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Godson, John Robert (1949–1979)

by Martin Sharp

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

John Robert Godson (1949-1979), petrol-tanker driver, was born on 2 August 1949 at Warren, New South Wales, son of native-born parents George Robert Godson, a market gardener from a long-standing local family, and his wife Laura Rae, née Hammond. With his younger sister Susan, John helped his parents on the family's 50-acre (20 ha) farm, Orange Grove, and was educated at Warren Central School.

Tall and bespectacled, with dark brown hair, Godson was apprenticed to a builder and did contract work on nearby farms. On 13 February 1971 at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Warren, he married a 17-year-old local girl Jennifer Anne Poidevin. They set up house at 12 Wilson Street; their sons Damien and Craig were born respectively on 15 August 1973 and 15 December 1974. Jenny described John as being 'a dedicated member of the community . . . good, kind, strong and reliable. He had great integrity. He lived for his family'. To support them, John took additional work delivering petrol around the countryside for Mobil Oil Australia.

Extended hours away from home put pressure on the marriage and a long-planned family holiday was at last taken in June 1979. New South Wales was in the grip of a railway strike and travelling was difficult. The Godsons stopped at Yass to visit the boys' maternal grandmother and then moved on to Sydney to see the sights. On 9 June, with their Sydney hosts the Harris family, they went to Taronga Zoological Park, returned to the city for dinner and embarked by ferry for a night at Luna Park, 'Just For Fun'.

Jenny recalled that, after several hours enjoying the various attractions, 'It was nearly time for us to leave, the boys asked John if they could have another ride on the Ghost Train and the River Caves. He agreed and the Harrises and I went to get ice creams'. Godson and his boys boarded a carriage and passed through Hell's Doorway into the twisting corridors of the Ghost Train, followed by four 13-year-old students from Christian Brothers' College, Waverley. The building erupted in flames. The charred bodies of John Godson and his sons were found huddled together in a cul-de-sac, the bodies of the four schoolboys close by. He and his sons were buried in Warren cemetery. Luna Park remained closed until 1982.

Persistent allegations circulated in the 1980s that the Ghost Train fire had been deliberately lit at the instigation of entrepreneurs who wanted to redevelop the prime harbour site. Backed by journalists, Jennifer Godson urged the police to reopen the inquiry in 1985, but the Corporate Affairs Commission was unable to unravel the ownership of Harbourside Amusements Pty Ltd (lessees of the park from 1980). Although the National Crime Authority in 1987 described the original police investigation as 'inadequate' and as rendering the coronial inquest 'ineffective', it failed to discover the cause of the fire. John Godson was thrust into prominence by the extraordinary circumstances of his death.

Select Bibliography

  • Public History Review, 1, 1992, p 50
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 11 June 1979
  • Daily Liberal and Macquarie Advocate (Dubbo, NSW), 11, 14-15, 19 June 1979
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 June, 23-25, 29-30 Aug, 4 Sept 1979, 17-18, 30 Oct, 18 Nov 1985, 12 June, 9, 12, 28 Oct 1987.

Citation details

Martin Sharp, 'Godson, John Robert (1949–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/godson-john-robert-10316/text18257, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 22 August 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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