Tall tales and true in town’s tunnel history

Jessica CuthbertAlbany Advertiser
David Theodore at the Underground Magazine
Camera IconDavid Theodore at the Underground Magazine

Beneath Albany’s surface lies a network of bunkers and tunnels dating back to the 19th century.

If the walls could talk, they could tell tales that predate World War I.

The buildings, which remain intact, have been a topic of speculation over the years and remain a talking point on the Lost Albany Facebook group, with many intrigued about what lies beneath the city.

Below Princess Royal Fortress, are two underground magazines — the Princess Royal Battery and the Plantagenet Battery.

The tunnels were built in 1892 to store shells, ammunition, explosives and cordite required to fire the coastal guns that protected the harbour.

The chambers were small and dark and stayed at a perfect temperature for the explosives.

The chambers of the underground magazine
Camera IconThe chambers of the underground magazine

Although the underground chambers have been closed for decades, Princess Royal Fortress curator David Theodore said they held rich history and could give people an authentic experience of the war days.

“We are so steeped in military history in Albany and these tunnels just unearth a little bit more. If you went down there today you would see what it was like in 1892 — it’s untouched and authentic,” he said.

“If you were walking these grounds 120 years ago, it’s exactly what you’d see today.

“We have the luxury that in Albany we can visit a colonial defence force fortress that has seen all our wars.”

Mr Theodore said it was fascinating to hear the different tales — tall and true — of the old tunnels and what they were used for.

“There were stories that say Jeeps were loaded up with ammunition and rifles and driven into the tunnels and sealed in case of the event of the next war,” he said.

“But in fact most ammunition was actually returned, so that was unlikely.”

The RAAF power bunker from the ground level.
Camera IconThe RAAF power bunker from the ground level.

He said another story he had heard was that WWI soldiers started digging a tunnel from the underground magazine to the pubs in town.

“We are in granite country — by the time they started digging the tunnels the war would have ended,” he said.

“We’ve also heard there are other rooms beneath the underground rooms, but there is nothing there to suggest that is true — nothing on the plans.”

There was also conjecture that a brothel operated from an old US lookout. “There were discussions that the US submarines lookout post from World War II, which is no longer there, was being used as a brothel post-war,” Mr Theodore said.

“Unless someone puts their hands up and says they went there or worked there then it will always be just a story or rumour.

“I would love to know any information about it. It doesn’t matter what happened in the past — it’s still history.”

Mr Theodore said he would love to run tours taking the public down to the chambers so they could walk in the footsteps of the Anzacs.

“We did explore a few years back opening them up as part of a tour,” he said. “We went through the feasibility and what it would take to make that happen and how to get people down there safely. It’s a long drop.”

“It’s something I would love to see here in the future — never say never.’”

Mr Theodore said Albany was privileged to have defence fortresses still standing.

“This is our history. More than a century later we are still standing in buildings that were used in the war. In other places around the country, buildings like this have been destroyed,” he said.

Other underground wartime buildings include bunkers near the Albany Airport, used by the Royal Australian Air force.

At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the bunkers were urgently needed for the defence of Australia.

They were used for command operations, communications and storage.

The tops of these bunkers are still visible from ground level.

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