durban Funworld.
Durban Funworld over the years has established itself as an institution on Durban’s Beachfront. However, many very popular and thrilling rides had to be demolished as Funworld’s area of operation was reduced in size.
In the early 1970s, Durban Funworld was the first entity on the Durban beachfront, and possibly in Durban, to publicly open its doors to all races. In defiance of the terms of its lease with the municipality at the time, which was controlled by the Nationalist Party, Durban Funworld believed the segregation laws were immoral and defied them. The council at the time threatened to cancel the lease but Nic Steyn Snr remained undeterred. At a time when the beaches, paddling pools, public toilets, hotels and every other facility was racially segregated, Durban Funworld was open to all races. This was done many years before any other facilities were opened to all races by the government or private enterprise.