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A subterranean world is hidden under Sydney's streets, connected by a labyrinth of tunnels, each with a story to tell. Enjoy an adventure in one of these top tunnels in Sydney (but bring a torch...and spare batteries).
St James Station. The classic mosaic tiling in St James Station hints at the vintage of the tunnels throughout the station but the real mysteries are hidden from view. Continuing north to the Cahill Expressway and south through Hyde Park, our ancestors dug tunnels in the 1920s firstly for trains but then diverted to air raid shelters during World War II. After decades of disuse, rainwater and plantlife now line the tunnel walls, as does graffiti from brave "artists". The tunnels opened to the public during Sydney Open in November 2016. Check the website for the next tour dates. You can also view historic photographs of the underground network along St James platform.
The Tank Stream. Before Evian's mineral water arrived in plastic bottles, our ancestors drank from a creek running through the Sydney CBD. 150 years ago, it was converted into a sandstone tunnel, now used for stormwater. A tour, beginning at Curtin Place, is open by ballot. Signup for eNews updates at the Sydney Living Museums website.
North Fort. In Manly's North Head Sanctuary during WWII, Aussie soldiers served in tunnels built in the North Fort, holding artillery for gun emplacements to defend against a feared Japanese attack. Fortunately, the battle didn't reach Manly but the tunnels remain, open for public tours every weekend. Click here for the details.
Jamie Oliver in the Mushroom Tunnel (by Li Sun Exotic Mushrooms)
RPA Hospital. As Royal Prince Alfred Hospital stretches across Missenden Road, Camperdown, doctors, nurses and patients can skip the traffic and traverse the wards in tunnels 2.5 metres high, alongside a complex network of electrical and gas pipework.
Bondi Water Treatment. While golfers tee off above ground, our sewage system flows 50 metres underground to treat waste water before sending it far into the ocean, kilometres away from swimmers at Bondi Beach. The tunnels are accessed by Sydney Water staff via an entrance at North Bondi.
Mittagong Mushroom Tunnel (Bluedawe / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Mushrooms in Mittagong. In the 1860s, the railway connecting the Sydney to Goulburn cut through Mount Gibralter in Mittagong. In use until WWI, the tunnel network became a military store during WWII before mushrooms replaced munitions in the 1950s. The cool, humid environment is ideal for exotic mushrooms, providing Sydney with shiitakes, shimajiis and wood ears. Li Sun offers farm tours – click here to book.
Hero of Waterloo. At the Hero of Waterloo Hotel on Lower Fort St, Millers Point, be wary of free drinks. In the 1800s, thirsty locals were tempted into the hotel with offers of free rum. Plied with enough strong booze to send them to sleep, they were carried along a tunnel to the nearby docks, then placed aboard ships setting sail at dawn. Waking to find themselves at sea, they were soon roped into the hard toil of life on the water as sailors.
Sydney Harbour Tunnels. While the current Sydney Harbour Tunnel is open to vehicles after paying the toll, two other tunnels were dug in the early 1900s, serving very different functions. The first, running from Balmain to Goat Island, plunged one kilometre underground to transfer coal from our only coal mine. The second ran from Greenwich to Balmain. Although not as deep as the first, it was ground-breaking (excuse the pun), becoming the first Australian tunnel to be completed solely with Australian talent, unaided by European or American engineers. It supplied electricity to our train network until the 1950s. The remnants of this tunnel can still be seen at Manns Point, Greenwich.
Busby's Bore. The Tank Stream wasn't our only colonial water source. In the 1830s, John Busby engineered a tunnel to funnel water from the swamps at the site of Centennial Park into Sydney, flowing over 3 kilometres along Oxford St and Hyde Park to reach Macquarie St. One of the tunnel's wells in Victoria Barracks, still visible today, overflowed in the 1940s after heavy rain. A memorial at Hyde Park commemorates the achievement, which was Sydney's only water source until 1959.
South Head. To protect Sydney Harbour during 2 World Wars, tunnels at South Head, beneath Hornby Lighthouse, were carved from the sandstone. Although the artillery and gunpowder are gone, fortunately not required, the tunnels still remain, open to the public for Sunday tours. The lighthouse, erected after the dreadful sinking of the Dunbar, is also explored on the tour. To book, click here
What's been your favourite underground encounter in Sydney? Please let us know with a comment.