On a sunny October day exactly a year ago four people headed to Dreamworld to spend their day at what was once Australia's most popular theme park.

Just before 2pm on October 25, Kate Goodchild, her brother Luke Dorsett, his partner Roozi Araghi and Sydney mother Cindy Low stepped onto the Thunder River Rapids ride, one of the park's most popular attractions.

What happened next would forever mark that Tuesday as the day of Australia's worst theme park tragedy in almost four decades - an accident the park and the entire Gold Coast is trying hard to move on from.

Rescue personnel stand by the Thunder River Rapids ride at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast. Photo / AP
Rescue personnel stand by the Thunder River Rapids ride at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast. Photo / AP

Dreamworld has tried hard to obscure the ride, putting up huge rust-coloured fences to fit in with the wild west theme of its Gold Rush town.

Advertisement

Visitors wander into the themed-town, which sits directly next to the fatal ride, curiously glancing towards the rust-coloured fences, knowing exactly what lies behind them. Some take photos at the entrance, others mutter to each other about how sad it all is before they move on to other areas of the park.

No signs point to the Thunder River Rapids. Pathways that used to pass over the ride have been taken out of service. However, just visible above the fences are the turrets of the "shacks", all part of the theme for the ride.

The anniversary

Out of respect for the families who lost their loved ones, Dreamworld decided against conducting a public memorial for the anniversary.

Instead, it held a private service for the park's 1000-plus staff before the park opened.

The staff service was a solemn reflection ceremony, presided over by a local pastor.

A traditional Aboriginal smoking ceremony also took place, similar to the one held days after the tragedy last year.

An Australian flag, which normally flies high above the Dreamworld entrance sat at half mast - a silent sign of respect for the four who lost their lives.

The Australian flag can be seen at half-mast at Dreamworld on October 25, 2017 in Gold Coast, Australia. Photo / Getty Images
The Australian flag can be seen at half-mast at Dreamworld on October 25, 2017 in Gold Coast, Australia. Photo / Getty Images

The symbolic decision came after Ardent Leisure, the parent company of Dreamworld, said it had plans to "respectfully and thoughtfully acknowledge the one-year anniversary of last year's tragedy".

Advertisement

Photos from a year ago showed the front lawn of Dreamworld covered with hundreds of tributes, but only three people paid their respects today, laying their flowers and then moving on.

At the park's entrance, kids grew impatient in the queues as their parents quietly discussed the events of October 25 last year, some only realising they'd come on such a solemn day when they saw news crews out the front.

Dreamworld employees appeared in high spirits, smiling and laughing among themselves and thanking the public for their support.

The park seemed quieter than usual - most rides hardly had any lines and a number of attractions were closed for annual maintenance.

The Thunder Rapids Ride.
The Thunder Rapids Ride.

Two visitors, who had come from Melbourne, said they didn't realise it was the anniversary.

"We had no idea until we arrived this morning. It was the last day of our holiday, which is why we're here but if we had known we probably wouldn't have come. We feel a little bit disrespectful," one woman said.

Outside the park, a service station employee said she distinctly remembers the day, hearing the sirens from across the road. A cafe worker, who holds an annual pass to the popular theme park, remembers the texts from friends, asking if he was okay and if he knew what was going on.

One Gold Coast family, who hold annual passes to the park, said they had come purely to support Dreamworld and the region.

'A tragedy we'll never fully recover from'

Immediately after the tragedy, the Gold Coast's theme park industry saw a sharp decline in visitor numbers and revenue.

Dreamworld had 1.66 million visitors this financial year, compared to 2.4 million from 2015-16.

The theme park reported visitation slumps of 51.3 per cent for December 2016, 39.6 per cent for January 2017 and 29 per cent for February 2017.

Acting Lord Mayor Donna Gates admitted yesterday that despite visitor numbers slowly rising again, it is a tragedy the region will "never fully recover from".

"They're places of fun generally and that's been very difficult to come back from that terrible tragedy. But I understand that all the testing that's been done, we know now how safe our parks are," Gates said.

"It was a one-off tragedy that we'll never be able to fully recover from but the parks are doing well. People are enjoying themselves again and while our sympathy goes to the families and always will we do need to step back and let people know we're open for business."

And although it's easy to discuss whether or not Dreamworld will recover from the tragedy, those who lost their loved ones have revealed the true weight of their grief.

Matthew Low, whose 12-year-old Kieran survived after being thrown from the raft, only to tragically watch his mother, a Kiwi, die, told the Courier-Mail his family was still recovering.

The order of service for the funeral of Cindy Low at the Palmdale Hillside Chapel on the Central Coast. Photo / AAP
The order of service for the funeral of Cindy Low at the Palmdale Hillside Chapel on the Central Coast. Photo / AAP

"We have spent each week and month comforting each other and learning how to live without her," he said.

"Our grief has come in waves but the firsts are especially hard - birthdays, Kieran and Isla's milestones achieved that she does not get to experience," he added.

Kim Dorsett, who lost her son Luke and her daughter Kate, told her heartbreaking story to the Courier-Mail on Monday and how the family continue to "face firsts without them".

"Kate's girls will never have those hugs and kisses from their mum that every child should have. The baby of course will have no memory of her beautiful mum, but we will forever tell her how much she was loved if only for a brief time," she said.

"We have faced many firsts this year without them - Christmas, birthdays and of course, Mother's Day."

Dorsett said for her, even getting out of bed "can be a major achievement".

"It is a fact of life that I visit my family at the cemetery, no longer able to drop in and annoy them," she said.

The future

Ardent Leisure, the company that owns Dreamworld, announced after the tragedy it would decommission the ride forever.

It then announced it would demolish the expansive attraction, which it's been unable to do yet because of the ongoing investigations.

There's still no word on what exactly Dreamworld plans to do with the space once the ride has been demolished, as the grieving families have conflicting opinions about what they want there.

Although WHSQ's investigation is finished, the loved ones of those who lost their lives say they are still in the dark about what exactly went on.

The decommissioned ride was once a main attraction of the busy theme park. Photo / news.com.au
The decommissioned ride was once a main attraction of the busy theme park. Photo / news.com.au

"[The process] is just ongoing all the time," Sandra Brookfield, a close friend of Kim Dorsett who lost her two children in the tragedy, told the Gold Coast Bulletin.

"We had hoped the [coronial] procedure would be settled this year but I wouldn't be surprised if it's not until May or June now."

Behrooz Araghi, the father of Roozi, told the Australian this year his family was still waiting.

"They haven't told me what they believe went wrong," he said. "We're very much in the dark."

After the tragedy, Queensland state parliament passed legislation for industrial manslaughter, which could see senior executives at corporations charged over deaths.

"We owe it to the victims of these tragedies and their loved ones to ensure Queensland has strong industrial manslaughter laws to protect people on the job backed by strong penalties for employers proven to be negligent," Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace said this month.

Despite the industrial manslaughter charge being brought in, Queensland authorities have not recommended Dreamworld employees who were running the ride last year be criminally charged.

The Palaszczuk government has committed AU$331,000 ($370,700) for the inquest.

A WHSQ spokesman said significant progress had been made in the investigation after collating 100 witness statements and receiving five expert reports about the tragedy.

Dreamworld, one year on from the tragedy. Photo / news.com.au
Dreamworld, one year on from the tragedy. Photo / news.com.au

And as Dreamworld seeks to distance itself from the tragedy, its main competitor Movie World is bringing in more attractions.

Movie World's $30 million HyperCoaster, the longest and highest rollercoaster in the Southern Hemisphere, was opened last month, less than two months after the theme park's parent company Village Roadshow put 154ha on the market for $100m.

The co-chief executive of Village Roadshow Graham Burke called last financial year its "annus horribilis" after it announced a $66.7m loss. Ardent Leisure lost $66.2m.

Meanwhile, Dreamworld spent $7m transforming its Tiger Island attraction this year, and its website pushed a family-friendly brand rather than the thrill-seeker reputation it once prided itself on.

In a region once known almost exclusively for its beaches and theme parks, the Gold Coast is pushing to expand its reputation in Australia and around the world.

Mark Howell, the media co-ordinator for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, said the city is evolving and would use its world-class hosting of the games as a "catalyst" to help the city along in its recovery.

"We're actively growing up and the city is moving from adolescence to adulthood. We want to make the city liveable as much as it is visitable," he said.