The Mysterious Darwin Tunnels Two Are Even Abandoned in the Rainforest

Darwin oil storage tunnels. By Alex Healing CC BY 2.0

Many people have heard the rumors about the tunnels under Darwin, Australia. Two are open to the public, but there may be as many as eleven of them underneath the town. What is the truth behind these mysterious tunnels?

When the Japanese began bombing Darwin during World War II, the government decided it needed to protect the oil that it had stored there since the 1920s. They undertook the major task of building underground storage for that oil.

One of those tunnels comes within three meters of the Parliament House, so they filled that tunnel with concrete. Two are abandoned in the rainforest. The two that are open to the public have been used for temporary art exhibits, concerts, and tourism.

Darwin Oil Tunnel. By R Walker CC BY 2.0
Darwin Oil Tunnel. By R Walker CC BY 2.0

Rob Marchant leads tours through the two open tunnels. He’s been conducting these tours for twenty years and has not seen any evidence of more tunnels. However, many people believe that there are also tunnels that connect to East Point, the historic military area near the CBD.

Norman Cramp is the director of the Darwin Military Museum. He calls the stories about these other tunnels “myths.” He thinks that the secrecy of the war led people to speculate about what was happening. Cramp actually had scientists survey the area with ground-penetrating radar. Even with such equipment, they didn’t turn up anything.

Entrance to the Original Darwin Military Museum at East Point. By Ken Hodge CC BY 2.0
Entrance to the Original Darwin Military Museum at East Point. By Ken Hodge CC BY 2.0

A photograph given by an anonymous individual to the museum might explain why there are so many theories about tunnels at East Point. The photo shows two soldiers standing in a trench near there. But Cramp suspects that what is shown is a communications trench and not the beginnings of a tunnel.

A journalist remembers reporting on the opening of the new Power and Water substation in Darwin. The former deputy chief minister, Pete Chandler, was also attending the opening. During the tour of the new substation, they noticed tunnels in the basement. There were at least two that they could see. When they asked about them, they were told that they were the tunnels where the essential services ran underneath the city.

Darwin Oil Storage Tunnels in 2016. By Andrew in Darwin CC BY-SA 4.0
Darwin Oil Storage Tunnels in 2016. By Andrew in Darwin CC BY-SA 4.0

Unfortunately, Chandler did not remain in government long enough to fulfill his wish of touring the tunnels. A spokesman for the NT Government states that the tunnels were built in the 1970s in order to hold the power cables during a period of growth in the population of Darwin. There are 4.6 kilometers of tunnels running under the city.

Construction of the tunnels was completed in 1975. The long period of construction required streets to be closed as rock was blasted. The tunnels have proven useful in other ways as well. When Cyclone Tracy landed in 1974, the tunnels allowed some areas of the city to have their power restored more quickly since the cables were kept safe from the winds.

Darwin oil storage tunnel looking out towards the entrance. By Alex Healing CC BY 2.0
Darwin oil storage tunnel looking out towards the entrance. By Alex Healing CC BY 2.0

A study performed as part of an asset management plan shows that cables and pipes underground deteriorate more quickly due to issues like cyclones, high temperatures, humidity, and large amounts of water from rainfall. Despite considerable efforts, the tunnels constantly have water running into them, even in the dry season.

Read another story from us: Another War Memorial Trashed in Australia

It is true that tunnels do run under the city of Darwin, but they aren’t the top secret conspiracies that some rumors would have you believe. Instead, they help keep the power running during major weather incidents like cyclones.

One of Darwin’s tunnels where the general public can be taken on a tour. By R Walker CC BY 2.0
One of Darwin’s tunnels where the general public can be taken on a tour. By R Walker CC BY 2.0

However, don’t expect to be able to tour those tunnels. The large number of high power cables running through them makes it unsafe for the public to go inside.