Townsville Tunnels by Lindy Collins

Townsville Tunnels by Lindy Collins

Runner Up (Adults category)

Coming back on the plane, Shell and I both laughed as we heard the two young blokes sitting behind us talking about the tunnels. Mate, the one fellow said, if you go to Rose Bay foreshore and find the big drains - you can walk and crawl all the way up under Belgium Gardens and Castle Hill until you reach these huge underground rooms. His mate who was visiting from Brisbane for the first time was really interested. Well why haven’t they been made public? What do you do if you are up the drains and it rains? What’s inside the rooms?

We sat and listened to the young bloke telling about the World War II jeeps, ammunition and old guns just piled up randomly in these huge underground bunkers deep within Castle Hill.

Shell looked at me and we tried not to laugh out loud. Being Qantas they brought us a snack and we munched our carrot sticks and hummus and continued to listen, as the tale got longer. Mate, you can skate up the tunnels on your stomach on a skateboard. Being claustrophobic I thought it sounded disgusting however Shell and I both knew that they were on the wrong track.

The tunnels did exist and did go deep into Castle Hill but not from Belgium Gardens and the storm water drains. They led nowhere. We knew where the real tunnel started from and what was in it.

When I bought the house off Church Street in West End I thought the concrete slab at the bottom of the garden were part of the old dunny system and had pretty much not paid it much attention. The house, a miners cottage had been brought down from Ravenswood in the early nineteen twenties and had been owned by women ever since. For a five-year period during the Second World War the cottage had been requestioned by the army for official use.

A solid little cottage made of silky oak, it was perfect for a middle aged independent single woman like myself. My two poodles and I settled in very well. I love gardening and getting my hand in the soil. My garden was a bit wild and I soon cleared it out chucked out all the weedy trees and plants and put in a pretty native garden.

A couple of months after moving in my friend Shell and I were sitting in the back garden, with a stiff G&T, the weather was dry and cool, the mozzies had buggered off finally. We started talking about the latest news that some one had thought there were cannons buried in Reid Park under the civic theatre. The soft evening light filtered through the trees and I thought about all the secrets in the world. I thought it was probably true and that they could use that land sonar thing that they use in the BBC Tony Robertson show about finding ancient towns and settlements. After a while the conversation drifted around to the myth of the tunnel system under Castle Hill. Why would they start a tunnel anywhere but near the old quarry (which was just down the road) or somewhere else that no one would think of looking for it? We pondered this awhile and threw the ball for Fifi while Jimbo sat getting cuddled on Shell’s lap. Not much of a ball dog was Jimbo he left it to his poodle sister to retrieve all the balls that the humans threw away so easily.

We got up and I led the way down to the bottom of the garden. So, Shell, I said, drawing breath after we had talked about the amazing Roman finds in England, what about this? I pointed to the concrete slab partially hidden by grass and leaves. Could it be a tunnel or just the slab over the septic tank? Shell was staying with me for the week. She is my oldest and best friend. We had lived in the same street in Railway Estate and gone to primary school there and high school at Town High. Shell was very clever and had gone down to UQ in Brisbane to study law and was now a Barrister. I stayed in Townsville and became a nurse, one of the nurses who started at the hospital under a very grumpy matron. Shell and I grew up on Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven, famous Five and the Hardy Boys. We used to have adventures in the mangroves and round the creeks always on the look out for mysteries to solve. Never really found any real ones but our imagination overflowed with fun.

Shell had never married choosing instead to have friends with benefits and no commitments to interrupt her adventurous worldwide travels. Me, I like my own space and animals too much to share them with anybody else. Friends are wonderful, however they do go home and one can enjoy the quiet with two pooches and a good book without other people’s demands. Shell and I loved each other’s company however.

We both decided it was time for dinner and we would have a further look at the slab in the morning.

Feeling seriously excited we up and dressed in our tee shirts and shorts and put on running shoes to protect our feet. I got my big spade and a jemmy that I use to pull out tough plant roots. Whacking the concrete a few times with the jemmy it did sound hollow. Shell and I tried to lift a corner and it shifted slightly.

It was so exciting. I reasoned that we would need to lever the concrete aside gradually to see what was inside. It was about a metre square. As we gradually shifted the slab a pit emerged.

Looking down into the pit we could see an iron rungs attached to the walls going into the dark. There was no smell so we thought the dunny idea was obsolete. Shell suggested we get a couple of torches and go down the ladder. Bursting with excitement we headed for the servo and bought two large torches. When we got home I locked the poodles in the house so they wouldn’t follow us.

The rungs on the ladder seemed very rusty so we climbed down carefully. As a pair of rather fat middle aged women, we giggled and felt about ten years old climbing into a secret tunnel. The ladder ended in a large drain, concrete walls and dry bare rock on the floor. The drain lead into darkness and Shell and I felt full of nervous apprehension as we walked forward. Shell is a bit taller than me and she had to stoop to get through without banging her head.

As we walked we flashed the torches in the wall and floor. It was dry and like I imagined ancient Egyptian tombs to be like. We soon lost sight of the shaft of light filtering down the hole in my garden. There were no other passages leading off the tunnel but I did feel worried about using up the new torches so we decided to only use one. I ignored my claustrophobia and thought of poor coal miners. After walking in the dark for what seemed like eternity with only a beam of torchlight we came up to a grill with a steel lock on it. Beyond the grill was a large room carved into the rock with many crates, all old army green and not at all dusty because of the clean atmosphere.

Well, we decided to leave it at that and come back the next day with bolt cutters and check out the boxes.
Shell was so excited and so was I. We swore each other to secrecy. Climbing out the shaft we thought it would be a good idea to cover it up again so used a tarp and bricks to hide it.

The next day after a hearty breakfast and lots of strong coffee we discussed the operation.

At the hardware store on Ingham road I bought the biggest bolt cutters I could carry and Shell brought a couple of headlamps. We folded up the tarp and headed down the tunnel towards the rock room as we now called it. The room was the size of a small bedroom with a very low ceiling. It was tough going cutting through the good steel of the lock on the grill and the hinges were stiff as we pushed it open. WD40 next visit, we said. The wooden crates lay neatly on the ground, about fifteen of them. They looked like they would have weapons or ammunition in them. Shell was a bit worried about opening them in case there was a chance of things exploding however I thought it would be safe so I grabbed the bolt cutters and cut through the first lock on the crate. Our headlamps both shone into the crate and we both gasped. It was full of gold bars. Real gold. Shell lifted one up and sunk her teeth into it. Holy Moly we couldn’t believe it. We each took one and closed the grill behind us and headed back to the cottage. After covering the shaft we both lay in the grass and laughed.

Back in the study I fired up my computer and looked at the gold price. It was $1,200 an ounce. How many kilos of gold were there?

Now Shell and I are both ethical and good people. We had to discuss and think hard about what we had found. Was it a personal stash of gold or did people hide it in case Australia lost the war?

One thing we had in common was our sadness at the loss of habitat around the country and so many animals being placed on the endangered list. This is a war of sorts. Neither of us needed money for everyday living so we decided to gradually spend all the gold on donating to every conservation and wild life care program in Australia. Shell decided to chuck in her job in Brisbane and bought a workers cottage in the same street and joined me in our mining operation that we did carefully and discretely while watching the results of our benevolence around the country.

We got rid of the tarp and brought some corrugated iron and covered it with leaves and branches. When we sit in the back garden with friends I usually point out the old septic tank to them. Gross is the reply. Gross amounts I think.

We had just come back from our latest philanthropic venture in Melbourne when we heard the two young blokes discussing the tunnels in Townsville. They wouldn’t have noticed the two grey haired ladies sitting laughing.