DRAINS, SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES.
Claire is not the only one who can write lists, although hers
to be a bit more prosaic than mine. When I fist came across
Clan stickers on roads and bridges, I assumed they were
to do with the rubbish movie Clan of the Cave Bear. It turned
however, they were a bunch of sewer surfers. Obviously, I had
find out more. Diving into drains with the Clan concentrated
mind, particularly on the (many) things I would rather be
The Three Ways I Would Least Like to Die:
(1) Buried alive
(3) Nibbled to death by rats.
Strangely, however, it was a Saturday night, I was ten
underground in a Sydney stormwater drain, and the weather
The drain was dark and close. It smelled of sweat and
damp and stone. A narrow stream of something -presumably
stormwater - flowed through the centre of the rock-bored
which stretched from a park in South Coogee to a cliff-face
I was a guest of the Cave Clan, who call this tunnel
It is their favourite Sydney drain, because of its length and
Until now, I did not have a favourite Sydney drain, but now
was my favourite, too.
It really was a very impressive drain.
Three Things Trioxide Carries in His Backpack that I
Don't Carry in Mine:
(1) Sydney Water manhole keys
(2) Sydney Electricity box keys
(3) A multipurpose hook, sawn off one of the Glebe Island
silos, where it used to hold down a giant advertisement
I first met the Sydney Cave Clan in the Off Broadway Hotel,
of the few city pubs where the bar is underground. Two
members, Siologen and Trioxide, told me about their annual
night, the Golden Torch Awards. About 100 people turned up
the evening, which was held in an abandoned rifle-range
in Malabar. They hired a generator and a PA, and the visual
Tesseract, were projected across one wall.
At the,end of the night, said Siologen, 'We usually set the
fuel from the generator on fire, burn all the garbage and
a bit of an explosion. The last couple of years, we
bunker tower at about one o'clock in the morning. [Clan
Diode carted up ten drums of petroleum, doused the whole
left two canisters in the centre, then chucked in a Molotov.
The whole three-storey bunker tower just went "Boooom!"
The Golden Torch Awards are handed out for excellence in
recreational trespassing. The Cave Clan is a group of people
dedicated to going where they are not supposed to go - inside
tunnels, bridges and drains, abandoned factories, power
They held their New Year's Eve party on The Cape Don, an
impounded lighthouse cargo ship.
'We had an amazing view of the fireworks on Cockatoo Island,'
said Siologen, 'and from the crow's nest you could see up to
Harbour Bridge. You wake up at six o'clock in the morning,
whole harbour's deserted, you've got all your best mates
New Year's Day, and it's just surreal.'
'Then people see YOU,' added Trioxide, 'and the next thing
know, there's four police cars turning up.'
Siologen and Trioxide, like most of the Clan, are in their
twenties. They look similar to people who don't spend their
in drains, but a little paler. Siologen works in a hardware
shop and breeds Toranas; Trioxide is in IT. Between them,
have an incredible breadth of knowledge about a secret Sydney
that lies beneath the pavement, an underworld of
ignored by the topside world.
For the last three years, the Cave Clan have got into the Big
Day Out without tickets.
'We start off through a drain, which is about 2 kilometres
from the actual site,' said Trioxide. 'It changes size a few
You go around a few corners, then the whole tunnel starts
and you know it's Regurgitator playing.
'This year, the grille we used last year had been locked down
with cable ties; we'd been worried it would be chained down.
was an internal fence they put up inside the site, and we
they'd moved it slightly. We knew there were security guards
where the gate was, so we thought we'd take the next grille
That one was locked up again.'
'After that,' said Siologen, 'the pipe got to be about 18
wide. I got down on my stomach and squirmed up it, trying to
burn through the cable ties, but the crosswinds at ground
kept on blowing out my lighter. In the end, I managed to
them off with the wrench we'd brought.'
'It takes a while to get out of an 18-inch pipe,' said
'We were squashed inside like sardines, with the grille above
and all these feet going past.'
'There were heaps of mad upskirts, too,' said Siologen. '1t7s
amazing how many girls wear G-strings and short skirts.'
'Anyway, we had to throw this grille open and just burst
'When the first guy jumped out, we heard this
"Yeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!' said Siologen. 'The whole crowd was
cheering and helping us out. Because there's no way of
knowing who's in legitimately and who isn't, we just
with the crowd, and starting yelling, "Yeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaah!"
Siologen described Clan membership as 'a lot of people who
work in IT, a lot in the building industry, a lot who -
enough - are in Defence; dolebludgers, locksmiths, electrical
Jihad Islamiyah terrorists . . . We're a very resourceful
'Between us,' he said, 'there's been nothing we haven't been
able to get into.'
Other things Trioxide carries in his bag include a Leatherman
('To steal signs . . . I mean, borrow signs'); two
('I don't usually carry this many radios'); knives;
('They're good for throwing at motorists travelling up
a torch; and a Sony Handicam.
Why would anybody bring all this equipment to a pub?
'We're going to an expo afterwards,' said Siologen.
Three Largely Untapped Recreational Uses for Drains:
(3) Racing those foldaway scooter things.
An expo is an expedition. The Clan holds them every weekend
a couple of nights during the week. Members from all over the
gather at rendezvous points near manholes, locked gates or
huts, waiting for the guy with the keys. Tonight, Predator is
Predator is a cheerful, friendly, unfeasibly articulate
art-hippy, part-feral, part-IT geek. He was an original
of the Sydney Cave Clan, which was founded in May 1991. One
of his co-founders died when he fell down a mountain. 'He
have stuck to drains,' said Predator.
It was 8 pm, and there were about 20 people, including four
women, leaning on car bonnets in a South Coogee street.
lifted a manhole cover, using a homemade key attached to a
rope around his waist, and disappeared. The others followed
one by one, into Fortress.
I was not particularly happy about squeezing into the drain,
and even less so once I was inside. It was black and clammy,
did not feel safe. Five damp, dirty access ladders stretched
storeys to an invisible point at the bottom. I immediately
footing on the rungs, and my hands quickly caked with dirt. I
not look down, because I didn't want to know how many more
slippery steps were left to go.
As I made my painstaking way into the pit, Predator abseiled
past me, bouncing off balconies with his boots, making dalek
noises. His pal, Rodent, did the same, but without the
realised I was in the company of some fairly strange people.
The rest of the Clan lit the shaft with torches, so the
could see their way down. When we all met at the start of the
drain tunnel, two of the girls, Millsy and Drac, produced
Millsy, a petite bottle-blonde, told me that Fortress is a
drain, but the girls can cover the distance on scooters in
She found her scooter in a field. She said, 'I popped out of
manhole, and it was just lying there. Nobody came to get it,
I asked Drac, who is young and pretty, why she wants to spend
her Saturday night in a drain.
'It makes me happy,' she said. 'Some people like going to
and taking drugs; that makes them happy. I like going down
the drains, exploring.'
She said she has been draining since she was thirteen, and
contacted the Cave Clan though one of their stickers, which
found in a drain.
Other people are often bewildered to hear about her hobby.
'Their first response is they think we go down sewer drains,'
she said. 'They're pretty shocked. They think they look like
you might get in a toilet.'
Millsy said, 'Then they say things like, "Why don't you go to
pubs on the weekend, or go out with friends?" We are going
with friends. This is what we enjoy doing.'
Drac tries to get mates to come along with her. She said she
converted 'quite a few people' but admitted, 'I've still got
few to go.'
Millsy and Drac raced off on their scooters, over calcite
('speed bumps') and under stalactites, into the darkness of
The men do not ride scooters. They prefer to use skateboards.
Three Reasons I Forgot to Bring a Torch to Wear on My
(1) I don't have one
(2) It never occurred to me it would be so dark
(3) They look kind of nerdy.
'They say after your 100th drain, you can see in the dark,'
Predator. 'But that's just a rumour.'
He lent me his caving torch, because he did not seem to need
it. Predator had been down thousands of drains. It used to be
compulsion ('Whenever I saw a manhole cover, I had to rip it
off and dart down the drain') but he had eased off now in his
Predator, who died of cancer in June 2004, was a squatter ('a
serial rent dodger') and he worked in IT. We walked together
a wall bearing the names of all the Sydney Cave Clan,
alphabetically from Amnesia, Anarchist and Axeman to Wombat,
Wagonman and Yoda. It was peaceful and quite pleasant, hiking
between the rough sandstone walls - at least until Predator
started howling like a monkey.
We were travelling beneath suburban homes. Above us, families
were watching television, once-romantic couples were arguing
about the washing-up, and stoned people were ordering pizzas.
None of them had any idea there were trespassers running
under their houses - although the stoned people probably
something of the sort.
Does Predator get out much above ground?
'A lot of the interesting things on the surface are
now,' he said. 'The opportunities to explore derelict gas
refineries are rapidly diminishing.' u
Er, I meant more like pubs and stuff.
'Pubs are a bit too loud and smoky for me,' he said. 'I brew
My Top Three Above-ground Sites:
(1) Art House Hotel, City
(2) Indian Palace Restaurant, Balmain
(3) Windsor Hotel, City.
Predator's Top Three Above-ground Sites:
(1) Anzac Bridge (the inside of it)
(2) White Bay Power Station, Rozelle
(3) The old Slazenger factory, Alexandria.
Three Things that Live in Drains:
(3) Homeless people.
Somebody spotlit a cockroach, and we all gathered around.
people speculated as to whether it was related to the then
prime minister, John Howard.
There were also redback spiders clinging to the walls, and a
frog the size of my thumb squatting on the ground.
The Clan occasionally bumps into other people, too.
A well-organised tribe of copper strippers camps out in
industrial sites, said Trioxide. They are efficient 'to the
point where they'll actually put surveillance on the
watch certain sections of copperwork that they can't get
to because it's still under voltage. When Sydney Electricity
in to shut down the transformer, they'll move in the next day
remove all the cabling. Copper's $1 a kilo. They can make up
$20,000 stripping wires from a building. They're like derros;
their job. They purport to have addresses, but 90 per cent of
times I've met them, they've been living on mattresses inside
Siologen was arrested in White Bay Power Station while the
copper strippers were active on the site. He was never
said, 'The police are more curious than anything.
'They said, "We've got you down as getting busted for this
of thing five or six times. If you get caught . . ." '
'. 100 times . . .' suggested Trioxide.
C CL . . . you might be going in front of a magistrate",'
'And I've been busted three times since then.'
They were also questioned by police after they had emerged
from Blackwattle Bay drain.
'We came out of a manhole next to what we later found out was
a stolen car,' said Siologen. 'The cops came down to
car. Once they realised we hadn't stolen it, they were, like,
why don't you just go and get pissed at the pub or
'I said, "How much more trouble do you have with pissed
at the pub than you do with people like us?"
'You don't want to see me pissed, mate! I don't drink just so
people don't have to experience me pissed.'
There is a man who lives in Rushcutter's Bay drain. He comes
out when the Mathew Talbot Hostel serves meals, and to cruise
around Darlinghurst, collecting gutted computers and broken
machines, dragging them back to his drain office.
'I don't know why he's living in that drain,' said Siologen.
a scummy tidal drain. For most of the day it's ankle deep,
there's also a sewage overflow.'
'There are so many other places you could live that we know
of,' said Trioxide.
'You could live in a drain,' said Siologen, 'but not that
Location! Location! Location!
Sydney's Top Three Drains:
(1) Fortress, Maroubra (photo- SMH)
(2) Swoo, Wollstonecraft (photo-
(3) Hercules Pillars, Lane Cove (photo-
Three Things That are Much Less Fun Than Going Down a
(1) Getting out of wet clothes
(2) Drying off without a towel
(3) A Big Mac.
Fortress is an overflow for the Bunarong/Botany flood canal.
2.2 kilometres long, with 36 changes of structure, and it is
2 1 metres underground.
Fortress, Maroubra (photo-
We had walked through several chambers, including one called
'the bong room', which houses an inexplicable structure that
very much like a giant's dope pipe, when I heard thundering
surges from the far end of the drain.
'That's ocean,' said Predator.
Towards the outlet of the drain is a steep, greasy, slope.
Cave Clan - and me - descended this backwards, supported by
a rope attached to the wall. The water on the floor became
then ankle-high, then shin-high. Around the final bend, the
Clan were yelling and laughing. They had fixed themselves to
iron bars that guard the mouth of the drain, bracing their
against waves crashing in from the Pacific Ocean.
The lights of the Eastern Suburbs twinkled across the water.
really was a very beautiful night.
Wooosh! I was completely soaked.
Wooosh! No I wasn't. I'd had a few dry bits after the first
but after the second they'd gone.
After a brief session of wave jumping, all the wet people
back up the slope, some still whooping with excitement. I
see why they did this. It's fun. It's also very wet.
We followed the ladders back to the surface. The rungs were
! now twice as slimy, and much muddier. As I went up,
passed me, abseiling down again, making dalek noises and
a song about Yasser Arafat.
It was a curiously exhilarating experience to pop out of a
in the night. It was like being born again - especially since
felt as though I was covered in amniotic fluid.
The cars dispersed, and the Clan re-grouped at Kensington
McDonald's. I washed myself in the toilets, and changed some
of my clothes. I really didn't want to eat a product of the
Food Nation - I am sure it is twice as toxic as anything in
drains - but draining is hungry work, and I swallowed my
with my Big Mac.
The next event of the evening was a visit to an abandoned
in the inner west. The rendezvous point was a supermarket
and the photographer and I headed off in advance of the Clan.
When we reached the supermarket, there were no available
parks. A workman in a fluorescent jacket had sectioned off a
spaces with witches' hats.
'There's a work crew coming in ten minutes,' he said.
I used to live around here, and I knew a quiet street where
there is always plenty of room. We parked our car there, and
returned to the supermarket to re-direct the Clan.
Balmain reservoir (photo-
The Clan, however, were already installed in the reserved
places, chatting to the guy in the fluorescent jacket, who,
inspection, looked nothing like a workman.
I called Trioxide by A Very Bad Name.
The supermarket security guard kept a wary watch on us, but
he did not call the police.
We knew this because Trioxide was monitoring their radio.
Three Things Explicitly Prohibited by the Sign on the
(3) Dumping rubbish.
'Penalties up to $20,000.'
We were not going to swim, because there was no water in the
reservoir, but we were certainly going to trespass. The Cave
had a key to the access pumphouse, a shabby pavilion on the
of a park. We opened up a battened-down hatch, and returned
Below the park - below my old house, in fact - was a
space, filled by a forest of 7-metre concrete pillars. It was
an awesome sight, like the remnants of a lost civilisation of
There were signs of other visitors: broken chairs and
trolleys, milk crates and takeaway cartons - all the detritus
accumulates spontaneously near supermarkets.
There was also half a cage for a fairly large animal, which I
hoped had not escaped.
The roots of trees grew through the walls of the reservoir,
cracking the concrete and winding across the floor. The
of trailing roots and soaring man-made posts was strangely
beautiful. Curious noises echoed in the darkness, as somebody
a belching competition.
Suddenly, I found myself tramping through slime.
What's all the slime? I asked a Clan member.
'It's slime. '
As I'd suspected.
The eerie sound of a wind instrument hovered in the air. For
a moment, I feared Sydney's ubiquitous Peruvian pan pipers
made their way into the last Andean-musician free zone in the
It turned out to be Mathew, a jazzman, blowing through a
Millsy pulled out some sparklers, and handed them around.
The Cave Clan were playing, like children. They were doing
naughty that got their clothes dirty but did not hurt anybody
else. I had no problem with that.
I think I'll be spending next Saturday night in the pub,
Three Things Young People do that are More Harmful
than Going in Drains:
(1) Start fights with strangers
(2) Watch rubbish on TV
(3) Bomb cities in the Middle East.
The Tank Stream
|Inside the Fortress:
paying a high price for thrills
Jordan Baker, Jonathan Dart and Paul
Bibby, SMH, January 22, 2008
URBAN explorers know The Fortress as the best stormwater
drain in Sydney: more than two kilometres long and up to 10 storeys
high, with slides, balconies, and waves from the Pacific Ocean
battering bars across the outlet at Lurline Bay.
On Sunday evening, a 21-year-old woman known as Holly and two
of her friends - all artists and well-known members of the
graffiti-writing subculture - climbed into the drain through a hatch
in Moverly Road, Maroubra. They painted, drank and then are believed
to have climbed down from a dry platform below the manhole into a
network of tunnels, staircases and pits, leaving behind a
long-necked beer bottle and carton of vanilla milk. The trio may
have been regulars at The Fortress. Urban exploration websites rate
it as a "must see" and consider it safe, with no discussion of what
might happen when, as on Sunday, storm clouds gather.
"They wouldn't have done it just to say 'we might die'," a
friend of Holly's, who wanted to be known only as Blake, told the
Herald yesterday. "It was an unlucky thing.
"It's a raw art form: you don't have the lighting, you can
get electrocuted, you can get zapped on the train tracks. Anything
can go wrong with graffiti art."
In minutes - perhaps seconds - it did go horribly wrong on
Sunday. Some time before 5.30pm the storm hit and a rush of water
swept the three explorers off their feet, carrying them through the
tunnels for at least a kilometre towards the ocean. By the time they
struck the outlet, Holly and a 25-year-old man were dead.
Incredibly, their friend, a 27-year-old graffiti artist from Pennant
Hills, survived. He was conscious when he hit the grate, and
squeezed himself amid thrashing waves through bent bars little wider
than a man's shoulder. A local boy, Luke Simmons, 17, was watching
the ocean from his South Coogee back window when he spotted the man
in the water, waving for help. He and his father rushed down with
surfboards and pulled the man to shore.
"When I got out there, I realised that this guy was
completely drunk," he told the ABC. "He was acting really, really
drunk and I could smell it on his breath. I had to physically grab
his arm and strap the board to him to make sure that he didn't fall
When the man climbed out of the water he "just panicked", his
father, Steve Simmons, told the Nine Network. "He ran straight round
to the drain on the other side and he realised his two friends were
He threatened to throw himself back into the water. "He was
distraught on the rock ledge next to the situation where they were
and we just had to drag him up back away from it. Otherwise he would
have been back in the drink."
Police spoke to the survivor and have not ruled out charging
him with trespass or defacing public property. He was treated in
hospital, then discharged.
Lifeguards Peter Halcro and Paul Moffatt were also called to
Lurline Bay. They found the drain and braved the clash of waves and
stormwater to slip through the bars and recover the bodies of the
"When we were actually inside … the whole drain was going
dark, with the surf pounding up through the drain," Mr Halcro said.
"Everything went dark for a few seconds for us while the bodies were
just floating around. There was also stormwater coming out the other
way, so we were dealing with dirty water and large surf."
They thought at first that there may have been three people
dead. Clothes had been ripped off by the ferocity of the water. But
there was just a man's body floating with the waves and a woman's
tangled around the bars.
"Water was coming in and out," said Mr Moffat. "It was dark
in there and a bit eerie." They recovered the man first, and his
body was winched from near the entrance to the drain. But that was
too dangerous for the rescue helicopter to attempt a second time, so
the lifeguards swam the woman's body 50 metres into the bay.
"We have been doing this job for a while and that was one of
the trickiest recoveries we have had to do," said Mr Halcrow. But he
was modest about his role: "That's why we're here."
Well-wishers visited Lurline Bay yesterday. Holly and her
boyfriend, Morgan - who was not with them on Sunday - were
well-known graffiti artists, her friends visiting the site told The
"She was the best female spirit in the graffiti world," said
Blake. "They [Morgan, her boyfriend, and Holly] were living together
for ages, and they had parties all the time. I met heaps of friends
Morgan's father also visited the bay with his wife, who said
Holly was studying graphic design at TAFE. "[Holly] was beautiful,
she had a beautiful personality," she said. "We were with her just
Blake said the illicit nature of graffiti forced artists to
go underground and guard their anonymity.
"A lot of people think that graffiti is for other people to
look at. A lot of the time it's just for yourself. It's another
artform. You're trying to find a big space to do it because that's
the best way to express yourself.
"They were just doing something you do every weekend. You try
and find somewhere to paint."
Another friend, Gavin, said: "They've obviously found
themselves tucked away in a place that wasn't the best."
One urban explorer describes visiting The Fortress at
midnight. "It was a great night with a full moon and a high tide,"
he told a website. "At the slide at the end that leads into the
ocean the waves crashing in were already shin deep.
"We knew we were going to get wet. Absolutely soaked, I
should say. It was past waist deep half way to the bars and even
higher once we go there. These waves came in over the top of the
drain, totally filling it up with water.
"Holding onto the bars while the sea came crashing into us
trying to force us back and looking out into the ocean all lit up by
the moon and also seeing the houses and street lights over the side
of the bay.
"It was the best thing to see and experience."