Subterranean Sydney (The Real Underworld of Sydney Town)
This section is based on the excellent book by Brian and Barbara Kennedy. (Subterranean Sydney (The Real Underworld of Sydney Town), Reed, Sydney, 1982. ISBN 0 589 50312 X). Copyright Brian and Barbara Kennedy and Reed Publishing.
page dedicated to urban explorer extraordinaire, Rob Gibson.

00- DRAINSPOTTING (excerpt from book by Mark Dapin- Strange country: travels in a very different Australia).
01- Introduction
02- Drainage Tunnels
03- Sewerage Tunnels
04- Water Tunnels
05- Telephone Tunnels
06- Mining Tunnels
07- Railway Tunnels
08- Pedestrian and Road Tunnels
09- Defence Tunnels
10- Electricity and Gas Tunnels
11- Future Tunnels
12- Links
13- Gallery, Notes

01- Introduction

Few people walking along Sydney streets are aware of the complex network of historical tunnels beneath their feet. Of course, some tunnels like those of the City Circle and Eastern Suburbs Railways are used by the public every day. But others are less well known. While people are strolling along Pitt Street, for example, Telecom technicians are walking along underneath through a network of tunnels that stretches from Circular Quay to Newtown and was mostly built nearly a hundred years ago.
Above- maps of city and suburban tunnels- click for larger images.

The Tank Stream, which was the source of water that persuaded Governor Phillip to settle at Sydney Cove instead of Botany Bay, is today a dark drain ruining deep beneath Pitt Street. Water Board engineers carry out an inspection every two years, and at that time there is normally a crowd of forty to fifty 'tourists' eager to explore the historic drain. However, normally it is forgotten, except by architects wanting to put down foundations for high rise buildings in the lower part of Pitt Street.
Sydney sandstone is a comparatively easy 'rock to drill and people have been digging into it from practically the first moment Europeans landed at Sydney Cove in 1788.
Long before the arrival of white people or even the Aborigines, wind and water had worn a number of caves in dykes in the sandstone along the coast. There are fair sized sea caves north of Avalon Beach, south of Whale Beach and north of Bilgola Beach. There are also a number of smaller sandstone caverns and rocks belters around the harbour.
The Aborigines used some of these caves as shelters. Governor Phillip noted in January 1788 that Aborigines were living in caves in what is now Wellings Reserve in Manly. At North Head, archaeologists have found a faded red-ochre painting 0.f a kangaroo in a rock shelter. They. have also discovered a cave containing a number of hand stencils.
Australia's first Catholic priest, Reverend John Therry, had a land grant at Avalon which had two unique natural coastal features. One was the Hole-in-the-Wall which was a stone arch about twelve metres high and almost seven metres wide, worn by the sea over millions of years. The feature was lost in more recent times when it was torn down during a gale leaving only its name on maps and plans.
Further to the north another sea-made cave claimed Reverend Therry's attention. Intending to build a church above it, he named it St Michael's Cave. He went as far as having a quarry cut into the cave from which stone could be obtained for the proposed building. However, the church was never built, although a heap of quarried stone stood on the site above the cave for many years. Reverend Therry was also involved in a coalmining venture in the area of the present Avalon golf course. He did not find coal; however, later, coal was discovered at Cremorne and a mine was finally established under the harbour off Balmain. The first shaft was sunk in 1895. An explosion, which killed two men in 1945, virtually closed the mine and the headworks were finally removed in 1956. The entrances are now covered and the mine is probably full of water.
One of the earliest mines dug in Sydney is a tunnel that existed for many years at Long Reef. The tunnel, which eventually fell in, is shown on Mines Department maps but nobody is quite sure who dug the tunnel, when they dug it, or even why they dug it.
One claim is that it was a copper mine dug by James Jenkins who died in 1835 and owned Long Reef during the 1820s.
One of the earliest excavations was the Argyle Cut which was dug through solid rock by convict labour during the 1840s. It now provides access to Dawes Point by way of Argyle Place in the Rocks. Another early excavation was the stone underground silos built on Cockatoo Island near Biloela, the former quarters of the prison superintendent. The island was used as a prison from 1839 to 1871. Governor Sir George Gipps had decided to use the labour of those convicts for building large grain stores on Cockatoo Island. These were pits, excavated "in the shape of bottles", seven metres deep, in solid sandstone, and were in use as government grain stores for many years. The rubble was used as filling in a stone quay, where bagged wheat was unloaded from sailing vessels from the Hawkesbury River, the Hunter River and Van Diemens Land. The silos are now preserved as part of the National Heritage.

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East Sydney Tech

A fascinating tale concerning a tunnel is the one about an escape tunnel built early in Sydney's history for the governor. It is supposed to run from Government House to the old jail in what is now East Sydney Tech. The only problem with this story is that, according to Government House staff, the tunnel does not exist and they are at a loss to explain how the myth ever started.

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The Hero of Waterloo

Sydney's oldest hotel building, The Hero of Waterloo, built in 1796 in The Rocks, made an unusual use of its underground cellars. At one stage of its colourful history, there was a trap door in front of the bar that could be operated by the barman. Unsuspecting drunks would then drop to a cell below to be sold later to some ship's captain who was looking . for crewmen.
The Macquarie Arms at Windsor dates from Governor 1-achlan Macquarie's time and is reputed to have a tunnel to the Hawkesbury River built for the purpose of smuggling.
Workers have uncovered a tunnel system beneath Darlinghurst Criminal Courts which will soon be restored and used for modern purposes.

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Darlinghurst Courthouse

This complex runs from Darlinghurst Police Station to various points, including holding cells beneath courts, and Victoria Barracks. For many years the ghosts of long dead murderers, bushrangers and condemned prisoners lay undisturbed until noisy jackhammers recently broke the long silence.
The Central Criminal Court in the complex was built over 100 years ago when Darlinghurst Jail was the main prison in the State. To help legal convenience, a number of cells, including two for condemned prisoners, were built beneath the courts. These were connected by a system of steps, tunnels and narrow passageways. If condemned, the prisoners were returned to Darlinghurst Jail to be hanged.
The jail and the courts were built by convict labour from massive blocks of sandstone quarried by other prisoners. Working in chain and leg irons, they carved their initials and numbers in the stone blocks to keep a tally of the amount of work required by the overseer. They had to do this; to fall below the set figure meant the "cat of nine tails". Today, such markings are visible in the stone of the old jail wall bounded by Darlinghurst Road and Forbes St.
Another intriguing story that may or may not have any foundation in fact concerns a tunnel at Ingleside that a German baron used in the 1880s to smuggle gunpowder to Careel Bay for German ships waiting off Bungan Head, near Newport. The powder works certainly existed, and the story of the tunnel came to light when police, searching for a missing girl in 1978, came across a large hole. A contractor tried to fill it but 150 tonnes of earth were swallowed up without trace. The hole was finally sealed and the true story of the tunnel may never be known.
The British settlers had hardly finished their task of dispossessing the aborigines of their land, when they began to look around anxiously for enemies that might do the same to them. The first enemy in sight were the Russians. During the Crimean War, the Army dug gun emplacements with ammunition tunnels at Middle Head and South Head. The tunnels are still there -largely unused -and the Army is still waiting for the Russians to arrive.
During the second World War, General Macarthur had his first Australian headquarters in a disused railway tunnel near St James Station. A later underground construction was a three-storey operations headquarters built under a paddock at Bankstown in 1942. A housing estate has been built on top of the bunker and the Royal Australian Air Force now has a more modern headquarters elsewhere. Naturally they are not, saying where.
Many of Sydney's older tunnels were dug to solve its health problems. In the 1800s, the cesspits and general insanitary conditions around Sydney caused fever and early death for many of its citizens. The Tank Stream, the original source of water, soon became little more than an open sewer. A second source was needed. Convicts hacked out a water tunnel called Busby's Bore that still runs from the Showground to Oxford Street. Also under Oxford Street is the Bondi sewer which finally solved Sydney's health problems and put an end to harbour pollution, when it was completed in 1889.
The Bondi sewer still operates and maintenance engineers drift down it in canoes on an annual inspection from the city to the surf. They say the smell is not too bad once you get . . used to it and there is no danger provided you can swim.
The Australian Gaslight Company has been digging up Sydney's streets longer than any other public utility. After being given a charter to light Sydney's gloomy streets in 1837, it began by hewing a site out of solid sandstone at Darling Harbour for its first gas holder tanks.
The new century saw the arrival of electricity to replace gas for street lighting in Sydney. In 1903, the Electrical Undertaking of the Municipal Council of Sydney began digging up streets to lay its cables and excavated a tunnel for cooling water into the harbour for its Pyrmont Power Station. Sydney's oldest harbour tunnel was also built to carry electricity (for the north shore tramways). It was constructed between 1913 and 1924 between Balmain and Greenwich but is now flooded and unused.

The old Pyrmont Power station, 1980 (as seen from Pyrmont Bridge).

Meanwhile, new-fangled telephone machines were becoming so popular that the wires above ground could no longer carry the number of cables needed. Government telephone cable tunnels were dug under Pitt Street in the 1890s and have been in use ever since. A little-known utility, the Sydney Hydraulic Company, also had a network of pipes beneath the city. From 1889 until 1975 it pumped water from East Lakes to drive lifts and even open bank doors around Sydney.

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Hydraulic Pumphouse

The State government railways department built the City Circle underground line in the 1920s, and, after discussing the matter for a hundred years, they finally opened the Eastern Suburbs Railway in 1979.
Meanwhile, the Department of Main Roads had spent most of the 1970s digging up Kings Cross. With this tunnel completed, the State government began looking around for something else to drill a hole in and revived the idea of a harbour tunnel, which has been discussed for almost as long as the Eastern Suburbs Railway.
A lot of people have the idea that there are special underground shelters around Sydney that have been specially built in case of nuclear attack. The public relations officer of the State Emergency Services says there are a few basements of high rise buildings designated as useful places to shelter from an atomic blast but if there are any specially designed shelters then he says nobody has told him.
Although Sydney's network of tunnels is considerable, there is nothing approaching the honeycomb of gold mines which cause minor earthquakes as they collapse from time to time under Johannesburg.
There is no equivalent of the guided sewer tours of Paris although the Water Board regularly attracts up to 50 people for its biennial inspection of the Tank Stream. Telecom, in fact, is keen to keep people out of its tunnels for security reasons and refuses to supply a map to illustrate its network. A well-placed bomb at an exchange could cause chaos as it has done overseas and Telecom takes elaborate security measures about letting people into its exchanges. It gets its own staff to practise emergency procedures regularly.
The biggest danger to all Sydney's underground is flash flooding. A number of children have been drowned after being swept down stormwater drains during heavy rain that Sydney receives from time to time.
One of the worst floods experienced in the metropolitan area inundated North Parramatta in March 1967. About eighteen centimetres of water fell in about an hour.

Another storm of great intensity hit Granville on Anzac Day 1974 causing widespread damage. Nearly thirteen centimetres of water fell in an hour. Storms of this intensity are estimated to hit any given spot only once in a thousand years. But as Sydney's urban sprawl covers such a large area the chances of such a storm somewhere in the metropolitan area are much greater. Floods too great for any normal drainage system to handle are likely to occur in Sydney suburbs at fairly regular intervals. In fact, a storm of the same intensity as the one that hit Granville could cause a major disaster if it struck the central business district of Sydney. Water would flood key electricity substations. It would bring the underground railway system to a halt and probably disrupt telephone communications throughout the central area.
Fortunately the threat to Sydney is not as immediate as the one that faces London. Experts in London have worked out that a combination of floods in the Thames and a high tide in the North Sea would overflow the banks of the river and disrupt all the underground services of the city. This nearly happened in the early 1980s when workmen bad to race against time to erect a special tidal barrier across the Thames before the statistically probable combination of flood and tide brought a major disaster to the city.
This section is based on the excellent book by Brian and Barbara Kennedy. (Subterranean Sydney (The Real Underworld of Sydney Town), Reed, Sydney, 1982. ISBN 0 589 50312 X). Copyright Brian and Barbara Kennedy and Reed Publishing.