Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Unique engineer remembered for iconic playground that was closed for being too dangerous

In his own community, Grant Telfer is remembered as an engineer and free spirit who rode his bicycle barefoot and wore white overalls.

Far more than just his trusty bike, Mr Telfer’s legacy has been to build an iconic playground in his small home town of Monash in Riverland, South Australia.

Known for his handiwork, he also built sheds to live in and invented the Gopher outdoor mobility scooter.

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Mr Telfer died in December at the age of almost 90.

Fundraising is underway for a $40,000 statue in his honor at Monash Adventure Park, where the original playground, known as Grant Park, was later rebuilt as the Monash Adventure Playground.

The playground began in the 1960s with a small slide for the city’s children.

When he semi-retired in the 1970s, his designs became more ambitious and soon the two-hectare reserve was filled with 180 pieces of steel play equipment.

It became an attraction for families and, as word spread, busloads of tourists sought out the thrill of running up the high slides on Hessian bags, walking around in steel cages or flying across the playground on a flying fox.

A black and white photograph showing a playground in 1979 with many people on the ride, including a 15-meter-high spiral slide.
In 1979 the rides at Monash Playground were as popular with adults as they were with children.,Supplied by: Alison Halupka,

‘Put Monash on the world map’

By the 1980s, an estimated 300,000 people a year were visiting what had become one of South Australia’s biggest attractions.

Archival videos of playgrounds on social media today attract thousands of opinions on whether the playground was good, old-fashioned fun or just plain dangerous.

One Facebook user wrote, “Absolutely loved this place. I remember burning with metal on hot days.”

Playground was closed in 1992 amid growing concerns about litigation and the inability to secure public liability insurance.

It reopened in 1996 as Monash Adventure Park, with green lawns instead of dirt, soft falls instead of grape marks, and modern sports equipment.

An old man wearing white overalls on a bicycle with scrubs in the background.
Mr Telfer was locally known for riding his bike between towns, wearing his trademark overalls and barefoot.,Supplied by: Alison Halupka,

Berry Barmera Mayor Peter Hunt paid tribute to Mr Telfer.

“He put Monash and of course Riverland on the worldwide map,” Mr Hunt said.

“The number of tourists that have come to that place… will be astronomical.”

‘Natural interest in making things’

As a child, Mr. Telfer loved making things.

He made a canoe out of a sheet of corrugated iron and used it to swim across Bonnie Lake with his high school teacher.

In his teens, he made his own welder using parts from an old tractor.

And when he heard that the Renmark Gliding Club needed a shed, he built one when he was only 20 years old and started a business building sheds that are still running today – 70 years later.

Daughter Alison Halupka said her father had no formal qualifications.

“He had a natural interest in making things out of steel and over the years he had a natural engineering mind and a physics mind to put things together,” Ms Halupka said.

the first to design the gopher

Mr Telfer was part of a group called Technical Support for the Disabled and was asked to design a three-wheeled handheld tricycle for children who did not have the use of their legs.

“He was thrilled to think that kids who couldn’t ride a simple bike could jump on their handheld bike and join the other kids,” said Ms. Halupka.

“He was selling them for a price, not to make money.”

This invention prompted inquiries for a motorized outdoor scooter, designed and trademarked by Mr. Telfer as the Gopher.

It has since become a common household name and was manufactured by Mr. Telfer’s company until the availability of cheap imports made it very difficult to compete.

A playground in the 1980s with bare dirt and lots of people on the ground.
By the 1980s an estimated 300,000 people were visiting the playground each year, making it one of the biggest attractions in South Australia.,Supplied by: Alison Halupka,

idol tribute scheme

Ms. Halupka worked with her father until she and her husband took over the shed-building business 20 years ago.

“People asked me, did your father encourage you to work in the men’s world and I would say, no, he didn’t encourage me, he didn’t discourage me either,” she said.

“I don’t think they put people in boxes, their minds were too broad.”

Mr Telfer did not stock much at social gatherings and wore overalls and rode his bike barefoot between local towns.

“Sometimes it was mental health, he would jump on his bike and ride a pinaroo to clear his mind,” Ms Halupka said.

And she said that while her father didn’t want any public recognition, she was grateful for the community support for the statue project, which was halfway toward reaching its funding goal.

“That could be his legacy that he gave them,” she said.

Nation World News Desk
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