Sydney’s forgotten tunnels ~ under St. James station, Sydney


Last weekend I was given the most amazing opportunity – to explore the abandoned tunnels beneath Sydney’s St. James Railway Station.

Every year, as part of ‘Sydney Open’, tours are conducted in these tunnels. There is one catch though – you can’t pay for it – you have to win it – either by a ticket ballot or answering a question on one of Sydney’s radio stations.

I was pretty happy when I received an email saying I’d won a ticket!

So, first of all let me tell you a bit of history about the tunnels – I learnt all of this information from the passionate ‘City Rail Historian’ who conducted our tour.

The extensive network of disused platforms and tunnels {which have always been hidden from the public and never been used} were built in the 1920s for proposed rail lines to the Eastern Suburbs of Bondi and Randwick. The outbreak of World War 11 and the Great Depression meant these plans had to be shelved.

During the war, the tunnels were modified into air raid shelters to be used if the city was ever under attack. They had the capacity to hold up to 20,000 people. The RAAF used the tunnels as their ‘Air Defence Headquarters’, four stories below the streets where they used morse code and studied aviation maps to co-ordinate air traffic and ships.

After the war, the RAAF was asked to bury the shelters. This job was never completed. As the tunnels were constructed from solid earth and meshed concrete – they were incredibly hard to dismantle….Once the order was given to ‘stop work’ the workmen literally downed their tools and walked out.

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We entered the tunnels through a very ordinary looking green door at the end of the platform at St. James Station ~ {think Harry Potter ~ platform 9 3/4 style.}

Immediately I was in photography heaven…I loved the disused platforms…they were completely intact and I thought about the people working on them nearly 100 years ago.

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You all know me, my camera was clicking crazily…..this opportunity doesn’t come along every day:)

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The tiles from the disused tunnels are used to replace broken tiles in the main area of St. James Station.

We then set off through the water into the huge open chambers…it was fabulous ~ walking along in my gumboots, taking shots and hearing all about this ‘other world’ beneath the city.

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The tunnels have had other uses over time ~ scenes from the TV show ‘Police Rescue’ and the film ‘The Matrix’ were filmed down here. City Rail also practise their emergency procedures here and the Army use the tunnels for military exercises.

Even seances were reputedly performed down in these tunnels ~ yes seances….All pretty interesting huh?

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The spot where the sceances are reputedly performed.

During the war, many soldiers who were working in the tunnels, left messages on the walls to their loved ones. Perhaps they weren’t sure if they would see their families and loved ones again or maybe they just wanted to sign their name to remind future generations who they were.

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The best sign of all was the air raid shelter sign ~ ‘PUBLIC AIR RAID SHELTER’ WARNING: NO PERSON IS ALLOWED IN THIS SHELTER EXCEPT DURING AN AIR RAID.

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Something that really amazed me, was the tree roots. They were everywhere. Even thick concrete and solid earth couldn’t stop them. They were growing out of holes in the concrete, snaking their way through the tunnels ~ twisting and turning, searching for water…

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But it was the details I loved the most ~ light battens on the ceiling, light bulbs, buckets and other traces of human life in the tunnels.

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I feel very grateful to have seen this interesting part of underground Sydney.

Thank you to City Rail for such an wonderful, interesting tour…My camera and I won’t forget it 🙂

till next time,

Chris 🙂

P.s. For all the photographers out there…I never used a tripod, I steadied the camera where I could and used extremely high ISO’s to get a decent shutter speed 🙂

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