It appeared unannounced hidden in the Australian bush, a reminder of a forgotten past, still echoing the voices of one of Australia’s greatest engineers, British aristocracy, and an overlooked Brisbane goldrush. This was a tunnel lost in time, built ninety years ago and instrumental in the development of Australia’s third largest city.
I chanced upon the tunnel and pipeline recently while walking through the bush east of Gold Creek dam in Brisbane’s rural western suburbs. The pipeline was built in 1928 to connect the colony’s first dam Enoggera Creek Reservoir with its second, the reservoir at Gold Creek.
Surrounding the tunnel entrance was an Australian eucalypt forest and rusting remnants of ninety-year-old machinery. Inside was a time vortex that traces back to colonial times 138 years ago to when the Gold Creek dam itself was built.
The dam was designed and constructed by John Baillie Henderson (pictured right), Queensland’s first Government Hydraulic Engineer. Henderson was famous as “Hydraulic Henderson” because he successfully combined the science of hydrological engineering with local concerns in a region characterised by drought and flood, like few who preceded him ever did.
The dam that he built has the world’s first concrete stepped spillway which was the precursor of modern roller compacted concrete stepped spillways today. The site was visited in 1883 by Lord Lewis Henry Hugh Clifford, the 9th Baron Clifford of Chudleigh (pictured below), who later became the Aide-de-Camp to King Edward VII. The construction was completed in 1885.
Traces of gold had long been found in the area, and in 1895 payable amounts were reported by the local postmaster William Butler who had been prospecting there for some time. Two years earlier, Butler was a founder of the first church council of Brookfield’s Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd. His family bible from 1881 can still be seen in the church today.
A gold rush threatened in 1922 when a number of new finds were reported. By August of that year, seventeen claims had been pegged out that employed around fifty men. Some of these mines can still be seen in Brookfield to the present day. Click here to see a video of me finding one of those lost mines.
The tunnel was constructed in 1928 while there was still enthusiastic prospecting happening. Water from Gold Creek dam was originally supplied to Brisbane via gravity main. The tunnel was dug through a quarter of a mile of rock separating Gold Creek and Enoggera Creek. One hundred and thirty-nine pipes were laid through the ridge alone. The two bodies of water then operated as a single connected storage to help satisfy the thirst of the burgeoning city.
You never know what history you’ll stumble upon when going for a walk through the Australian bush. You might even find another forgotten tunnel built a century ago.
Tunnel in the bush – my own
John Baillie Henderson 1836-1921 – by an unknown photographer 1910, La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria H14040
Lewis Henry Hugh Clifford, 9th Baron Clifford of Chudleigh – by Alexander Bassano c1898, National Portrait Gallery x30515
Newspaper clipping – Daily Standard (Brisbane) Thursday 27 July 1922, page 6.