Sven December 20th, 2007
Within sight of the Brisbane CBD is a three-metre-diameter tunnel, driven through the same tough rock that forms the Kangaroo Point Cliffs. Dating from 1890 (Ref 1), it was originally intended to drain waterholes around a now-vanished railyard, and instead survives as part of the stormwater system, and as a home for bats and lizards.
The tunnel was constructed under the supervision of the then Engineer in Charge of the City (Ref 2), or Engineer for Harbours and Rivers (Ref 3), William Nisbet, who was also responsible for the dry dock at the end of Southbank, and some of Brisbane’s other picturesque subterranean sites. The tunnel these days has a concrete base to its outflow, and is very much affected by tides – the exit can go from essentially waterless to head-heigh. So, Jon and I timed our visit for a little before the low tide, which was really quite late at night.
With a little scrabbling, we lowered ourselves into the base of the outflow, managing not to drop ourselves or any gear on the very slippery, grimy concrete. We’d both packed light – I just had the shoulder bag, rather than the backpack, working on the assumption that I probably wouldn’t want to put anything down once we were in.
The view out of the tunnel towards the city really is quite something, and it’s the classic shot that all photographically-inclined explorers take. I should probably disclaim my shots at this point, and say that I was really just taking some documentary pictures, and that real images can wait for a later visit. You’ll notice that in my city shot, the horizon is somewhat skewed – this is the level of focus and effort I we’re talking about :)
Once we’d finished gazing at the view, we turned our attentions to the tunnel, and plodded through the pooled water between rough rock, a little like a creek bed. Fortunately, the water was quite clear, and we were in wellies, so while it was slow, we didn’t have any unexpected dunkings in deep bits. There was a bit of wildlife around, most notably a few little bats that had opted not to go out this evening, which were making a lot of noise – perhaps they were unhappy at our intrusion. The structure of the tunnel changed a little as we progressed, but it very much had the atmosphere of a cave, not a drain.
Further up the tunnel, the lower rock showed signs of smoothing from the water flow. Presumably the tidal waters slow the drain waters as they reach the river, preventing the outflow receiving quite the same treatment. Certainly, the worn rock would be worthy of further attention on a later trip. At one point, a shaft ascends vertically, with a manhole atop it. A brief da-doomp suggested that the manhole was in fact on a road somewhere… with many metres of empty shaft and a rock floor, you wouldn’t want to step into that one.
Along the way, I took a few shots, just using the big torch to light things up, but the results are less than attractive to my eye. We were in a bit of a hurry, so there really was no other sensible option.
Eventually, the rock tunnel gave way to a brick one of impressive size. I stayed in the rock section to photograph the transition, while Jon went around the bend a little way. We traded flash pops (mine was tungsten-balanced and diffused of course), but again, documentary shots only. It had been slow going through the rough rock, so we were glad to hit the smooth tunnel. You see, while we were generally aware of the alternative non-tidal entrance at our destination, we needed to ensure we had a contingency plan, which was to go back the way we came. Also, it was very late, and this was supposed to be a fairly quick trip.
Brick gave way to concrete (some say that’s a section replaced when the freeway was built overhead), which returned to brick, which became gradually lower as we trudged quickly on. I took a few shots along the way, literally without breaking stride, manual focus, full-power diffused bounce flash. Unfortunately, I didn’t consider my file settings, and filled the card in no time. While I had a spare, I didn’t stop to switch it over, so the snaps ended fairly quickly.
Finally, we arrived at a junction room well-photographed and described by previous visitors, and took an exit tunnel. Unfortunately, the tunnel, while an attractive brick structure, was too low to stand, so it was a hunched walk - I could hear the sound of Jon’s spine cracking the whole way to the rather unique exit, a windowed concrete panel surrounded by smaller brick and concrete pipes, leading out to a small pit structure surrounded by a high barbed-wire fence. Standing up in the cool air outside was fantastic after the hot cramped tunnel, and I for one thought the trip was worth it just for the relief at the other end. Just as we were preparing to scale the walls, Jon noticed we were standing next to a set of stepirons, so we easily made our way out, and pole-vaulted the fence into downtown suburbia.
It turns out we’d actually come a reasonable distance, so it was quite a walk back to the cliffs, where I’d parked. Being late on a weeknight, we had the streets to ourselves, and there were few passers-by to hear Jon lament his boiling wellie-clad feet.
Certainly the tunnel was worth the effort, and I suspect I’ll return for some proper shots at some point (I do keep saying that lately), but I think we’ve decided that the next expedition will not be a subterranean one.
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(1) Engineering Heritage, Inner Brisbane, Institution of Engineers Australia, Queensland Division, 2001
(2) Cultural Issues In The Redevelopment Of Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, P H Teys
(3) Wheat Creek Culvert, Environmental Protection Authority, http://www.epa.qld.gov.au/projects/heritage/index.cgi?place=602218