St James Tunnels

This time last week, I was the first to arrive at the station master’s office at Sydney’s St James train station. As I finished signing the waiver, more people began to arrive. By 8am, our group of 10 tunnel explorers had expedited the waiver-signing, and we were gathered around for a pre-tour introduction and safety briefing during which time we were advised to watch our step and asked if we were afraid of the dark (I said “Yes” – no one else replied).

During the briefing, I did a quick appraisal of who had what – a couple of participants had their cameras mounted on tripods, we had a journalist from The Guardian with a backpack of gear and two fully loaded cameras, maybe one or two point-and-shoots, but the predominant device was the mobile phone; I’d brought my trusty Olympus with the 12-40mm f/2.8, but in hindsight I think I could just as easily used the smaller 12mm f/2.0 prime and have come away with similar -maybe even a tad sharper – results. It didn’t matter anyway. I was happy to have some shots to share, given the low lighting situation and my steadfast refusal to use a flash; I piggybacked on the flash from the pro(s) instead (thank you, gentlemen!).

I should mention that the Focus Tour of St James Tunnels was part of the Sydney Open event last weekend, and I was fortunate to have scored a complimentary pass from the organisers.

High-visibility jackets, Wellington boots (my boots were too big so I really had to watch my step!) and flashlights were supplied as part of the tour. The Wellingtons because as you’ll see from a few photos, parts of the tunnel were water-logged.

Getting used to the surroundings
“Great acoustics for a bell, don’t you think?”

Poking above water level, was a pointed iron structure which we were told was a bell used to mimic the sound of London’s Big Ben gong by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in a television series in the 1960s. I’m not sure whether that was fact or folklore but as I walked by, I gave it a tap anyway and tried to imagine the sound.

History lesson in progress

As we stood in the disused tunnel, we were treated to a history lesson involving John Bradfield, the engineer and designer of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the man who was responsible for much of the rail infrastructure still in use in and around Sydney today.

Moving on
Keep moving
Xs mark a drier location
Above the word “WARNING”, it reads “PUBLIC AIR RAID SHELTER”

There was quite a lot of graffiti in the bunker tunnel which I did not photograph, but I knew the pro would have captured it, so if you’re interested you can see it here; you’ll need to scroll down. I particularly like the shot of the scrawl left by Private R.J. De Paul dated 13 July 1942, complete with his regiment number.

If you scroll even further beyond that graffiti photo, there’s a group shot in which the tour guide is pointing up – I’m the second from the left. (I was amused to see that almost everyone was paying attention to the speaker, but I was checking out the photographer instead.)

Inside the bunker
Towards the light
Tree roots hanging down from Hyde Park above

Another interesting fact I learnt on tour, was these tunnels were where Sydney’s mushroom industry began in the 1930s. The tunnels are the perfect environment for growing mushrooms, as you can imagine!

Also mentioned was that one of the platforms of St James Station was a shoot location for The Matrix Revolutions movie.

This mural featured in an episode of “Police Rescue” (TV series)
Skull and crossbones
Exit (‘stage’ left)

I thoroughly enjoyed the tour. Thank you to Sydney Living Museums and Sydney Trains for an excellent hour. When I got home that I realised that I had an oil streak down one side of my jeans, as well as dirt on the opposite side of my face. The camera came away clean, though.

(I’m listening to The Jam’s Going Underground as I type this.)


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