Urban exploration links





Sydney Cave Clan


This makes for extremely interesting reading… 



  1. Why are there drains?
  2. Why are there drains? Why, so we can explore them, of course! First, find your drain.
  3. Manholes, grills and gutter boxes: The way down, and back to the surface. Manhole covers, Grills, Gutter Boxes, Manhole poppers.
  4. Daytime vs. Night draining.
  5. Drainwalking.
  6. Torches/Batteries (warning: contains boring consumer information) Shitty product alert
  7. Air quality determination. Hydrogen Sulphide, Carbon Monoxide, Methane, Oxygen, Self Rescue Gear, Cockroaches, Summary
  8. Drain features and their negotiation. Stepirons, Silides, Waterfalls, Stairs, Ladders, Balconies, Pits / G.P.T’s, Grills, A warning about CDS Units
  9. Gaguing shaft depth.
  10. Tagging-up.
  11. Navigation.
  12. Drain lifeforms. Visibile, Invisible
  13. Catchment, tides, rain and what to do in a flood.
  14. Rain and the legendary flash flood. Anecdote
  15. Tide-lock
  16. The basic rules of drain exploring.
  17. Packing list for expeditions.
  18. Why go in drains?


When the Sydney Clan first started back in 1990-1991 we had little in the way of experience about how to find drains and other things of interest. I personally have now done 134 drains in 5 Australian States, in addition to numerous rail tunnels, bridge rooms, abandoned bunkers and other concealed underground places… this experience led me to compile this .DOC on how to approach the pastime scientifically.


Why are there drains?Drains in general used to be creeks, streams, marshy areas or rivers. When you put a city on top of an area, you eliminate the usual absorption into the ground of rainwater, because concrete and roofing and road surfaces are not permeable. The rain water pools up, which is a nuisance, and thus the people who design towns, mainly planners, civil engineers and the like, have created ways to get rid of the water, generally in a big hurry. Thus are tunnels dug, pipes laid and so forth… this is the process of urban speleogenesis. Usually the natural creeks are dug up or concreted-in so when all the fast-flowing runoff hits them the erosion is minimised.

Unfortunately, the Australian mentality towards environmental management of such trunk drainage has traditionally been “Build a pipe and forget about it”. Canals tend to empty directly into river systems and there is no provision for a wetland type environment in which one could slow the fast moving runoff, thereby reducing erosion at the riverbank, allowing time for the sediment load to drop out of suspension, and also providing habitat for stuarine river species.

Drains are now the major collector of rain-soaked street refuse which pollutes the river systems, are major source of canine faecal coliform, overflow from the sewage system, and a handy place to dump industrial waste. They are also, despite being funded by the public, now off limits due to the by-laws of the Water board (Now named Sydney Water) and the Confined Spaces Legislation. A Melbourne company, Pollutec, have designed a nifty separator (which they call the Continuous Deflective Separation system) – it is vetted for installation in a lot of trunk drains and hopefully this will reduce the amount of crap which ends up in the rivers. The Clan has a slight problem with these which will be detailed later in the .DOC.


Why are there drains? Why, so we can explore them, of course!

First, find your drain.

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. 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 and occasionally see really erratic-looking postcode boundaries. Odds on it is where there once was a river. This is how The Loaf was located.
  4. I know it sounds obvious, but you can go to the Water Board and look in the library. A good place to find out new drains is the annual report which usually sports a section devoted to how they spent your money on drainage. The entrance to Fortress was located in this manner, since the report gave the outlet location. The other place to look is in their records of such, which you may have to dig for a little bit. The regional maps are generally somewhat inaccurate but the local stuff is better. Transgrinder, a drain with manhole-only access, had an entrance pinpointed by this method. The Local Council can also be pumped for this info. Say you’re getting info for an assignment on: Urban Geohydrology, Stormwater runoff, Suburban river systems, your kid brother’s high school geography assessment.
  5. Taking the train, driving around… keep your eyes open, and a handy note book to write down locations. A fantastic find, Hercules Pillars, was spotted for this very reason. Especially look when you are at the bottom of a pair of hills.
  6. Dress up in overalls and go around at night popping every manhole you can find. This works better in the city where the concentration of manholes is higher. You will need to make your own poppers and the method is strenuous but if you look the part the cops will drive by without batting an eyelid. Median strips are also fertile sources of covers.
  7. If you find a public park with artificially built up slopes on either side, there is probably a canal either in it or better still under it. Parks are often used as `retarding basins’ ie, they are used as temporary buffers for flood water, and have drains going into them.
  8. Particularly in Melbourne, but not so often in Sydney, the land over a tunnel is illegal to build upon… so if you look in a street map you will find long, narrow parks occasionally. Often a search of these will reveal a manhole in the grass.
  9. Riding river banks. Again, easier in Melbourne than Sydney due to their prolific bike paths. Just ride along and scan the bank for entrances. The gaping mouth of Autobahn was found by this method, as was Rocktop and the Grid’s downstream canal.
  10. Riding canals. Get a mountain bike, put on good tyres and mudguards (!) and hop in. Thus was located Sin City. There is a tendancy for fences to block your way in. Ignore them… hang the bike on the top of the fence (leave a pedal, in the crank-up position on the top pole, the bike will generally stay while you jump over) and once over the fence get the bike down.
  11. Just as all roads lead to Rome, all drains lead to the ocean. So: check the coast or the local waterfrontages, wharfs, beaches. Newspapers often post details of baches closed due to stormwater pollution… which means there is a big drain somewhere near that beach.
  12. A novel approach is to actually write letters to companies who make pipes that are 6ft in diameter and over, and ask them where they are putting most of their big pipes. Such companies are CSR, Humes and Monier/Rocla, though this may vary for your state.


Manholes, grills and gutter boxes: The way down, and back to the surface.One has to contend with these to get the most out of a drain… drains are much more fun if you can say “Yeah we got in at the beach, went up it for miles and then popped a manhole, right in the shopping centre car park, there all these old grandads and fat women lookin at us real funny, blah blah” etc.

Manhole covers.

By and large they are found in the middle of the street, are made of steel and cement, are rusted and wedged in, and weigh anything up to 50kg in the case of the large square Gatic.

There are, for the first of the listed reasons, extreme dangers involved in popping these from below unless you know exactly, EXACTLY where you are… you might be faced with two shafts less than 10m apart: one will take you out on the footpath, or to a picnic area. The other one could conceivably earn you a semi-trailer front wheel in the brain at 90km/h. With the exception of some old inner city covers which are “Spiderwebbers” and can be seen through, most are light-tight (so you can’t see what lies above you). If you hear a quick “thumpthump” sound, do not open the cover… this is the sound made by road vehicles going over the cover and it is largely impossible to predict if one is approaching from below due to the damping provided by the cover and the weirdly distorted echos in the tunnel itself.

When a cover has been in situ for a long time, factors like corrosion, thermal expansion/contraction, vehicular hammering and the like all contribute to  progressively jamming the cover in its collar. Whilst some (Trimar) covers lend themselves to being popped from below, by having chamfered edges and taking the load only on the corners, often the average 40kg family-sized pizza manhole (so named due to the 8 radial struts one sees from below them) by Durham is an impossibility for anyone without the strength of the Incredible Hulk, and even then sometimes that isn’t enough: the cover may have a car wheel parked on it, if might have been cemented over or welded, in the case of some Gatic covers, it could be bolted into its collar with quarter inch stainless steel bolts.

The Clan tend not to pop covers from below for the reasons just mentioned, unless their position is known or the outside world can be determined by looking through them: spiderwebbers are of two kinds, thick and thin. The thin ones aren’t used in roads, being common in parks and pathways, due to their poor ability to handle repeated loading by vehicles. The thick ones are about an inch thick (2.5cm) and weigh a mountain, and tend to have cars going over them. Pop a thin ‘web by all means; leave the rest alone from below.

When popping a cover from below, if it is really “sealed”, tools are useful. The first of these is a mallet. Thumping a cover from beneath can often fault the jammed in, rust-loaded grime which seals the edge. The ubiquitous crowbar can also be used to force the gap between the collar and the cover base. I have high recommendation for devices of a hydraulic nature, particularly the small, cheap and readily available bottle jacks, which weigh about 5kg and can exert a force of anywhere from 1400kg, to two and a quarter tonnes, through a throw of between 5 and 15cm. This can, if placed close to the wall end of the top stepiron, conceivably pop anything except the bolted Gatics; if it fails in this task it will either bend the stepiron, tear it out of the wall or burst out from its position and mercilessly batter whatever it touches. To use these one needs a few small blocks of wood to give the jack the required height to reach the cover’s base.

Another thing to remember when popping a cover is: face down. It is better to have a head full of grot than an eye loaded with abrasive mud, which tends to fall out from the seal when you pop it.

The nice thing about round manholes is you cannot drop them down the shaft and kill someone. Trimars can be dropped down their shaft; square Gatics can drop down their shafts end on or diagonally. Getting hit with a cover from 5m up is likely to kill you. So exercise big caution with these. They take no prisoners on the way down… understandable really; if I had sat above a drain all my life I’d wanna know what was down there in a hurry, too.

There are two schools of thought about cover popping. There is the straight upward force and the tilt’n’flip method. The former is quieter and better for the square and triangular covers but the tilt’n’flip (push one edge up, let the cover tilt up and drop in a bit, then flip over and push away from the hole) requires less strength, since you don’t take the entire weight, and just as safe since the round covers won’t fit down the hole.


The old style grill is a cast-iron job weighing about 25kg. Being cast, they shatter when you drop them from any height this is useful to know in a  street demo, few people will argue with a mob of people weilding 5 kilo rods of cast metal. It is also useful to know when you pop one.  From above, one sticks one’s fingers in the gaps towards one end, lifts, and gets the edge up onto the street level. Then reposition your hands on the opposite edge to the up end, and drag it out. The bottom surface of these is usually curved slightly downwards so they slide more easily along the road. This method preserves both the grill and your fingers.

The old grills are also useful to emerge from a drain. One can generally shoulder one’s target grill loose from within the cramped confine of a gutter box; once loose, use your hands, but don’t stick your fingers through. The more recalcitrant grills may require another approach: Get under the thing, on your back, place your bum on the ground, and force the grill with your feet.

There are also light steel strut grills in service and to date I have found them mostly a joy to use. The tolerance between them and their collar is unfortunately large enough to permit pebbles to fall into the gap and they can get sealed this way, nothing a good thump won’t fix. My least favourite kind is the hinged type, whilst they never fall in they can be a nuisance to replace if they come out of their hinge, and opening them from below needs a different strategy since you cannot slide them. The two major problems I find with them are (1) occasionally the arc they open through intersects with the kerb so you can’t open it or (2) some twit has put a small spring-loaded hook ended bolt on it and this locks it into its collar, so you need a spanner to undo the nut. If you open one of these, throw the bolt away, they are a safety hazard, and in all likelihood were invented by someone who has never been in a drain in their life.

Gutter Boxes.

These are also known as Gross Pollutant Traps… they are there to trap big items before they get into the main drain. They tend to be covered by heavy concrete slab lids. The only effective way to deal with these is on ya back,legs-up, place your feet and push like a bastard. When it ‘cracks’ its seal, stop pushing straight up and direct the thing toward the high edge. Some of these have the added nuisance of a pit below them, in which case I suggest if you can’t pop it with your shoulder, get out elsewhere. From above, one generally stands it on one edge, swivels it from corner to corner to positionit and then just lets it fall into its hole.

I used this in Clantomb, Melbourne due to a torch problem. The box in question was in a quiet suburban street (one finds this out by looking from the gap above the grill), there were kids playing cricket in the street and I also noticed it was Garbage night… the night people put their bins full of  rubbish out for collection. This was immediately significant to me, because people have a tendancy to put their bins on gutter box lids to preserve their lawn from damage by their garbage bin. I put on a mean look, my mirroredsun glasses, and “Mutant Pathological Axe Murderer” profane body language.

This was going to take some evil PR work.

I got in, on my back, and pushed. Hard. Really hard. The lid cracked open and about a second later I heard the sound of a large load of bottles spilling from a steel garbage bin, followed by the sound of young cricketers saying things like “Hey Dave, that garbo there just jumped off the gutter!”. A few bottles rolled into the gutter box but I concentrated on my task, slowly  piloting the heavy concrete slab away from the edge far enough so I could get out. I kept my mouth shut to keep out the dirt.

Two faces appeared in the view above me, tee-shirted youths, one with an SS cricket bat. One of them said “John there’s a guy down there!” The other one said something like “Fucken lets get outta here!” but the kid with the bat stayed. The cover was now open enough so I climbed out, covered in webs and dirt and stood before the kid who must be congratulated on keeping his cool… it isn’t every day one sees a black-leather-jacketed 6ft tall unshaven man with mirror glasses, a deep frown, black torch and a million cobwebs get out of the street where you are playing cricket.

I slowly scanned the view to give the impression that I hadn’t noticed him. I grabbed my bag, then clamped the slab in my hands, walked it on its corners until it seated in the collar, and then slowly angled it down until I dropped it with a thud into its original position.

More kids from the cricket game stopped their conversations to peruse the new arrival. I placed the bin upright and put the lid on, leaving the rubbish and bottles where they lay. I crouched before the kid with the bat, said “Sorry about the mess.” in an uninterested voice, and putting my torch in the bag, stood, turned and walked off down the street. He didn’t say a word. They were good kids, I heard the bottles smashing before I walked round the corner.

Manhole poppers.

In the trade they are actually named Manhole Keys. The simplest is the type with the inverted T on the end. You can weld one up simply from mild steel or take a 20mmx8mm aluminium bar and cut it to the appropriate shape. Looks like this:

To use: Stick the T end in the slot on the cover, rotate 90ø and pull up. These are the dimensions for Sydney’s Durham covers. In SA and VIC different sizes are used but all operate on the T principle.

Others exist for popping collared spiderwebbers: these are about 1m long.

To use: Stick down a hole near the edge of the cover.

Once seated, lean on handle end. Leverage pops it. Key to the city, you might say.

Bolted gatics can be popped with a socket wrench and a crow bar but this is inelegant compared to using the purpose-built tool:

To use this:

  1. Clear the dirt and stuff out of the hole on the edge of the Gatic.
  2. Stick the T-end (under the handle) into the hole and rotate so it is securely locked in the hole. Tighten the locknut onto the chassis.
  3. Screw the other bolt down as far as you need till the cover “pops” open.
  4. Drag like hell on the handle to slide the cover away.

The chassis is a measly 10cm across. Uses steel bolts, and doesn’t look suss if you are searched by the cops, whereas a crowbar does. Thread diameters vary, so steal a gatic bolt near you to determine the type you require.

Other implements exist, and they are commercially built for the purpose. One is a two metre long item which is operated by inserting one end in the cover and sitting (!) on the handle on the other end, much like a see-saw in principle. This is very effective but rather hard to covertly transport. Another design, which is smaller and hinged in the centre, permits you to pop the cover by locking one end to the cover lifting hole and jumping on the other end.

I recommend that, if you’re looking for manhole cover openers, (manhole keys) you are most likely to find them at Johnnie Sumner’s Hardware, 819 New Canterbury Road, Dulwich Hill NSW; They do mail orders, their phone number is 02-9558-2424. The place is recognisable by the enormous piles of junk in the front display windows. Ask for Allan, he is the only person who knows where everything is. They occasionally have cadmium plated Telecom-type keys, and also the jump-on popper I mentioned earlier. They don’t manufacture them, but can usually get ’em at auctions. The shop has been going since the 1930’s and also has every conceivable spare torch globe you could want.


Daytime vs. Night draining.Whilst the time of day can be often considered irrelevant to the sacred practise of urban speleology, I would like to suggest a few advantages to choosing exactly which hour of the day one would consider doing a drain.

I have generally found that the exploration of drains in daylight slightly less fun than the night-draining. One’s night-vision doesn’t really kick infor several minutes and coming out is a blinding, dazzling experience. However, day-draining gives you a better idea of the cloud conditions which are prevalent just before you get in, and it is also fun to have the drain occasionally lit up from sunlight pouring in through a small grill in the top of the drain or through the diffuse beam of a lit side tunnel. The warmth of the long-forgotten sun can be a pleasant embrace after slogging along subterranes for an hour or three.

The night drain is one done for reasons of stealth. There are some places you just can’t get into or out of during daylight without having some guard waste his time and yours by asking a whole lot of questions and getting answers he is probably too stupid to believe, despite your having torches in broad daylight. Try and be quiet and avoid external torch use if possible.

One finds the smell from the surface comes into the drain at night. In general one can pop questionable manholes with considerably greater safety at 3am when there is all but zero traffic. Coming out of the drain with the munchies and having nowhere nearby to sell you food is sometimes a bit of a drag, but there are good japes to be had by, for instance, shining your torch beam on  the inside ceiling of cars stopped at traffic lights, from your cosy position in a nearby gutter grate.


Drainwalking.One of the things the neophyte drainer discovers is that drains are slippery. That is, the surface is either covered in algal slime or is just implicitly smooth due to erosion and wetness. There is a wide variety of conditions, ranging from virgin rough concrete to slimy red brick, cement pipe, plastic, surfaces covered in pebbles, mud, broken glass and assorted members of the slime families. Until one is used to it, one tends to just fall over a lot, usually to the mirth of ones colleagues.

Appropriate footware helps. Something with a soft rubber sole and a lot of tread, particularly spiky tread, is better than the smooth soled stuff, and Blundstones, Doc Martens, and the like just don’t cut the mustard. Sneakers are ok, but dont handle the slime too well.

To walk without falling in a drain, don’t attempt sudden movement. It is the acceleration or deceleration you generate which will cause you to lose traction. Generally an even pace, with weight spread evenly over your sole, will provide better grip than an edge-step or toe-creep.

Naturally if a drain is dry (ie, has the small trickle down the middle but dry everything else) walk on the dry sections. In the smaller diameter round tunnels, parabolics, oblate ellipsoid, and larger oviform drains one can use a rhythmic pattern of walking three or five steps on either side of the water running down the middle, to wit, place feet as follows:

Believe us, it makes life easier on your ankles, it tends to keep your feet on their appropriate side more of the time, and is less strenuous than walking each foot on its own side of the water all of the time. Of course, you may opt for the simpler but occasionally more slippery approach of just walking in the water itself, but keeping dry has its advantages, especially after prolonged sessions underground where wet feet become unpleasantly soggy and painful to walk on.


Torches/Batteries (warning: contains boring consumer information) These are your lifeline in the drain. Drains are so dark that your brain fools you into thinking that you saw something, just cause it is so used to seeing that it is uncomfortable when it isn’t. There is not a visible-spectrum  photon to be had. Wave your hand in front of your face and you won’t see it, you’ll only -think- you did.

Since the drains are wet and dark, the first requirement is that torches are waterproof. The next requirement is that they float… drop a Maglite in the water and it’ll sink like a brick, possibly to where you can’t get it back, so forget ’em. The Dolphin series, whilst bulky, fulfills these requirements. The older dolphins, particularly the Series 1, are better in my opinion, the seal isn’t as tricky and one should know how to reassemble one’s torch and replace the batterybulb in the dark. Some Clan members favour head torches, which are great – leave your hands free to hold other things.

Always carry a spare torch! I’ll say it again, always carry a spare torch. Make sure they both work when you go in. Don’t take candles, you can’t smell methane. Cyalume sticks are a good emergency light source. They are bright for  about 3 hours then go for another 9 hours. Note they die after 3 years on the shelf so use ’em up. It is fun to make it glow then bust it open and pour it on the street at night… the glowing green blob from hell appears on the street, people get it on their tyres and leave glowing treads going off into the distance… just don’t get it on your clothes or it will permanently stain them. They can be obtained from disposal stores (~$10 each) or from Sigma Aldrich: Unit 2, 14 Anella Avenue (or PO BOX 970) Castle Hill NSW 2154; in red, yellow or orange (12 hr duration), six sticks for $40 (+ $15 P&H), though they no longer have green, white or blue for some reason. I’ve carried ’em since 1992.

Spare batteries are a good idea too, especially in your spare torch (ho ho).

While we are on the subject of batteries, I recommend Alkaline types for the casual expo and high capacity (4 or 5 Ampere/Hour D cell) NiCd types for light weight, and prolonged rechargeable power, over a life of several years.

These two cell types differ in their discharge/voltage characteristics. The alkalines, much like the standard Zn/NH4Cl “carbon” cells, will get dim gradually over their life, whereas once you percieve the NiCd going dim you might only have light left for a couple of minutes. This is something which although not threatening in itself is something of which the NiCd user should be aware.

The NiCd is very cheap in the long run despite the initial capital outlay, and handles abuse well; for instance, it won’t complain about being left fully flat like lead acid cells will. NiCd’s have practically zero internal resistance, so don’t short them out as this causes the electrolyte to boil and the cell will split or the internal tabs will melt. Make sure they are totally flat before recharge to remove the ‘memory’ effect, and charge them at the  “charging current = 0.1 x the total battery amp capacity” rate for 10 hours or so, or whatever the manufacturer recommends. Dropping them insalt water, especially fully charged, is highly unrecommended.

Note that Alkaline cells develop 1.5V, NiCd cells develop 1.25, and choose a torch bulb voltage appropriate for the number of the type of cells you will use. Four 1.5V cells, or five 1.25V cells, develop 6V, so use a 6V globe, or for longer globe life and generally a cooler globe (important in plastic torch fittings which can and DO melt) use a 7.2V globe. Don’t bother with Halogens, they are hot, power-hungry, cost big cash and eventually they will go yellow. Kryptons are more efficient than the standard globe but also a little dearer.

Battery Specialties, at Unit 5, 8-10 Deadman Rd, Moorebank NSW (02)9824-0033 also sell a nifty sealed lead acid 6V 5Ah for $32.15 (incl tax) and deliver for $10 to anywhere in Oz. It’s a spring terminal battery in a standard lantern battery configuration, so it will fit in a dolphin. I imagine these require storage in the charged state and are less tolerant of shorting, possibly they are also a little heavier. I used ’em at work and swore by ’em.Ask for Shane.

Someone out there is also marketing a _recharger_ for alkaline batteries! At Oatley Electronics, 5 Lansdowne Parade Oatley NSW (02)9579-4985 you can mail order a short-form kit ($24 + P&H) to build or the full form kit (including the power supply, it runs of 240VAC) for $36 + P&H. I have no data on their performance, though the late Mullet thought they were pretty good.

Shitty product alert

Do NOT buy the Eveready PKL1200 rechargable lantern battery. It is fucked – overpriced empty space, has woefully little capacity for its volume, is not waterproof when you buy it, and doesn’t even give you 6V (a measly 4.8). It uses el-cheapo cells and an untrustworthy bimetal strip switch to prevent internal overheating (they could have spent extra cash on a decent Positive Temperature Coefficient resistor, but no…) in the event of a short. Not to mention Eveready’s fascist technical staff won’t divulge the schematic of the simple charge board inside that battery, which you need to reconstruct because it will eventually corrode if exposed to moisture. Low-quality pricks.

Here is some more free advertising for nEveready: despite the most useless battery on the market, they did make a great torch, once the series 1 Dolphin, of which I think you can still get a good Republic Of China copy, from DSE for thirty bucks… Performer brand or something. Ha ha, sucked in, Bhopal Bastards.

I have no personal experience with the new, high capacity Nickel Metal Hydride cells. I would recommend them on the basis of the fact that per unit volume they store twice as much energy as NiCd’s. I don’t know about their discharge voltage characteristics. A high level Clan man attempted to recharge some NMH cells in a NiCd charger… once. One of the cells detonated and blew the end off the charger, so at least I can tell you to be meticulous when recharging NMH’s.


Air quality determination.First, a few words from Inspector, a non-clanman who sent us this info to our filebase on The Web.

CAVE CLAN and CONFINED SPACES Information 1995

A Confined Space is a space of any volume which:

  1. is not intended as a regular workplace.
  2. has restricted means for entry and exit.
  3. may have inadequate ventilation and/or atmosphere which is either contaminated or oxygen deficient.

In the working industry, there are mainly 4 different categories for confined spaces. Three of the four categories require the use of ventilation, gas testing and monitoring.

Hydrogen Sulphide

Gas Detectors are set to alarm at 10 parts per million, indicating for relevant parties to evacuate the area immediately. The area must be ventilated and re-tested before any personnel may legally enter the confined space. Hydrogen Sulphide is a dangerous gas as the sense of smell diminishes with this gas. One could have a false sense of security if they smell the gas and continue to stay in the hazardous area. The Board’s Instruction 800 states that you must evacuate the area immediately.

Hydrogen Sulphide is a colourless gas and is very flammable, which sometimes has the odour of rotten eggs. It is heavier than air and is often detected at the bottom of manholes and trenches.  After 2 to 15 minutes exposure humans lose the ability to smell Hydrogen Sulphide and it is then that Hydrogen Sulphide becomes dangerous as its presence is no longer apparent without testing!

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon Monoxide is colourless, odourless, flammable and very toxic. Its presence can only be detected evenly by proper testing. Don’t be fooled in thinking you can smell this gas because you can smell exhaust fumes from a car, as said before this gas is odourless!

This gas is a chemical asphyxiant and is readily absorbed by the haemoglobin in the blood. Then haemoglobin is unable to transport oxygen to the body tissues and the body becomes oxygen starved. Actually, the body will absorb carbon monoxide 300 times more readily than it absorbs oxygen. Excess Carbon Monoxide causes headaches, heart palpitations, with a tendency to stagger when walking, mental confusion.

Gas Detectors are calibrated to alarm at 50 part per million of atmosphere. Any reading above this must be treated as a hazard to your health, as this gas can also kill you if the level is high enough, and the dosage is cumulative.


This is another odourless gas which is also explosive. Hydrogen Sulphide and Methane can be tricky gases. One example is that the area can be deemed safe by using a correctly calibrated gas detector …but the trap can be that there is sludge on the ground which once disturbed (e.g. by walking through) can emit toxic lethal doses of Hydrogen Sulphide and Methane which can kill you.  There are a few case histories in the industry where an employee has collapsed and his colleague has gone to help (natural instinct) and has also fallen victim and collapsed and died too. This HAS actually happened and has been documented!

Gas detectors are set to alarm at 5% of the lower explosive limit. This is considered to be a safe working precaution under the Board’s Instruction 800.


Oxygen levels must be in the range of 19% – 21% to sustain a premium supply to the human body.  Lower levels will cause head aches, dizziness, weakness and finally collapsing. No oxygen, means no life!  Also too much oxygen can cause unusual behaviour in you or your colleague. One can become irrational, suddenly happy (etc) and too much oxygen is also a fire risk (it vigorously accelerates combustion)! Experiment…get a normal rag and try to light it with a match…take note how much effort is needed to ignite the rag to burn. Now get an oxy bottle and hit the rag with a burst of oxygen for a few seconds… now light the rag again – WOOSH! You will be surprised at the difference.

Oxygen may be used up by the rusting of fittings and steelwork and by aerobic bacteria (i.e. oxygen-using bacteria). Oxygen may also be displaced in a confined space by heavier flammable gases, toxic vapours and inert gases.

The effect of Oxygen is summarised in the following…

21%     Normal behaviour
16%     Increased breathing/pulse rate; headaches; nausea
12%     Dizziness; nausea; reduced muscle power
10%     Turns pale, becomes unconscious
8%      Unconscious, fatal in 7-8 minutes<

Drain exploring can be challenging and adventurous, but you must think of what you are doing as dangerous and you must consider having a professional attitude. Think intelligently and be alert!!!! If Hydrogen Sulphide is lurking about in the atmosphere or trapped under sludge in a confined space, don’t think “Hey this dude is an experienced Clan man, it won’t bother him”.

Self Rescue Gear

Self Rescue units can be purchased. (I don’t know the prices) They come in differing configurations usually consisting of a gas cannister and a hood, and are carried by a belt around the waist. They can save your life but are mainly for short term self-rescue – 5 minutes or so until the oxygen runs out.

There are other units also available which work on a rebreather principle. Once popped open, they can supply approximately 30 minutes of oxygen, (if you keep calm). They work by the vapour from your breath reacting with the crystals in the canister, which gives off pure oxygen. The canister has a mouth piece (similar to a snorkel) which is used as you evacuate the area. They can only be used once, and then must be sent to the supplier for
refitting and resealing.


These guys are pretty tough, and some people are mis-informed as they think when they lift a manhole and see a hundred or so hanging about under the top of the manhole, that the air is OK. The reason they are doing this is because they are trying to get OXYGEN.  Don’t be conned and think cockroaches mean it is 100% safe.


A lot of this above info probably applies more to SEWER environments but remember, don’t get too confident, as gases and toxic fumes can form for a variety of reasons. If you start to get stinging eyes or a headache…chuck a “U” turn – pronto!  Don’t think you failed your exploration, but evacuate and think it through and see if you can make the environment safe somehow. Better another attempt than than being dead. If your mate has collapsed unconscious up ahead or down a manhole from gases – the Board’s Instruction stipulates NOT to rescue, (as you may become a victim too) but to get help. Human nature being as it is, usually results in the individual attempting to help his friend, but realise you are doing this at your own risk, be on the ball and use your common sense.  Only you, can be the judge to make the decision.

Ventilation is the key to help controlling the atmosphere in a confined space. The atmosphere in a Confined Space can change rapidly at any time. As well as hydrogen sulphide, carbon monoxide, combustible gases, and oxygen deficiencies, such gas as nitrogen oxides, chlorinated hydrocarbons, cyanide, petrol vapour, and petrol exhaust fumes may be present. If any unusual feature such as suddenly increased flow, a change in the colour of the sewer/water, you must cease immediately!!

The CLANNING Spirit…you only live once!  “When Clanning, use planning.”

Inspector has spent 19 years in the confined spaces area and again I thank him for his suggestions here. Instruction 800 has been recently superceded by another Sydney Water directive but for some reason they won’t provide us with it. There are now programmable gas detectors on the market which, in my opinion, beat the shit out of the GasTech units and are cheaper to service and self calibrating, too! Lash out on one – wicked.

Ok, so you have just popped a cover in the middle of nowhere, and a drain yawns invitingly below you. Now then, is it safe to breathe? You can always lash out on pellistor-detector driven gas analysis systems, but usually the common drain explorer will not have these things handy.

Manhole shafts tend to have spiders and cockroaches living in them. These organisms breathe oxygen like us, serving as a useful way to determine if O2 is actually present. Note that they can live on a lot less O2 than we can, and that just because there are a heap of cockies down there it doesn’t mean the air is OK. Total lack of it will kill them as well as us, of course.

Breathe into the shaft. Usually they are humid and droplets of your condensed exhaled water vapour will form. If the vapour stays relatively still, that is an indication of stagnant air. If on the other hand it moves down into or up from the shaft that is a good sign, since drains are generally not big enough to support barometrically-driven tidal `breathing’… it means there is an air current in the drain. Better if it is going down the pipe than up, but it’s a current nevertheless. Since drains are usually open systems (with the common exception of some sumped drains) with an air outlet at the downstream end and lots of side tunnels, grills and gutter grates in the catchment, you usually have an air current.

On old, stagnant shafts, you might find a concentration of methane in the shaft. Methane (CH4) is lighter than air per unit volume and displaces oxygen, so it floats to the top of shafts with good seals, after flowing along the ceiling for any distance. Drop a lit match into it, and stand away from the shaft collar. The match may go out since the methane will not support burning without oxygen mixed in with it. If it ignites you’ll get a WHOOMP! and a flame, and I would advise you to seek other entrances 🙂

With the possible exception of anosmics (people who can’t smell) you will find your nose a useful thing in drains. Sniff cautiously, breathe through your nose for the first little while. You may find yourself recognising the thin reek of town gas stenching agent, either SO3 (extremely toxic) or
tetrahydrothiophen (THT… unknown toxicity) since sometimes leaks in town gas systems escape into the drains. You will smell sour humidity and the smell of rotting vegetation. If you are in a town where the town gas still has carbon monoxide then leave if you smell the stenching agent.

There are other risks. H2S (hydrogen sulfide, rotten egg gas) is highly toxic. Methane is a flammable suffocant with no odour, so is carbon monoxide. You might need to be aware that CO2 is denser than air and accumulates in low points and behind rubber-sealed hatches (a la Scorpion’s Flaps). As Inspector mentioned, walking up a tidal drain can disturb the mud at the bottom, releasing methane and hydrogen sulfide, so be careful of this, too.

Ammonia is poisonous (but noticable), as are nearly all the vapours derived from illegal dumping… diesel fumes, cyanides from various industrial processes (smells like bitter almonds), solvents (acetone, M.E.K., light petroleum) and an endless list of other goodies like electroplating waste,
etchants, etc. Illegal dumping varies from city to city, but tends to occur late at night and in the suburbs near the place where the waste was picked up.

Headaches, feeling dizzy, tingling fingers and toes, increased respiratory effort… all these point to oxygen deprivation. Note well and live by it…if you think anything awry with the atmosphere, then leave. The sooner the better, back the way you came. If one of your party needs help, provide it. Something to look for along the drain route is small feeders from gutter boxes and grills, these often take air from the outside by the Venturi effect and can be a useful source of clean air for a brief time.


Drain features and their negotiation. In drains you will find rooms, slides, staircases, balconies, junctions, pits, grills, safety chains, waterfalls and turbulence pillars. These often are easily dealt with using common sense.

Since a lot of old drains have stepirons (those footholds in the walls made from old reinforcing bar) which are corroded, don’t load them without testing them first… the shell of rust on the ouside is useless and may disguise a dangerously thin spindle of metal beneath it.

Can be tricky, stick to the dry patches. If the slide is steep and not very high you can force your back against the roof for extra points of attachment. As a part of the Clan’s ongoing quest to improve drain explorer amenities, the slide in Fortress has a rope and chain installed so you can hold on to it and haul yourself up the slope. The slide is slippery so you need to crouch at right angles to the cement to avoid slipping.

Without stepirons are a very tempting thing but also extremely risky. Without a rope, harness and figure-8 (or similar) I would be inclined to decide not to descend it. Boosting people in wet conditions is inadvisable.

Waterfalls are the primary reason one doesn’t go exploring drains when it is raining outside. You *might* survive being flushed through a tube, dropped over slides and dumped violently in a mangrove. You DON”T survive being thrown at a wall and then falling any number of metres to a cement floor, at an angle you cannot control. You die and get found rotting on a trash rack by people walking by the riverside a couple of days later. Simple as that.

Take ’em one at a time. Big stairs (like Greatstairway) demand this since the steps are all a metre high. Use handrails if present.

Should be inspected first and tested by getting on the bottom rung and trying to shake the ladder. Hawker’s Folly has possibly the most dodgy ladder in history with three out of six attachments to the wall missing.

Generally have a handrail next to a shaft of some kind. Testing handrails by swinging on them is not a life-prolonging practise for reasons which should be obvious.

Pits / G.P.T’s
Step over these if possible. The deeper ones (like Bourbon’s in Melb) are anything from knee deep to over your head. They tend to have sharp rubble at the bottom of them so tread carefully. There is also amusement to be had by fishing around for buried coins and other such items in gutter boxes and GPTs, but I would recommend the use of gloves for this.

Safety chains: replace when passed. Don’t just leave ’em dangling. Can be used to assist you in getting up slippery waterfalls… throw a weighted rope over it and, if you don’t pull on it too hard, you can use the rope to help pull you up.

(vertical) Sometimes you just can’t get out of these since they are either bolted down or set into the cement. Take a hacksaw and remove a bar or two. Sometimes you can, by exhaling, go through sideways, though it is a bit hard on your pelvis. There is another species of grill, prevalent on median strips, which is made of tightly-wedged concrete slots. Advice: use dynamite or forget ’em.

A trend appearing of late is to put really huge grills (made of railway-track or huge galvanised iron rods) across the upstream end of a drain, presumably to separate the water from the junk it carries, such as trees and other major floating refuse. Often these are permanently set in the closed position with a lock or cemented into the ground. The latter is amenable to being prised up with a car bottle jack; you can also bend the bars apart in cemented vertical rod grills using a car jack, this method proving useful at the seaward entrance of Fortress.

Locked grills: Why the Clan… er, neutralise locks.We know why locks are there… to cover the legal clauses in the public liability insurance that the large public works authorities use to prevent themselves from having their balls sued off in the event that some risk-terrified wimp’s relative gets killed in a drain, bridge (etc) and sues them for negligence. We also know that locks are there (ostensibly) to prevent kids from getting into bridges and drains (etc) and exposing themselves to danger.

Historically, works authorities were asked for keys but refused to reply to, or even acknowledge, requests for keys. So it used to be that locks would be picked or smashed and replaced (with our own) on more worth-it explored structures. It was pretty obvious from the graffiti around the lock where to write if you wanted a key. (Strange, no-one ever wrote for a key.) Eventually though we found it was just cheaper and easier to take the locks off and not replace them, ‘cos all we got were items of legal-threat fascist hate-mail and our locks cut off.

Methinks when people are old enough to smash locks, people are old enough to take responsibility for the subsequent damage that may occur to them as a result of being in the once-locked area. I don’t suppose the Water Boards realise that locking a grill is a very good way to trap people in a drain? I think a policy of maximum access is better, since this enables people to have a look (at their own risk), doesn’t involve smashing locks and also enables people to get out in a hurry if needs be. There will always be drain explorers, bolt cutters and jimmy bars.

Those familiar with Zen will see shades of Ganto’s Ax in the following story, related to me by a Melbourne Clan Co-Founder (mystic music please…)

“Ages ago, the Grill at the first split in Dungeon had been left closed  and the lock was locked – but not locked around both hasps, so you could still open the grill. We were sick of smashin’ endless Board of Works padlocks off the grill, so we bought a lock and locked the grill – through the other hasp of the grill AND the shackle of the Board of Works’s lock. So they had keys and we had a key (actually a lot of us had keys!) and whoever wanted in could get in, and be responsible with the locks by locking ’em up in tandem after going through. This worked for about two years.”>”Anyway, one day we came along and found our lock had been oxy’d off, and the Board of Works lock was back on, and the grill was locked up again. So we came back and took their lock out, and went in. Then we saw the notices pasted on the wall of the drain from Victoria (Uphold the Reich) Police, saying blah blah tresspass, blah break’n’enter and blah they’d press charges and all that shit. So after that we’d break off their locks and remember how it was…. eventually they gave up and now the grille is always open. The local locksmith must have loved it.”

CDS Units:

A new addition to the bottom end of a lot of trunk drains in the future will be the aforementioned Pollutec CDS litter-trap. They consist of a Nautilus shell shaped cavity with a cylindrical stainless steel perforated plate in the centre of it. Water goes thru this, and anything bigger than a ciggie butt
won’t fit through the plate. They have an overflow of unspecified dimensions which might be usable as an explorer bypass. CDS units are really a great  idea, and the rivers WILL be cleaner for them (maybe it is too late for the Yarra!) However… they omit a certain safety requirement: they assume that no-one is ever going to be in a drain when it floods. Regardless of wether the person/s unfortunate enough to be trapped in such a device have legal permission to be in the drain or not, at the moment they have NO WAY OUT of the separator and if it fills right up, they’re fucked! There are no stepirons in the stainless steel separator plate, and apparently nothing in the way of an easily-lifted access/escape hatch.

I spoke to the environmentally-friendly, suit-wearing Pollutec rep droid about this at Ozwater/Ozwaste trade fair in May ’96. Got that glazed look in his eyes, like it had never crossed its mind that their legal arses could be on the line about this if negligence (in not providing a way out for a trapped person) in the event of a drowning, could be proven attributable to a CDS unit. Maybe it was my long hair, mirrorshades and black leather jacket, but I think in the best spirit of Melbourne-Water Manhole Welders, they’ve ignored me, and in so doing are not acting in the best interests of drain explorer safety… YOUR safety!

YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE! You may wish to raise this with Pollutec via:
No flames or abusive noise please!

The ones I have in mind are three-storey turbulence-inducing jobs at Hercules Pillars. These are on a slippery slope. What I tended to do to pass these was slide down and grab a pillar, then walk to the side of it and repeat the process.


Gaguing shaft depth. You can always carry a tape measure but a quick and easy method is to just drop a stone from the top and time the interval between the start of the fall until you hear impact noise from the bottom. It isn’t very accurate unless you are pretty quick with a stopwatch. A stone will do 9.8m in the first second,19.6 in the next, and 29.4 in the one after that, ignoring air resistance.


Tagging-up.Otherwise known as graffiti. We recommend the non-ozone-destroying aerosol paints available in hardware stores, since paint is absorbed well and we have found it stays a long time compared to artline textas. Charcoal is all but useless in drains, being washed off with the next flood. Crayon is ok.

The real advantages to spray paint are that it can write on the rough sufaces you commonly find in drains… textas lose their point very quickly. The other use for spraypaint is as an insecticide. I find this useful for clearing redback spiders from gutter grills; since there is never methane buildup in
these open-aired grill-boxes, you can safely convert your spraypaint to an impromptu flame thrower and nuke the little mothers. Dispose of your empty can in a responsible way, dont just flick it in the water. Puncture your can extensively to allow rapid natural oxidation after use if it looks like going to landfill.

The Clan tends to put the PO box address in the drains they explore, along with the handles of members present on the expedition, and the date… the wrong date. We sometimes date it so that we were supposedly in a drain a few days before we actually were, or a few days after.


Navigation.Don’t rely on maps, mostly they are old and they have been known to be notoriously unreliable, with bypasses and overflows and tributaries added to the drain long after the map was printed. Taking a compass is ok in some drains (rock, red brick and plastic) but round cement and precast reinforced sections have enough iron in them to yield completely erratic results (a compass needle will do a complete 540 degree donut in the space of 2 pipe sections in some cases) since these sections commonly have their own fields. Holding your torch next to your compass when taking a reading is also a good way to get a bad reading because the torch has its own field, generated by the current flowing through the torch itself.

As for getting lost, with the exception of Dungeon (with a 3D figure 8 space loop) and Maze (which has so many alternate routes it is all but impossible to memorise) this phenomenon is rare… mark your entrance manhole with some ribbon or spraypaint. If all else fails, remember that water always runs down hill and make a mental note of which way it was running when you first got in. Eventually you will end up at a beach or similar outlet if you continue down stream.


Drain lifeforms.Visible:
The megafauna (eels, spiders, rats, turtles, yabbies etc) are generally not a problem unless provoked. Redbacks and Funnelwebs are killers so either kill ’em or leave ’em alone. Eels get stroppy if stood upon so look out for them… eels seem to have a particular dislike of light sources, and will
attack submerged torches when not trying to hide. Rats will hear you coming and run away quickly, but will fight when cornered. Leeches are rare. You may find the odd snake in a 300mm side feeder or gutter box. You will sometimes find bats, birds and their nests. Large numbers of hibernating bats are sometimes found on the roof of drains. They will not attack you, just leave them alone. They will do their utmost not to fly into you.

Again, leave ’em alone. I have yet to see a saltwater crocodile in a drain but I wouldnt be surprised if such were found in Darwin, where the tides are huge (8 to 10m) and the crocs are plentiful. I could only suggest that you carry a pump action 12-gague with solid load shells, since crocs are fast,
powerful and vicious. They are also patient, and if you go up a shaft will probably wait for you to come down again. These dinosaurs have not lasted for as long as they have by being stupid.

If one night you are in a tidal drain and notice the water glows green around you, do not fret; it is not radioactive waste causing this (which usually glows blue, if you’re interested), rather a planktonic dinoflagellate called Noctiluca Scintillans. These bioluminesce (luciferin/luciferase oxidation)
when disturbed by physical shock, heat or electric current. They are pinkish and transparent and about 1mm across, and completely harmless. Typically bottom feeding fish also inhabit tidal drains, mullet particularly so… these will leap out of the water as you approach, and since they don’t fly very well are occasionally wont to hurtle from the water right into your face.

Generally it is the microscopic inhabitants which cause trouble. Drains carry significant amounts of sewer overflow, dog shit, rotting plant material and the occasional dead animal. Particularly after rain, drains contain elevated levels of sewer material, since the sewer is geared to overflow into the storm drainage system instead of bursting out ino the street where the population can see it and get ill from it. If cut in a drain, attend to it as soon as possible with ethanol or other disinfectant. Deep puncture wounds (stepping on nails, broken glass, etc) are open routes to clostridium tetanii (tetanus).

Faecal Escherichia coli bacterium is common… indeed, most of the waterborne pathogens and parasitic organisms are available to you, including things from the Pseudomonas family, the Vibrios, the Aerobacters, the Proteus group, Paracolobactrum, Salmonella, various Tubercelle bacilli… all of these are happy in water and use it as a transmission vector.

Those above are treated by antibiotics. Shigella tends to not show up, nor do Moraxellae, the bacteroides, and the putresing animal inhabitants like Sphaerophorus are uncommon. Strep and staph are unusual, though Clostridium Botulinum and Bifermentans are known to take aquatic vectors on occasion.

The viruses are another matter. These pathogens are generally rare in storm water, preferring aerosol vectors (expelled droplets). They use insects as their preferred mode of transmission. A somewhat newer player on the molecular scene is Ross River fever, which is a virus and carried by mosquitoes; the first case of this was reported in Sydney occurred in Jan 1995. Mozzies sometimes breed in stagnant patches of drain water so drain explorers, particularly those in the northern climes, are advised to get pre-treated for this too. Contact a pharmacist and your GP.

From the fungi and worm families, one finds the Ctenomyces interdigitalis (tinea) eumycete is uncommon, though the pathogens for ringworm and the favosan tinea dermatomycoses are present usually. Histoplasmosis is a fungi mainly obtained from pigeon shit dust which contains the spores… another reason why these pests are known as the rats of the air. It can become chronic and has permaturely ended lives of cavers, generally knocking the shit out of your lungs first, then ulcerating respiratory tract, including nose and ears, eventually going for bone marrow.

Protozoans are rare, the amebiasis and the Toxoplasmosis Gondii pathogens mainly reside in the sewer system. As for the elusive cryptosporidium… who knows. If it can get in your drinking water, you’ll probably find it in stormwater too, and if ingested this protozoan will cause diarrhoea and stomach cramps. Giardia is also occasionally found in stormwater.

Worms tend to use a snail vector which is not common to Australia. Many kinds of algal single-celled life exists but have never caused trouble.

In theory one could concievably get anything from a sewage overflow into a drain. Cuts are common when one falls over, and people have occasionally ingested runoff unintentionally. VERY nasty things are more common in sewers than stormwater: Leptospirosis, for instance, is contractable via the skin, and can live for 3 weeks in fresh water (but is killed relatively quickly in salt water). This little bastard, Leptospiria icterohaemorragiae, will kill you in a week or so, if not kick the shit out of your liver and bugger your kidneys… Trouble is, it appears as a cold, rapidly degenrates into pneumonia, and then kills you due to fun things like hepatic failure. You have to smash it with antibiotics during its incubation period, after which time it is too late and you tend to die.

One never can tell when it will happen. To date no-one in the Clan’s 11 year history has died as a direct result of being in a drain, though some members have suffered physical damage at the hands (or feet) of the constabulary.We have had deaths through cerebral annuerism, suicide, motorbike and mountaineering accidents but our safety record is so far unparalled.

Thus I suggest prior immunization. I am immunised against meningococcal meningitis, typhoid, Hepatitis A, Polio, diptheria and tetanus, amongst other things. You can also take boot-to-armpit waders, however this may not be acceptible to followers of Catholicism who tend not to believe in barrier methods. They are a little constrictive but really do keep you dry, as I found when I was wearing them 6 hours a day working for a drain repair company.

Hey… are we professionals or what?


Catchment, tides, rain and what to do in a flood. Hopefully you will never need to use this info but I am putting it here since it may save your life. Prevention is certainly better than cure. Now then, all drains have what is known as a catchment, that is, the area where rain falls and eventually goes into a drain. Many drains have very, very large catchments and you can often tell this by their size – a general rule of thumb is that the bigger the drain, the bigger its catchment. When it rains over the main catchment of a drain, it takes a few minutes to actually get the system loaded with water… there are gutter pits to fill, roads to be wet and the like.

It is these few minutes which, when used appropriately, can make all the difference to the length of the rest of your life. A large catchment can dump a couple of megalitres of water into a drain in a few minutes. This and its entrained debris (wood planks, old refrigerators, bottles, etc) will travel down the drain with frightening speed… 50km/h and higher, you will be continually bashed around by the turbulence and totally powerless to grab anything at such a speed if it catches you. If you don’t drown you will die of  head injuries, blood loss, punctured lungs, internal organ damage, or all of the above.

The last thing you want is to inflict the responsibility of rescue upon some poor SES member or fireman who really doesn’t need to risk his life getting you out. To jeopardise the lives of such people is selfish and stupid. So, don’t permit yourself to relax so much underground that you fail to heed the
signs of impending disaster and get into a situation you cannot control.


Rain and the legendary flash flood. The media and authorities point to the alliterative “flash flood’ phenomenon quite a lot. Flash flooding – flooding without warning – is bullshit. It does NOT happen. You have between two and four minutes to get out, up a shaft or on a high ledge before the system is primed… IF you know how to read the signals and don’t mess about getting to high ground. You can generally tell if the drain you’re in has ever flooded to the top, look for polystyrene bits stuck to the roof or bits of plastic and stick protruding from high stepirons or joints in the pipe or walls.

Ok, so you’re up a drain and notice the side tunnel flow increasing a bit. Check the water. Is it dirty? Is it cold? Is it oily? If yes, it is likely to be raining and you’re in something far worse than deep shit if you don’t do something about it. If you’re unsure, assume rain… underground it is a case of the quick and the dead. You will occasionally get false alarms, like the time we were in the Tank Stream, and a pipe started pissing out water, and stopped 30 seconds later. We later determined that this was a council street sweeper truck spraying water into a drain then moving on.

First thing to do is keep cool and rational, don’t panic. You are in control. Then leave in a hurry. What if you’re 2km from the entrance? Well, use your brain. Water heads for the lowest point… so go to the nearest, preferably downstream manhole shaft and climb up it, and wait for the flood to scream by below you. You need not pop the cover, just stay in the shaft, and climb higher than any `bathtub ring’ of polystyrene balls and dead grass you see on the shaft wall. Be warned, you may be up there a long time before the raging torrent desists. It will be loud and frightening, but breathe calmly, conserve your airspace.

If there is a protruding wall and you can’t get up a shaft in time, get in close to the downstream side of that wall. This is not very safe but it is better than standing in the path of the oncoming maelstrom. Hanging from a grill is not so good either, you will be dumped on (and may lose your grip) but that might be better than being flushed a few km at high speed. Staying out of the flow is mega-priority… nothing can ruin your day like a derelict 44 gallon drum in the back of the head, and there are nastier things in the feeder canals than old 44 gallon drums; roofing beams, bits of rail track,
shopping trolleys. The flow smashes them all along and they are lethal.

Another approach in the tidal drains is to get in the tidal water. This water represents a momentum buffer to all the junk in the drain, and it tends to slow the current down, but only a little. You wind up getting pushed out into a harbour or bay or mangrove, wet and dirty but generally unscathed, though you might be significantly abraded by the barnacles and other encrusting organisms (molluscs, bryozoans, etc) which tend to live on the walls in the intertidal zone. You need to be at least as deep in the tidal water as the depth of the oncoming flood to get any protection.

Other things to notice: when a drain is filling up, the air currents change, as does the noise level. A quiet drain soon gets noisy as the side tunnels and drop junctions start dumping into the main canal. When lots of water goes into a drain, the air is displaced, and you notice big gusts of wind… this
is particularly true if the roads were hot when the rain landed on them; the warm water goes into the drain, heats the air above it, which expands, pushing cold air out in front of it. All these are warning signals that a lot of fast moving H2O is coming your way in a hurry, and that you should get out of its way.

Anecdote: A friend and I were in a drain with a large, far away catchment.We got in and rode bikes about 400m up the tunnel. I noticed the wind change and told my mate to stop. He stopped. I said “Funny, you don’t generally get this sort of air movement in here. I think we’d better go.” I turned my bike around and the gust increased, becoming warmer. My mate looked reluctant, but I hopped on. “We,” I said “are getting the fuck out of here. Right now.” which we did, reaching the exit in maybe two minutes. We tossed our bikes out of the canal and climbed out. We sat on the edge for maybe a minute before the flow reached the exit we had just stood in. First a leaf-strewn fan of street refuse on dark water, then a spume of floodwater the best part of a metre high thundered around the corner and out of the tunnel. We looked at each other without saying anything as the juggernaut spewed by below our view. A beer keg clanged by us, as did a rapidly disintegrating television set (they float!). Nearby were some broken concrete sections. My friend and I both strained hard to manoevre a slab of the stuff to the lip of the tunnel, and it dropped in with a loud `sploof’. We waited for the flood to subside. We looked where the maybe 60kg of reo-cement fell in and there was no trace of it bar a dent in the canal floor. Amazed, I then decided to find out where the flood came from. Riding fast upstream on the road by the canal,  I ended up at a sharply-defined boundary where the road was dry and suddenly wet…the cloudburst boundary. I was 3km from where we hopped out of the drain.


Tide-lockAnother hassle one experiences is tide-lock. That is, being up a tidal drain which you entered when the tide was down and rising, to find that when you goto leave by this route, the water is up and the roof disappears underwater. This is an avoidable problem, many boating shops and marine equipment supply places give out tide charts for free and there is a Dial-a-Tide service on the telephone. We advise you not to try roof-sniffing in order to leave, since wave action can suddenly deprive you of air. An emergency method of leaving if you have a lilo is to breathe from it, as you drag it along downstream as you walk underwater to the exit, though this is a tricky procedure and you will have limited vision, not to mention a lot of drag from the lilo against the roof, as you do it. You will need to use both hands to prevent water going up your nose as you go along, and the water pressure on the lilo will force it to ‘blow’ into you as it deflates and you breathe from it. Only do this if you know how far you have to go. The lilo will go skyward when no longer confined by a roof; dont let it go – plug it if you can and use it as a buoyancy aid. You can commonly get 50 or 60 lungfulls of rubbery-smelling air by doing this. We don’t recommend it. Tides in Sydney are just over 2.4m at High Astronomical Tide (the December king tide).


>The basic rules of drain exploring.

  1. When it rains, no drains. Check the skies, get a weather report. DO it!
  2. Always go in numbers (3 is good, 5 gets a bit crowde*d).
  3. Tell a third party where you are going. Preferably not the cops, they are more concerned about putting you in the slammer than keeping you alive.
  4. Take a spare torch.
  5. All of the above.


Packing list for expeditions.Basic:-

  • Main torch/head light.
  • Second torch.
  • Penlight.
  • Spares for above:-
    • Batteries.
    • Bulbs (pref. inside torches)
  • In plastic bag:-
    • Candles, matches, lighter.
  • Compass.
  • Backpack (dark, cheap).
  • Munchies (chocolate, etc)
  • Maps:-
    • UBD/Gregorys
    • Topo
    • Drain maps
    • CC drain list.
  • Clipboard.
  • Note paper.
  • Pens.

Photographic (in plastic bag):-

  • Camera.
  • Flash.
  • Slave flash(s).
  • Spare batteries, film.


  • Black felt pen.
  • Crayon.
  • Spraycan. (Works on concrete)

Misc Gear:-

  • Probing wire.
  • Chisel and mallet.
  • Shovel.
  • Crowbar.
  • Hacksaw/Bowsaw & spare blades.
  • Bolt cutters.
  • Manhole hooks.
  • Jacks.
  • Misc:- Pliers, screwdrivers, socket set, etc

Climbing gear:-

  • Rope.
  • Dumars.
  • etc.


  • Working clothes:- shorts, shirt, overalls, socks, old shoes.
  • Return clothes (in separate bag):-
    • Towel.
    • warm clothes (whole set).
    • shoes.
    • socks.
  • “Official” outfits:-
    • White/grey/blue overalls.
    • Reflective stripey vest.
    • Yellow rain gear.
    • Hard hat(s).
    • Work boots.
    • Clipboard.
  • Flight” clothes:-
    • Normal looking clothes to slip over grungy gear to allow inconspicuous exit from scene. Best kept in backpack.

Keep in bag in car at all times

  • Pack
  • Shirt
  • Pants, belt
  • Shorts
  • Torch
  • Pens
  • etc


Why go in drains?In life, you have a choice. You can stay in bed and take no risks, or you can go out and have a life which involves the taking of risks, telling of yarns, breaking various laws which restrict your freedom, finding out things of an unusual or interesting nature. Now, some people take drugs, some people watch TV, some people drive cars faster than the posted speed limit, some people get heavily into tupperware, some people play golf.

Since we find these things not very interesting, we explore drains. We like the dark, the wet, humid, earthy smell. We like the varying architecture. We like the solitude. We like the acoustics, the wildlife, the things we find, the places we come up, the comments on the walls, the maze-like quality; the sneaky, sly subversiveness of being under a heavily-guarded Naval Supply base or under the Justice and Police Museum.

Drain exploring is cheap since, despite there being a $20000 fine (a bit harsh really) for doing it, it is almost never policed. We enjoy thumbing our noses at the petty bureaucrats and puerile legislators attempts to stop us going to the places where we go… places they built with our money. We like the controlled nature of the risks involved. We like the timelessness of a century-old tunnel, the darkness yawning before us, saying “Come, you know not what I hide within me.” We like the stupid looks we get when we mention it at cocktail parties. We like the sploosh sploosh sound when we walk through the waters. We like going where the bank tellers and council clerks and ticket officers at the SRA never go. We like telling the authorities that we are software programmers, analytical chemists, civil engineers, telecommunications specialists etc, when they ask. We like the whole thing and the pettiness of its illegality and poor public perception is beneath us and totally irrelevant. We are not stupid, we don’t like being protected from ourselves, it hurts no-one, we like it, so we do it. Hear us cry…Public access to Public works!!

Ok, now the boring bit. Cave Clan is not responsible for actions arising out of anyone reading this .DOC or any other files in this .ZIP or other archive. Lawyers: be smitten. Cops: rack off and bust people for real crime, like child molestation and logging the old growth forests. As for Eveready: well, if you made a good product I wouldn’t complain about it, so don’t whinge, fix it! Companies and organisations mentioned herein probably don’t condone Cave Clan. This file written under the freedom of the (key)press and the freedom of information act (which is purported to exist in Australia but really doesn’t) by <Predator> 1995. Updated and revised 1996. Conversion to HTML by Trioxide. Censorship be fucked forever.

A Cave Clan Sydney production



“Sydneysider” is the term used to describe one born in Sydney, capital of the Australian state of New South Wales, or one who regards Sydney his home.

Someone who was born in New South Wales or regards New South Wales his home is a New South Welshman, although this term is not in common use.

Someone who was born or lives in Melbourne is a Melburnian (also Melbournian) and those born or who live in Victoria, of which Melbourne is the state capital, are Victorians.

New South Welshmen sometimes refer to Victorians as “Mexicans” since they live south of the border.

The history of the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge

When the Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened by the Premier of New South Wales, Mr Jack Lang on the 19th March 1932, the Harbour Bridge was one of the greatest engineering masterpieces of its time. Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) had an impressive and instantly famous landmark made in a style that reflects the end of an industrial era.The bridge joined the city of Sydney (at Dawes Point) to the North Shore (at Milsons Point) obviating the need to travel by ferry or make a substantial trip around the harbour foreshores towards Parramatta and back.

As early as 1815 Francis Greenway proposed the building of a bridge from Dawes Point to the northern shore of Port Jackson, to Governor Macquarie.

Many years were to pass before the vision became a reality. Around the time of Federation there was a well-recognised need for a bridge crossing and design submissions were invited in 1900, all were deemed inappropriate or unsatisfactory for one reason or another and the momentum lapsed.

Serious initiatives started after the end of World War I. Tenders were called for in 1923 either an arch or a cantilever bridge would meet the requirements. Dr J.J.C. Bradfield was responsible for setting the parameters of the tendering process. He and his staff were to ultimately oversee the entire bridge design and building process. The Bradfield Highway, which is the paved section of the bridge and its approaches, still bears his name to this day.

The tender of Dorman Long and Co. Ltd., of Middlesborough England for an arch bridge was accepted. The Dorman Long and Co’s Consulting Engineer, Sir Ralph Freeman, carried out the detailed design of the bridge. The design was similar to New York’s Hell Gate Bridge built 1916. The Hell Gate Bridge was a little shorter in span but was much lighter in construction as it only carried four railway tracks.

Work first began on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1924, with construction of the bridge approaches and the approach spans. As many as 800 families living in its path were displaced without compensation.

During this time the foundations on either side of the harbour were prepared to take four steel thrust bearings. The foundations, which are 12 metres (39 feet) deep, are set in sandstone. Anchoring tunnels are 36 metres (118 feet) long and dug into the bedrock at each end. Large bolts and nuts are used to tie the thrust bearings onto their supports.It is interesting to note that the four pylons are actually placed mainly for aesthetic reasons on each corner of the bridge. The pylons are about 90 metres above the average water level. The Sydney Harbour Bridge design had to perform functionally and be pleasing to the eye as well. The pylons are made of concrete that is covered by grey granite from Moruya on the south coast of New South Wales.

When the bridge was constructed the use of reinforced concrete was in its infancy. Today the Harbour Bridge ranks second or third in the world in terms of span but it is still considered to be the greatest of its type in the world because of its load bearing capacity and width of nearly 50 metres. Known locally as the ‘coat hanger’ and now more commonly as ‘the bridge’, the bridge was manufactured in sections on a site on the western side of Milsons Point. About eighty percent of the steel came from England while the remaining twenty percent was manufactured here in Australia. The construction of the arch was begun from both sides of the harbour with cable support for the arches. In 1930 the two arches met. The construction of the deck then proceeded from the middle outwards towards each shore as this was easier than moving the construction cranes back to the Pylons.In 1932, when the Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened, it was the longest single span steel arch bridge in the world. The main span is 503 meters (1,650 feet) across it consumed more than 52,800 tonnes of silicon based steel trusses. The plates of steel are held together by around 6 million steel rivets. It originally carried road transport, trains and pedestrians. From start to finish, the bridge and its approaches it took eight years to complete. This included a period of maintenance that extended for a six months after the opening. Maintenance after the completion became and still is, the responsibility of the New South Wales State Government.

The two eastern lanes were originally tram tracks . They were converted when Sydney abolished its trams in the 1950s. Today it carries eight traffic lanes and two railroad lines. One of the eastern lanes is now a dedicated bus lane. The bridge is often crowded, and in 1992 the Harbour Tunnel was opened to help carry the traffic load. The traffic levels are were substantially reduced compared to the period before the tunnel opened.

In 1932, the original cost of the Bridge was several million Australian pounds. This debt was eventually paid off in 1988 but the toll was then used for maintenance.

Before the Harbour Bridge opened, it was completely packed with railway carriages, trams and buses to stress test its load bearing capacity. While it has had many traffic jams since and half a million people walked across it on its 50th anniversary it has probably never been asked to carry that much of a load since.

The initial toll charged for a car was 6 pence while a horse and rider was charged 3 pence. Today the toll costs $3.00 but is only charged when travelling to the South as an efficiency measure to speed up traffic flow. More than 160,000 vehicles cross the bridge each day, before the Harbour Tunnel was opened this figure was as high as 182,000 and would be much higher today if it were not for the Harbour Tunnel. Today the Sydney Harbour Bridge carries eight traffic lanes and two railroad lines. There is a pedestrian pathway on the eastern side of the bridge and a cycleway on the western side of the bridge. Pedestrians, horses and push bikes are not allowed on the bridge roadways. The roadway is about 51 meters above the water while the highest point of the arch is 135 meters above the average harbour water level.Located in the south-eastern pylon (overlooking Circular Quay) is a lookout with 360 degree views and museum covering the history of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. There are about 200 steps to get to the top but the views are some of the best in Sydney.

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