Across Australia, adventurers are exploring the underbelly of our urban environments, modern day investigators of our cities less well recognised landmarks.
A colleague was fascinated with the built environment underneath cities and wrote this piece on his discoveries in Brisbane.
Exploring and learning about the place I live in has always interested me. As a child growing up in the suburbs I’d ride my bike until I was lost, then try to find my way home. Seeking out excitement like Hollywood adventurers (think Indiana Jones) eventually led to exploring the small stormwater drains in the parks around my area. Few were brave enough to venture in alone. We would stand around daring each other to approach the darkness.
With visions of grandeur we imagined breaking new ground, to go boldly where none had been before! Naturally we weren’t the first to venture underground seeking hidden treasures and new worlds. Others had left their marks on the walls and we read it all, the names, the strange artwork and of course the rude drawings. A few scrawled their names, to be enshrined among the adventurers of old in a kind of local hall of fame.
A time passed, school, work and sport consumed my time, but the curiosity was still there. I’d explored a couple of empty buildings, poking around in the places nobody cared about.
“the monster redbrick drain before me was more exciting than anything I’d seen”
Nothing significant was ever found, but we loved the thrills and had a lot of laughs.
Drains were something I’d moved on from, until I came across a drain unlike any I’d ever seen. It was reminiscent of places I’d imagined while playing Dungeons & Dragons. At 2.5 metres, the monster red brick drain before me was more exciting than anything I’d seen in a long time.
The balloon-shaped construction intrigued me; each brick laid individually over a century ago. We didn’t know what to expect so we took everything, torches, batteries, jumpers, water, food, pens and paper. This time, we entered without needing to dare each other.
That night, I felt like a real explorer. It seemed dangerous, it was scary, but we were so ecstatic we hardly noticed. The tunnel snaked its way under the quiet streets and we marvelled at ancient archways, decaying concrete pipes and cavernous chambers. I was beginning to develop an appreciation for architecture and the old construction methods.
The trip felt a lot quicker than it really was, the adrenaline kept us on the edge the whole time. Near the exit we fished around in some rock pools to find a couple of dirty coins and rusty nails. Despite being tired, dirty and wet we felt compelled to find something older, bigger and better. That night, I rediscovered the wonder I experienced growing up.
The lack of caves, mountains and other classic “explorables” in the city forces those so inclined to interpret their setting in a new way. To these people a parallel world exists below the hectic pace of the real world above.
“a parallel world exists below the hectic pace of the real world above”
Its muffled echoes draw a variety of people, including students, professionals and people like you. Its curious attraction is difficult to identify.
The cliché holds true: for those who don’t explore, no explanation is possible. For those who do, no explanation is necessary. Everywhere you’ve ever been has secrets you never learned. You might be surprised how little of your city you have ever appreciated.
This article was originally published as part of abc.net.au/built, a project from the 2004 Year of the Built Environment