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Published July 13th 2014
You have to dig around
An Underground Tunnel in Adelaide's Coastal Fort Glanville
Some people in Adelaide have an almost fanatical interest in underground tunnels, secret bunkers and hidden air raid shelters. It's not just urban explorers who dream about a secret labyrinth beneath the city streets, as it regularly crops up in forums like Reddit too. It's also one of the main reasons that people join groups such as the Adelaide Cave Clan.
As far back as 1925 people were curious about underground Adelaide tunnels, when an intrepid reporter explored this city beneath a city.
Most of the stories about tunnels under Adelaide are just elaborate urban myths - there is no secret link between Parliament House and Government House, or to the Adelaide railway station. Reports of a tunnel from Modbury High School to Tea Tree Plaza should also be consumed with a grain or two of salt, and similarly claims of a tunnel from General Motors Holden to the RAAF base at Edinburgh.
An unassuming Eastern suburbs property boasted a secret bunker - an underground air raid shelter built during World War 2. It was fitted out like a caravan, with four bunk beds and a movable table. The walls were made of eight inch thick concrete and the room was buried under twelve inches of earth. It had electric lighting, and three ventilators, and a special gas proof door was planned.
Other underground air raid shelters were built around Adelaide during the war, and some still exist in Unley, Glenelg and Torrensville. While not secret bunkers, they served as communications centres and shelters for air raid wardens.
Army Girls Dig Tunnels in the Adelaide Parklands 1942 (Courtesy State Library of SA B21657)
Some air raid shelters were simple trenches and tunnels in Adelaide parks. Women did their bit and dug them while their men were off fighting in the war.
A Pipe Air Raid Shelter in the Botanic Gardens (Courtesy Australian War Memorial)
In March 1942 basic pipe air raid shelters were installed in the Botanic Gardens with sandbags to protect from flying debris. You wouldn't want to spend much time in them as they were quite cramped. Similar shelters on North Terrace became notorious havens for courting couples in various states of undress. At one time the whole of the police plainclothes licencing squad was instructed to keep the air raid shelters under surveillance.
Enormous Air Raid Shelters Were Located Near Daw House at the Repatriation General Hospital
But some air raid shelters were of a completely different scale - archaeologists and urban explorers have long dreamed of finding two 300 person air raid shelters reputedly incorporating an underground hospital at Daw Park.
Patient Air Raid Shelter Plans for Repatriation General Hospital
In wartime some scandalous behaviour was reported between virile young servicemen and young army nurses in these shelters. These secret bunkers were located near the Repatriation General Hospital, and were probably lost between 1958 and 1970.
While it seems quite difficult to "lose" such a large structure, other enormous air raid shelters in Adelaide's western suburb of Hendon have also been lost. Built in 1942 for the employees of Carr Fastener Company, the current occupants of the building can no longer find these underground bunkers that once housed 400 people.
Many private houses also built underground air raid shelters during World War 2, including this house in Joslin advertised for sale as a "fine upstanding residence". Port Adelaide firemen built underground bunkers accommodating 40 people for their families, while The Advertiser offered advice for home makers on building air raid shelters.
Urban Exploration - Adelaide's Long Forgotten Basement
It isn't widely known that there are underground tunnels in Adelaide's two coastal forts, known as caponiers. The caponier at Fort Glanville is concrete, while the tunnel at Fort Largs was originally made using jarrah but largely filled in around 1936.
And finally, urbexers searching for underground tunnels in Adelaide recently stumbled across an enormous underground space beneath a city block. Originally the basement of a department store built in 1928, the area still contains an old lift and stairs that are nearly 100 years old. It probably doesn't win the title of Adelaide's scariest place, but it remains quite eerie.
Thanks Dave, Your articles are always the best!
I volunteered at Ayers House for three years, and the number of people who "knew" there was a "tunnel " between the old RAH and Ayers House while the nurses were there was astounding!
I used to say that if there were really that many tunnels in Adelaide, we would have 'imploded' years ago.
There are tunnels beneath the Torrens Building in Victoria Square, ......I did a " theatre experience' one Festival, I think 2008, called Dont Look Back.
I do love tours. I am a tour guide at the West Tce Cemetery. Cheers Dave
I heard a rumour that many years ago they were trying to dig massive tunnels in the CBD with old trucks and equipment etc, but they decided to abolish those plans and they had no way to get all the machinery out of the tunnels so they just covered them in tarps and burined them underground. to this day they are still supposed to be buried. i dont know exactly where it is in the cbd, but do you know or have you heard of this story?