Tunnels and Underground Spaces

    See also
  • Road Tunnels
  • Historic Tunnels
  • Military Tunnels and Bunkers
  • Forgotten Tunnels on the City Circle
  • Railway Tunnels
  • Harbour Tunnels
  • Sydney's Lost Tunnels
  • Sydney's Abandoned Railway Tunnels
  • Underground Reservoirs

  • Walking the streets of Sydney, particularly the inner city, one would never know that beneath the footpaths and streets are a plethora of tunnels and underground spaces. Some carry electricity and telecommunications cables, some the city's underground railway lines. Others carry stormwater to the Harbour. Many are long abandoned, formerly used as wartime air raid shelters or having been cut to carry railway lines that were never built or used to link the city's major department stores. The terrain of the Sydney Basin has also meant that more tunnels have been needed than a city like Melbourne that is located on reasonably flat ground. Three tunnels have been built underneath the Harbour (two have been flooded for some years), four major road tunnels are now in use with another three planned or under construction. There are also over 20 railway tunnels scattered throughout the metropolitan area. Numerous coastal cliffs are riddled with tunnels connecting bunkers and gun emplacements that were part of a hastily built network of fortifications intended to defend Sydney against attack from the sea.

    In addition to tunnels, there are many large underground spaces, some of which were built as wartime bunkers, others to store water for communities or fuel for the ships of the Royal Australian Navy. Parks and playing fields throughout the metropolitan area cleverly hide these giant underground spaces, many of which are still in use. In the interests of public safety, most of these spaces are not readily accessible to the person in the street, and though access can be found to most of them if one looks hard enough, it is not advisable and we provide details of such sites for information only.

    Wynyard Station

    Wynyard Station entrance

    An extensive network of tunnels were built around Wynyard Station at the time of its construction to ease public access to the station and tram terminus contained within it. Many of these are still in use. In 1971, Sydney City Council put forward a plan to extend the tunnels system around the station with new overpasses, arcades, and underpasses around Wynyard Station. The plans included using the existing subway under George Street, linked with an improved arcade and subway system. They proposed a new tunnel under Hunter Street to Australia Square. To the west the Council saw another opportunity for an underpass under Clarence Street from Wynyard Station. Not all of the planned extensions of the tunnel network were implemented, but among those that were is the underground arcade that was later developed to become Hunter Arcade and Hunter Connection.

    The Hunter-Connection

    An existing but disused tramway tunnel at Wynyard Station was earmarked for a moving footway from Wynyard to Lang Park from where pedestrians could walk to the Rocks area without having to negotiate street level traffic. This pedestrian accessway was never developed, and the tunnel would subsequently be incorporated into an underground hotel car park next door.

    More tunnels, believed to have entrances behind steel doors in the basement of the Queen Victoria Building and Town Hall station or other buildings near it, are said to have been used as command posts by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet during World War II. They included communications facilities and an aircraft plotting/control room with map table. The official line on the tunnel and its wartime use has always been to deny its existence.

    An unusual link with the past is the extensive vaulted areas under Macquarie Street which the Sydney City Council presently leases to the owners of the adjoining buildings. These underground spaces were originally part of warehouses built in the 1880s. When they were demolished in the 1950s to make way for the present-day office blocks, the vaulted areas were retained and are now used as car parks and storage space by the occupants of these newer buildings on Macquarie Street.

    Sydney's Three Harbour Tunnels

    Very few people know that there have been not one but three tunnels cut under Sydney Harbour. The first, sunk near Birchgrove Primary School by Sydney's only coal mine, was dug between 1897 and 1902 to mine coal from almost one kilometre below the Harbour floor. It stretched east under Balmain for more than a kilometre to coal workings bounded by Mort Bay, Snails Bay, Balls Head and Goat Island. The coal, similar to that mined around Wollongong, was considered excellent for steaming and coking and an estimated 681,000 tonnes was mined from 1902 to 1931.
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    Cockatoo Island

    During World War II Cockatoo Island became the major shipbuilding and dockyard facility in the Pacific following the fall of Singapore. Repairs and fitouts included work on the Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and major vessels of the Australian and US Navies. Two tunnels were cut under the plateau of Cockatoo Island, and a new road provided access to the upper level. The larger dogleg tunnel was originally built to move workers and materials from one side of the island to the other. Today its sandstone surfaces are brought to life by a soundscape set in 1942, the day after the submarine attack on Sydney Harbour.

    Balls Head Coal Loader

    Constructed on the western edge of the Balls Head peninsula, Waverton, in 1917 to act as a steamship bunkering station, the Balls Head Coal Loader site was a significant Sydney Harbour industrial landmark. During its working life, the coal loader's gantry cranes and cable hopper cars unloaded and loaded coal onto the many ships, both passenger and commercial, that passed in and out of the Harbour. A freak wind storm damaged one of the gantry cranes beyond repair in November 1940, leaving only one crane in operation until the late 1950s.

    The Loader ceased operations in October 1992, resulting in the dismantling of the site. In October 1992, the Balls Head Coal Loader ceased operations resulting in the dismantling of the site. Only the wharf, coal loading platform, tunnels and a few brick administrative buildings remain as evidence of its former operation.

    The Coal Loader site been transformed by the North City Council, allowing access into the inner workings of this idustrial heritage site. At the Coal Loader Centre for Sustainability, you can now explore one of the 960m tunnels from the historic coal loading system, and enjoy the walk through the tunnel to the bushland of Balls Head and beyond. Sensor lighting will turn on to guide you. The site has been landscaped with community gardens, native bush nursery, regenerated park lands and much more.

    Devonshire Street Pedestrian Tunnel

    When Central Station was completed in 1906, a pedestrian tunnel from Devonshire Street to Railway Square was opened beneath the railway. In the early 1970s an eighty-metre $2.5 million extension of the Devonshire Tunnel under Railway Square was built. During its construction, workers uncovered many remnants from the past as they dug down - these included the main city gas line, old roads about a metre underground; tseveral layers of tram tracks used to clear the cemetery; a convict-built stone drain, consisting of a large tunnel 1.5 metres deep and a metre across formed from huge, hand-hewn sandstone blocks. It ran east-west, about four metres below the present surface.

    People hurrying through Devonshire Street tunnel from Central Station are probably unaware that they are passing through the site of an old cemetery. Central Station was in fact built on the site of the old Devonshire Street Cemetery, where many of Australia's pioneers were buried. These include the convict turned-merchant Simeon Lord, the first postmaster Isaac Nichols, and the first chief justice Sir Francis Forbes. When the City Circle and the suburban section of Central Station was being built, Devonshire Street Tunnel was driven through the site of the cemetery. A tramway was built to a new alternative cemetery at Botany and most of the bodies were exhumed and removed to there, but some undoubtably still remain on the other side of the tunnel's walls.

    The walls of the tunnel are lined with murals depicting various aspects of the Sydney and New South Wales railway system. The tunnel is also the haunt of buskers.

    Domain Moving Walkway

    Very few residents of Sydney know that their city has the longest moving walkway in the Southern Hemisphere, which, when it was built, was the longest in the world. Most moving walkways these days are found in airport terminals and shopping centre, and by comparison are much shorter than Sydney's, which takes pedestrians from one part of the city to another. As its name suggests, Sydney's Moving Walking, also known as a Travelator, is in The Domain, or more correctly, under The Domain. It passes through a tunnel under The Domain, linking The Domain Car Park near Woolloomoloo Bay, to College Street and the northern end of Hyde Park. You can leave the moving walkway on the corner of College Street and either Prince Albert Road or Macquarie Street and from there it is only a short walk to some of Sydney's interesting places, like Hyde Park, Hyde Park Barracks, St Mary's Cathedral, The Queen Victoria Building, Martin Place, The Australian Museum and many others. If you stand still and allow yourself to be conveyed, the journey takes five minutes.
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    Cahill Expressway tunnel

    Anyone who has used the Cahill Expressway to access the Harbour Bridge from Sydney's eastern side will know that the expressway goes through what appears to drivers as a tunnel under the bridge approach roadway before it does a 270 degree loop and joins traffic on that roadway crossing the bridge. In fact it is not a tunnel at all but a cutting with Cumberland Street and the bridge approach roadway built as bridges over it. As the approach roadway is much higher than Cumberland Street, there is a gap in the cutting beneath the bridge approach roadway that is visible from Cumberland Street. To stop people dropping things into this gap and onto vehicles below, it has been given a pitched fibro roof roof at the Cumberland Street road level. A locked stairway leads to the bridge approach roadway above. This little section of the cutting is visible behind a steel bar fence opposite the rear of the Shangri-La Hotel on Cumberland Street.

Mural on the walls of the Devonshire Street Pedestrial Tunnel

A former tram tunnel into Wynyard Station that was later used as an entry to a neighbouring hotel's car park

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