“It still amazes me how many millions goes to discovering another star in the galaxies when, for all we know, we are still sitting on top of another undiscovered world beneath out feet.”
- Martin Dansky
I have a complex relationship with cities. Growing up in a small rural town in Victoria, Australia the city, in this case Melbourne, was something big full of adventure in the distance horizon. On the other hand living in a city I find the noise, the volume of people overwhelming at times. Place me in the bush, surrounded by nothing but trees and the sounds/silence of it and I’ll feel at ease; place me on a busy street of a city and I feel myself shrinking into myself, retreating.
As a young man in my early 20’s, now living in Melbourne, I discovered urban exploration. In those drains, under those bridges, in those abandoned carparks, I found that silence. Lately,-partly out of inspiration for an idea brewing in my mind, partly out of reflection on graduating on a teacher and the responsibility that working in that field brings with it- I’ve been reflecting back on this period.
The following is a compilation of that reflection and research, starting with the local and moving to the global.
The Cave Clan is an Australian urban exploration group that begun in 1986. The major branches are in Melbourne and Sydney although there is exploration in most major cities of Australia. It was through the Cave Clan that I got into urban exploration. A friend and myself met them outside the
Although the major exploration group exploration has been going on for longer then the Cave Clan has existed. On a number of occasions whilst exploring I have spotted graffiti dating from the 1960’s. So its fair to say that whilst Cave Clan has been around since the mid 80’s urban exploration in the drains of Melbourne has been around longer.
Personal Experiences (words)
On the surface Melbourne is a lively metropolis, but you have to wonder what lurks beneath this city. When typical tourists enter the city of Melbourne, known for its culture, art and spectacular gardens, they are unaware of the fact that like most other large urban cities, there is a vast network of underground tunnels, drains and cavities, twisting and turning in all directions under the busy streets. A different world exists beneath the feet of those who walk the streets of the city and, like the tourists, most Melbournians who live on the surface on the streets are also completely oblivious to this underground drainage system and unused old spaces. What is not seen is often ignored. But this extensive network of stormwater drains and cavities capture the essence of cramped, dark and damp interiors that can be explored and discovered by anyone who dares to enter this underground world. read the rest here.
Travelling on the escalators that lead down to platforms 24 and 25 at Central station, I always look out for the ghost platforms. They are visible in glimpses through the gaps in the striped panels that enclosed the escalators, but only for a moment, as the escalators keeps moving onwards, down to the Bondi Junction line, or up to the ticket gates.
While thousands of people pass by them every day, the majority without knowledge of their existence, the ghost platforms remain still and undisturbed. What is mostly visible from the gaps in the panels are the station’s lights, which continue to shine even though the platforms are unused read the rest here.
How do I find explorable drains?
To find drains you can use a number of methods, all of which are suited to different areas.
1) Get a topological map. Likely drains are where there are gullies but no evidence of a river per se; deduction: it has been buried (turned into a drain tunnel) or its headwaters have been `pirated'(diverted) to another river or into a drain further upstream. Melb Clan found Gobledox this way.
2) Obtain old street directories and compare them to their newer editions. Generally you find that when a creek shown in an old directory is no longer shown in a new edition, chances are that it has been entunneled. Also if you see a creek going along and suddenly disappearing, then reappearing somewhere else, you know pretty well what happened to it in between. I found the entrance to a whopping drain in Brisbane by looking in the Gregory's for wide creeks which disappeared adjacent to roads.
3) Check boundaries on cadastral maps. Back in the good ol' daze, postcode boundaries were often delineated by prominent geographic features, like cliffs, rivers and the like. Thus you can look in street directories or maps of who-owns-what (cadastral maps) and occasionally see non-linear, erratic-looking postcode boundaries. Odds on it is where there once was a river. This is how The Loaf was located. read the rest here.)
Into the warren (photo gallery)
She Becons: Brisbane
Light Painted Tunnels
Around the World
Sleepycity: demolition of paris metro
Over the next few years we were enslaved like only those who grew up in a city deprived of metro could be. Week in week our we hit the tunnels, scouring our maps and coming up in the early hours smeared from head to toe in that thick black dust which never fully washes from your clothes. I would wake the morning after with that distinctive smell still hovering in my nostrils, for imbued was it into the fabric of all my clothes, my sheets and my hair. The thick slabs of scunge under our fingernails was like a badge of honour, the black tinge in the folds between thumb and index finger which never faded a symbol of dedication. The symptoms pervaded our appearance, our speech and our dreams. To us the system was an open slate ripe with possibilities. We could only oblige by beginning to dismantle it piece by piece….
Arsenal, Champ de Mars
The stations Arsenal and Champ de Mars are the easiest to visit as they can be reached from the topside so they're as good a place to begin as any. While situated at opposite sides of the city these two stations share a similar story. They were closed on the same day, 2nd September 1939, when the metro employees were recruited to join the war effort. Read the rest here.
Vanishing Point: Canadian exploration
At their root, most drains are just an abstract version of the watershed that existed before the city. It’s sort of this alternate dimension that you pass into, when you step from the aboveground creek, through the inlet, into the drain – especially once you walk out of the reach of daylight.
Even sanitary sewers often follow the paths of existing or former watersheds, because the grade of the land is already ideal for water flow – fast enough, but not so fast that it erodes the pipe prematurely – and because the floodplains are often unsuitable for other uses.
BLDGBLOG: How does that affect your attitude toward this, though? Do you find yourself wishing that all these drains could be dismantled, letting the natural landscape return – or, because these sites are so interesting to explore, do you actually wish that there were more of them?
Michael Cook: It’s an awful toll that we’ve taken on the landscape – I’m not one to celebrate all this concrete. If it were conceivable to set it all right, I’d be the first one in line to support that. And the marginal progress being made in terms of environmental engineering – building storm water management alternatives to burial and to large, expensive pipes – is a great step forward; unfortunately, its success so far has been limited.
Ultimately, you just can’t change the fact that we’ve urbanized, and we continue to do so. That comes with a cost that can be managed – but it can’t be eliminated completely.
Read the rest of the interview here or visit the vanishing point website
Under city: Steve Duncan new york explorations
The hole I was digging was about three feet deep and halfway under the wall when I ran into a tarpaulin imbedded in the dirt. It caught at my shovel strangely, and I couldn’t tell what I’d run into in the nighttime darkness until I took out my flashlight. I knelt down next to the hole to see.
The beam of my flashlight showed the dirty blue plastic and then, as I prodded it with the shovel, I saw a half-rotten shoe sticking out of the worm-infested folds. A dead body. The idea filled my mind with a sudden wave of revulsion and horror. For a moment I couldn’t move. Then I reached out and slowly pulled on a corner of the tarp. The shoe tumbled out, attached to nothing, and behind it there was only dirt.
I let out a breath… read more here and check out some photos here.
The Post Office Railway
I had the same experience with the exploration of sewers. Back in 2005 I would crawl on my hands and knees squeezing my way up a 3ft, never-ending concrete pipes only to find a dead end or smaller tunnel, but I enjoyed it, going back for more week after week. Yet after discovering some of the Victorian lost rivers and storm drains, this once enjoyable activity instantly lost its appeal, in fact it became frustrating. I could do this now anyway because I’m fatter then I was six years ago and no longer fit in said 3ft pipes, but now I don’t even consider them an option or viable route. I guess I became a ”Sewer Snob”, if there is such a term, spoilt by bigger and better things. In fact it’s been the same across the entire board of exploration. Asylums, mills, bunkers, forts, all things I once enjoyed with equal passion, now nothing more then a space to kill some time. But then there was always Mail Rail, lurking in the background. Read the rest here.
Felix Nadar and the Paris Sewers
It’s not often that our explorations are more connected to people than places. However, on a recent trip into the Paris sewer system, we were chasing the ghost of the Parisian eccentric and urban photographer Félix Nadar. For urban explorers in London and Paris, the period between 1850 and 1870, when Nadar was doing his work, is a crucial one. During that time, both of the drain networks were built to the rough configuration in which they remain. This period was pwned by urban planners and engineers like Bazalgette and Haussmann; it was a time of radical urban reconfiguration. Nadar was fascinated by the changes and spent a great deal of time photographing the Paris catacombs and sewers (and taking aerial and erotic photos, but that’s another story), leading many urban explorers to think of Nadar, and his contemporary John Hollingshead in London, as the first drainers. The name Félix Nadar was even a pseudonym – clearly Nadar was part of our crew! Read more on Felix Nadar and the history of paris sewers here and here.
And some of his photos:
A short world gallery
p.s. Hey. If you're like me, and probably even if you aren't like me, this weekend's Paradigm-created and -hosted post is what oohs and ahhs are made of. Please join me in wishing I had a very strong flashlight and the city's underworld at my fingertips. Thank you ever so much, Paradigm! ** Misanthrope, The thing with ferris wheels, in my experience, is that when you look up at them and imagine yourself at the top, what you imagine looking down on is much further away than what you actually look down on when you're up there, which is kind of part of the genius thing about them, I guess? Assuming you made it home safely yesterday, and that today is some kind of day off, stay warm. ** Cobaltfram, Hi, John. Your ferris wheel fantasy sounds like one of those conceptually perfect ideas wherein time gets to be elongated and circumstances idealized, sort of like the slaves' fantasies, come to think of it. I've seen 'Kwaidan', yeah, but a long time ago. I think it was pretty great? I can't remember. Cool about the book about to go to market, but, yeah, don't think about it, and I'll try not to make you think about it by asking incessantly, if I can. Working on the novel is definitely better than doing whatever one does on Grindr, I'm sure. It's probably even better than Playstation. Wow, you're a Superbowl guy? I guess probably a lot of people whom I would never suspect are. Strange from the outside. Skype chat, sure, down the road, sure. No problem, cool. Thanks re: 'The Body'. Bon weekend. ** xTx, Hey. Yeah, actually, oops, I fucked up by posting the RL link, and I got a panicked-ish email from the editor telling me that the link he sent me was to the pre-release, not-yet-copy-edited version, so I had to erase it. But, pssst, the issue is really good. Right, it could be 'Billie's' first trip to France maybe? So, yeah, if it shows up all smudged with macaron goo and baguette flakes, I will be very understanding. Have an excellent weekend! ** Tosh, Thank you, sir. Oh, man, I'm really envious of you getting to go to the Art Book Fair thing at MoCA. I so wish I could check that out. It looks fantastic in the images I've seen. ** Rewritedept, Dana Point, nice. Memories. Yeah, I guess that's how it works, although I really don't think there's anyone who doesn't doubt themselves a lot. I guess it's a balance issue. 'Total' confidence. Layout, cool. I don't know, that night you had sounds really nice. Just being inside Mandalay Bay or one of those Strip hotels turns my imagination into a helium balloon or something. I never saw MoB live, either back then or nowadays. Strange. Maybe they didn't tour through LA very much back then, and now, I don't know, I get a touch of reunion-itis about that. Uh, I have to go look at the photo you mentioned to answer your question because I can't remember. Hold on. Oh, yeah, I think that jacket was my dad's old 'smoking jacket', as he called it. If so, it was wine red and ... maybe velour or ... I don't know what you call it. Velvet-esque. Happy weekend. ** David Ehrenstein, Howdy. ** Toniok, Hey, man! Oh, thank you about the post. It was made as a gift for a friend, so I worked especially hard on it because it had that extra worthiness issue. Thanks about 'Lead Singer' too. That's actually a little piece of 'Kindertotenlieder', but I liked it enough to let it loose on its own. I don't know that 'Dead Girl' book. Or any of those three. I'll go hunt round and find out about them. Thank you for your knowingness too, and have a great Saturday, Sunday. ** Robert-nyc, Hi! Great, great that your reading went so well. I've only read about the Bureau of General Services--Queer Division, but it really does sound like a super place, and I sure hope they can score permanent lodgings, and I hope it lasts at least long enough that I'll get to check it out. Oh, I watched a video of Teribalanamal live, and I really liked it. Very cool! And I'll go find the recordings of you reading on FB. Excellent! Nice weekend to you, Robert. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Yeah, yeah, understood about the meds, and all hopes that they really help. Very nice about the great venue for the YnY spring launch. YnY really seems like it's entering this big new phase or something, no? It's really exciting. ** ASH, Hi, ASH! Great to see you! Thanks a lot about the post. Writing is going. I need to kick the progress up a good notch, but I'm not worried about that like I was for a while. Is 'You're Nothing' out? I've only heard the single. Shit, I'll go get it today, if it's gettable. I want to see 'Cloud Atlas'. Either it hasn't gotten here yet, which would be strange maybe, or I missed its run. I haven't seen any films lately. Been out of the habit for some reason. Still hoping and trying to plan for Euroheedfest. I just need to see what Gisele has in store for me and when. I'll enjoy my weekend, and you too, okay? ** Ken Baumann, Ken! It would trippy awesome in the majorest way if the big A was in 'WS'. Jeez! Makes sense about the financial threat. Hm. With Zac, I think we're thinking isolation plus mutual enthusiasm might be impetus enough, but a Plan B(lackmail) certainly won't hurt. Okay. May your spirits be as high as mine this weekend and way beyond. ** Schlix, Thank you again, big U! I think I'll be able to pry that book out of Gisele's hands shortly. But thank you, and I'll let you know if she puts it under lock and key. I know Gisele is really, really happy with the new'TIHYWD' performer. And if the birds behaved, that's sweet, 'cos that's always the thing that keeps me biting my nails the whole time I'm watching it. Take care, great weekend to you. ** Steevee, Really nice piece on 'The Caretakers', Steve. Really excellent work. I hope Slate bites on your Soderbergh idea. It sounds like a really swell angle to me. ** Zack, Hi, Zack! Never? I have a big fear of heights too, but ferris wheels seem to be okay. I get rattled while I'm waiting in line, but when I'm actually on one, the solidity of the machine itself, and maybe the comforting roundness, make it okay. The surgical scar guy got the scar from riding the ferris wheel in the background. I think he fell out and got impaled or something. Oops, I probably just reinforced your fear of ferris wheels many-fold, sorry. That's great news about the literary scene in Detroit. Yeah, the literary scene in the States just seems like it's spreading and strengthening and getting more exciting literally by the day these days. A very fine weekend to you! ** Alan, Hi, Alan. Holy shit, do those sound completely incredible! Good Lord. Thank you so much for passing that on. Somebody must be translating them into English. Roussel's body of work is so is so tight and precious, I mean, someone must be on that. Man, am I jonesing to read them. I don't know much about nonfiction book advances. I know ... what do I know, let's see ... I know that, if a book seems like it would have some kind of broad appeal, the advance tends to be quite a bit higher than with fiction. I think that with, say, collections of previously published essays or something, which isn't relevant, the advances tend to be lower than with fiction. Lower end, hm, the low-to-mid 4 figures, but I think that would apply to the essay collections thing. Seems like low-to-mid 5 figures maybe on the low end in other cases? But, yeah, I really don't know. I'm just speculating based on bits and pieces of info. On marketing stuff, I think if it's a 'big book', you probably get a fair amount of input/control. But I think in general that publishers' attitude is that they know the biz and that writers tend to be naive/utopian. I've never had real input into that with my books. They just tell me what they're going to do, and, if I object to something or have a creative idea that they think would only help without costing them much extra, they tend to say, Sure. Great weekend! ** Anonymous /Postit, That a good GbV song to know, if you only know one. Oh, yeah, I'll pick a Bright Eyes song by Monday. Sorry, I've been out and about a lot. Terrific next two days to you! ** Okay. You will have a superb local, i.e. blog generated weekend, I am sure, and I only hope that the rest of your time suits every one of your purposes. See you on Monday.