The following is a description of a journey into the Albert Park air raid shelters on the 20th April 1996 by a trio of adventurous souls.
WARNING: This tale documents the progress of the Binary Brothers crew in circumstances of dubious safety. We do not advise or encourage others to make this journey without due consideration of the hazards involved.
The relevant piece from the main maps.
1. The partially opened entrance to the main tunnel. Of all the 9 entrances this is the only one which is currently exposed. The middle entrance is visible, there is little sign of the left most entrance.
2. The first "lounge" area, a place to sit up and look around. Easy hands and knee crawling up to now, it is onto the belly from here on in. Generally the tunnels seem to have been filled to about 800mm from the top of the ceiling.
3. The shock absorbers, the first loop entrance is about 42 meters from the entrance. Lots of old decaying wood around here along with the brackets which somehow secured them to the ceiling. The left hand loop tunnel is easily accessible and perhaps easier that going straight through. The right hand loop tunnel seems difficult....
4. First side tunnel, about 55 meters from the entrance. It is well blocked off and opens up to one of the few standing spots encountered. Quite a bit of graffitti here, signatures on the rocks, carvings in the clay blocks, etc. A good resting spot before the next section of the main tunnel which is the narrowest part so far.
5. Second side tunnel and a much needed resting spot, 81.6 meters from the entrance. The major party stopped here while the more adventurous member of the trio continued on. Up to this point there is quite big bits of the ceiling lying on the top of the clay tile filler, not an encouraging site. The air might be a bit deprived of oxygen around here, even after resting one seems to be breathing heavily.
6. The last side tunnel. Very difficult narrow crawling required around this area.
7. The toilet and first aid shelter, the left room is quite roomy, the right hand side almost completely blocked. These are around 140 meters from the entrance.
8.The tiles used to fill the tunnels go all the way to the ceiling just a few meters past the toilet/first aid post, most likely directly below the air shaft. The end of the trip without digging. The disconcerting noises heard here are almost certainly traffic noise from the intersection of Symonds St and Anzac Ave.
Paul and I arrived outside the tunnel on a rather grey afternoon, and found the hole quite quickly. At first it is a small rabbit hole, with a pit at the back that drops down into a lower level, some four feet further down.
This lower cave is the main tunnel proper. At this point, we were kneeling on the clay tiles used to backfill the tunnel (some several million clay slabs were used to shore up the tunnel after it fell into disuse). The clearance here is nearly a metre, enough space to crawl on hands and knees. We found a couple of strings vanishing in to the tunnel, and crawled on. The going was fairly easy, as the clay is a bit soft and there is good clearance above. After about 15 metres there was a bath sized depression in the clay bricks - a good place to stop, we thought, as we could sit down without braining ourselves on the ceiling. We christened it "The Lounge"
We shone the torches ahead into the much narrower gap that awaited us, and wondered if it was worth going on, or indeed if it was possible. We then made a discovery .......We Were Not Alone.
Out of the darkness ahead we could just see lights reflecting off the ceiling of the tunnel. We sat and waited as they got closer, and soon two sweaty and grimy souls eased themselves out of the gap and joined us in the lounge. They were, to say the least, surprised to see us there. We traded information for peppermints (never know when you will need one !). They told us which points they had found, and how far they had got into the system.
They then headed back to the entrance - we slid into the opening of the next section. This bit gets fairly tight, and we were squirming on our bellies, heads down. Estimate of height here is about 70cm - wide, but flat. After about 40m, we came to an area with more space - the "baffle". When the tunnel was made there were two side paths made around the main tunnel, each heading off at right angles for 5m, then turning parallel, then rejoining the main tunnel. The central area is a jumble of clay bricks, rotted timber, securing hooks, power insulators, and bits of rock that have fallen from the ceiling.
While we were sitting here admiring the view, we saw a light coming up behind us. Getting busy in here, we thought, perhaps we should sell tickets. The light was attached to the helmet of our third intrepid troglodyte, Andrew. He had met the other two explorers at the exit and said they seemed to be very glad to be back outside.
Onward and Inward. The right tunnel was choked with debris, there was a hill of rubble ahead of us, and the left path looked most accessible. I took the leftmost of the baffles - fairly clear going in here, but some disconcertingly large "flakes" of ceiling were lying on top of the tiles. Round the bend and back into the main tunnel. Paul and Andrew could see my torchlight and then came over the top of the rubble in the main tunnel. The tunnel then went back to normal size and we squeezed along on top of the tiles again.
Very soon we came to the first side tunnel- no more than 10 metres from the baffle. This area had been dug out into a pit, and there was quite a volume to move in. Some dudes had been there before us, as there was a lot of graffiti sprayed on the walls, and the air in the pit was mostly solvent and propellant. I bailed out of there quickly.
Paul then took the lead and we went into the really narrow section of the tunnel. Ceiling height here is about 55cm - real low, and there are big flakes of ceiling on top of the tiles. At intervals, there are the remains of timber beams in the top of the tiles - the filling in here was pretty complete. There was still space to crawl through - in fact there was space to crawl past each other, as Andrew came past me to take over the lead from Paul, who had found the next tunnel entrance on the left. We were now about 80m from the entrance.
This second tunnel was in reasonable condition, although not excavated, and there was a steady drip of water that had formed a small stalactite. We moved on, perhaps half way along to the next side tunnel. I stopped here and returned to form a base by the baffles. Paul decided to hole up and Andrew went for the push into the unknown.
We watched the light fade slowly out as Andrew squirmed further into the main tunnel. The air was getting fairly chewy in there, so we sat, sweated, and waited... As soon as Paul could see Andrews light returning (perhaps 15 minutes) he moved back and joined me panting in the baffle entrance. After another 15 minutes Andrew's light could be seen again, and we were all reunited for a debriefing.
Andrew had gone onward and had found the toilet and first aid room. Beyond there, the main tunnel had gone on only a short distance before the ceiling and tiles merged in a dead end. The left hand room was almost empty of tiles and quite comfortable.
At this point, Andrew had been able to hear noises, which tied in with the report of the two people we had met - they had said that they could hear rock falls, and had felt rather than heard rumbling noises. From what we can tell, Andrew was under the intersection of Anzac Avenue and Symonds St, about 140m to 150m from the entrance.
Much to his surprise, he found a large stash of empty beer bottles up at the end of the tunnel. We wondered long and hard about who would drag beer bottles all the way up a narrow slit in the ground. The only assumption was that they thought that it would be thirsty work tunneling through. We then decided to leave further exploring for another day, and went back out to the entrance, finding a squished packet of fags in a dip in the floor. Daylight- yay !. Leaving the tunnel gave us a rabbits-eye view of the world, peering through a hole between tree roots.
Andrew then realised he had left his backpack down the hole, and had to go back about 50m to find it. While he went back in, Paul scored some nice cool juice and we chatted about the journey.
The tunnels are in remarkably good condition. There has been flaking off the ceiling, but most of these pieces are less than 10cm thick. The old timbering has decomposed - some of the beams can only be found because of the position of the iron mounting brackets. Over the years, the tunnel has been used on several occasions - some of the drink bottles were 5-10 years old, but some of the graffiti was fairly fresh.
If development of the tunnels is undertaken, it would be good if some sections of the tunnels were left in their current condition, for adventure caving. If some of the air vents were opened a flow of fresh air would be ensured.