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Top 5 Tunnels in Perth

Home > Perth > Day Trips | Family | Free | Fun for Children | Fun Things To Do
by Barry J (subscribe)
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Published November 9th 2020
The best things in life are underground
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Doing time in Fremantle (by Fremantle Prison)


A labyrinth of tunnels snake through Perth's subterranean world. Explorer our hidden history on an underground adventure in these top tunnels:

Fremantle Prison
There are almost 100 heritage buildings in Perth, from churches and schools to town halls and hospitals. Only one has been awarded a World Heritage listing, Fremantle Prison. The inmates didn't appreciate the architecture of the 19th-century maximum security prison as much as UNESCO, rioting during our bicentennial year to attempt an escape.

The prison closed in 1991 and after its restoration, we can explore a labyrinth of tunnels, 20 metres underground.

On a tour of the tunnels, ride punts like the craft used by colonial convicts to ride the tight channels and dig at the limestone to clear a path for freshwater to the prison. Rest your torch in tiny recesses along the walls, where convicts placed oil lamps as they scratched graffiti into the stone.

To see the sun again, return to the prison or row south-east for Success Boat Harbour to make your getaway to a non-extradition treaty country.

Since 1852, prisoners drank the water flowing through the tunnels, but after a diesel spill in the 1980s, it's best to BYO on your boat ride.

Once you're back on the surface, dine on a menu inspired by the 1920s prison food. According to the warden at the time, dinner was a "liberal supply of soup, boiled, roast, stewed, or minced meat, and vegetables, comprising more than a hearty meal", and breakfast was "porridge, bread and sugared tea".

Book the 2.5hr Tunnels Tour at Fremantle Prison.

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Lighting up Swan View (by shaniac_t_photography @ instagram)


Leighton, Mosman Park
After Singapore fell to the Japanese during World War II, and Darwin was bombed in early 1942, frightened locals scanned the sky for Japanese dive bombers and "Zero" fighter planes, and the oceans for battleships, aircraft carriers, and destroyers. Midget submarines slipped into Sydney Harbour and taunts were broadcast on short-wave radio, "Hullo, Sydney, Japanese planes will bomb your city on Saturday week, but we shall not destroy your precious bridge. It will be too useful to us."

In Brisbane, Douglas MacArthur plotted the Allied assault in the Pacific, and we built the Leighton Battery Site, a complex of tunnels under Mosman Park to defend our city.

Two weeks after the Pearl Harbour attack, Australian soldiers were stationed at Leighton to monitor our coastline. The underground base stretches across a 400m network of tunnels, capable for us of up to 32 soldiers. The facility had anti-aircraft guns, heavy artillery, radio communication rooms, ammunition stores and rest areas. Members of the Australian Women's Army Service were also assigned shifts at the observation post, using searchlights to sweep the coastline.

After the war, the site was used for training exercises. In the mid-1960s, as the electrical wiring degraded, the base was decommissioned and the tunnels were blocked with rubble. The land was rezoned for defence housing, and the defence facility was awarded national heritage status.

The Royal Australian Artillery Historical Society of WA has restored the site. Take a tour on Sundays or try the virtual experience.


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Descend to our underground defences under Mosman Park (by RAAHS of WA)


Swan View, John Forrest National Park
In the 1890s on the outer edge of Perth's east, convicts dug a 340-metre tunnel through our state's first national park. Using picks, dynamite, and their bare hands, they cleared a path not for escape, but for goods trains. They also lined the walls with masonry to prevent a collapse but making the tunnel a tight fit for locomotives.

The last trains chugged through the tunnel in the 1960s, and gravel is scattered along the single-line railway, now part of the Railway Reserve Heritage Trail. Escape the blazing summer sunshine at the entrance as you turn on your torch and venture into the cool, dark interior.

Fatal train accidents darken the tunnel's history. As heavily-laden goods trains struggled eastward on the steep 20 rise, toxic smoke built up in the narrow spaces. Drivers tried breathing through wet handkerchiefs, but as the minutes ticked by, the fumes claimed lives on multiple occasions.

A diversion was built to skirt around the tunnel but in the 1960s, trains crossed through the Avon Valley to reach the Eastern Railway and continue east to Kalgoorie.

In the 1990s, Swan View Tunnel became a highlight of the 59km Railway Reserves Heritage Trail. The tunnel is now just as famous for its Instagram images of selfie-grabbing tourists.

To enter Swan View Tunnel in John Forrest National Park, head east from the CBD to Swan View Rd in Swan View.

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Action stations at Rottnest (by Sealink Rottnest)


Oliver Hill, Rottnest Island
During World War I, Rottnest Island housed German prisoners of war. Unfortunately, the Geneva Convention doesn't include provisions for kayaking and snorkelling, so it's unclear if the internees could indulge in the recreational activities now popular on the island.

In the 1930s, locals could visit the site as a fortress of military buildings were constructed to defend Fremantle Port. A web of tunnels linked a radio room, generator, ammunition stores, observation stations, and a hospital.

During WWII, the coastline was monitored day and night with searchlights and a battery of artillery. A railway carried ammunition and supplies from the jetty as soldiers' families waited out the war in the island's cottages.

The feared attack didn't come but the base remained active for training exercises. In the 1980s, it was decommissioned.

Explore the site and the tunnels on the Train and Tunnel Tour. After the ferry ride to Rottnest Island, you'll ride the trolley train on the same line used during the war to reach Oliver Hill, and descend with a guide into the tunnels.

Visit Sea Link to book or Rottnest Island for more about the things to see and do.

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Ride under the city (by Main Roads, WA Government)


Northbridge, CBD
Our state's only road tunnel stretches to 1.6km, forming part of the east-west 6km Graham Farmer Freeway. Unlike road tunnels in the eastern states, drivers can ride the "Polly Pipe" toll-free.

Drive through the underground portal to see the origins of the tunnels nickname - the long runs of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plumbing. It's also a nod to AFL Hall of Famer, Graham Farmer, who was as chatty as a parrot in his youth.

As the drivers keep their eyes on the road, passengers can ogle the neon lights at the entrance during the wee hours or marvel at the winding Aboriginal mural along the eastern approach on a sunny day.

In the CBD, enter the Northbridge Tunnel eastbound at Leederville Parade, or westbound at East Parade.

What's been your favourite underground adventure in Perth? Please let us know with a comment.
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Why? To find what lies beneath
When: Anytime!
Where: Under Perth
Cost: Free!
Your Comment
Good article Barry. Most large cities have things like this and it is good that we have the opportunity to see them, if only in articles like yours.
by Neil Follett (score: 3|1107) 12 days ago
I am enjoying your tunnel series Barry.
by May Cross (score: 3|7380) 14 days ago
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