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You don't need a mountain or molehill to dig a hole in the ground. As Melbourne boomed during the gold rush in Bendigo, Ballarat and Beechworth, the golden nuggets unearthed after frantic digging funded tunnelling in Melbourne, not for gold but for wartime bunkers, ventilation shafts, transport hubs and car parks, sewerage systems and storm water outflows.
These underground legacies of 19th and 20th century urban planning have inspired 21st century urban exploration, as amateur archaeologists, historians and photographers delve into the past, capturing atmospheric tales, images and the occasional urban myth in Melbourne's forgotten and abandoned areas. Enjoy a weekend tunnelling through time – literally.
Parliament House - Although our state's political leaders are often replaced after 4 years, their headquarters on Spring St has endured since the 1850s. Tunnels for ventilation, cabling and plumbing were installed in the 1890s and can be accessed during special open days. Fortunately, the carbon dioxide flowing from the parliamentary chamber is put to good use, directed through these ventilation shafts to feed the parliamentary gardens.
Foy and Gibson Ladies' Store - In 1911, the owners of one of our oldest department stores built a tunnel to connect the buildings straddling Smith St, allowing ladies to purchase stylish fashion, furniture and manchester throughout the store without dodging trams.
Royal Melbourne Hospital - Beneath Parkville, a 400-metre long tunnel stretches from the basement, running under Flemington Rd and providing heated steam to the nearby Children's Hospital. During WW2, tens of thousands of injured Allied troops would recover in these underground chambers after above-ground wards reached capacity. Since the 1940s, the network has become progressively more complex, linking doctors, nurses and patients to the 9 other hospital buildings in our health system. During the 2011 Melbourne Open House, visitors could explore the tunnels with a guided tour.
(by Har Gobind Singh Khalsa / BY-ND 2.0)
Campbell Arcade - Named for the Public Works Chief, Robert Campbell, this 30-metre tunnel, accessed via Degraves St, connects commuters with Flinders St Station, passing 1920s art deco tiles. Although the ornamentation was 'style moderne', now complemented by contemporary art displays, the arcade would only be constructed in the 1950s, opening in time for the Olympic Games.
The City Loop - A product of the 1970s and 80s, the underground loop, with some above-ground sections, began at Flinders St, progressively connecting Spencer St, Museum, Parliament and Flagstaff Stations. Almost a million cubic metres of earth was excavated to create the 10km network of tunnels, which can be legally accessed on a train ride (after buying a ticket).
ANZAC / Prahran Main Drain - In Ghostbusters, you shouldn't cross the streams. In Melbourne, don't enter the drains. There are urban explorers that ignore the warnings, exploring our extensive sewerage network via this drain outflow into the Yarra near the Chapel St Bridge. By torchlight, the network has been mapped and graffiti adorns the walls and large chambers.
Subterranean State Library - Even with your library card, you'll need special permission to access the tunnels beneath Victoria's State Library on Swanston St. Although the library spreads into 23 buildings, much of the collection is held underground in stacks accessible via the Foucault stairwell, named for the pendulum once suspended from the rooftop, or the elephant elevator, used to transport taxidermied pachyderms to Melbourne Museum.
Descent into the ventilation shaft in the Citylink Highway's Burnley Tunnel (by Ecb / BY-SA 3.0)
Uni of Melbourne Car Park - While the south lawn is a peaceful place to study, you can descend into the car park for an insight into architectural innovation. While most modern car parks use rectangular columns to support the roof, the Uni car park's columns are actually hollow, widening in the upper segment to resemble funnels. Now heritage listed, the clever construction allowed water and soil filtration for the trees planted by landscapers throughout the above-ground park. The dystopian effect became part of pop culture after Mel Gibson emerged from the dark space in the V8 Interceptor in Mad Max.
Moylans Cafe - If you happen to be a pollster working for Roy Morgan on Collins St, phone ahead with your order for lunch at nearby Moylan's Cafe on Flinders Lane. You may be invited my management to skip the traffic and use the custom-built tunnel linking the two buildings, ensuring you arrive before your meal does.
Merri Creek Bunker - During World War II, our American allies, headed by Douglas MacArthur, visited Melbourne to plan our battles with the Japanese. Their base in the Royal Park, Camp Pell, was guarded from attack but bombing raids were still a fear after the aerial attack at Pearl Harbour. As myths, rumours and conspiracy theories developed in the decades after the war, a determined group of locals began digging for this "Pandora's box", spurred by the discovery of timber hoped to be part of a tunnelling project. Although there is no official record of the bunker, believers (and X-Files fans) still know the truth is out there.
Campbell Arcade during flooding in 1965 (by Beside the Yarra)
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