Looking for the Cave Clan in Melbourne’s ANZAC Drain

, , ,

When I visited Australia it was pure drain tourism. I was heading down under to check out the ANZAC Drain, and other Cave Clan hangouts. The city of Melbourne might be best known for its parks and beaches, colourful street art and glittering modern architecture… but for me, nothing could have been more exciting than the chance to explore Melbourne’s famous labyrinth of drains.

Like many of the big Australian cities, Melbourne is built on top of an intricate system of storm drains designed to redirect or contain the flow of natural streams. The result is a breathtaking series of tunnels and corridors, stairwells, waterfalls and vast subterranean chambers.

I was intent on discovering this hidden world for myself, and I decided to start by looking for the ANZAC Drain: a spacious storm drain in the city centre, which serves as a kind of clubhouse for the local Cave Clan.

 

The Cave Clan

Clannies_by_PTC
“Clannies” by PTC on Deviant Art

Founded in 1986 by a trio of Melbourne teenagers, the Cave Clan has since grown to become the world’s largest organisation of urban explorers.

To date the Cave Clan have charted storm drains right across Australia, in addition to natural caves, mines, old fortresses and a wealth of abandoned buildings. While members of the Clan come from all walks of life, the organisation is famously secretive.

I first tried to contact the Cave Clan several months ago, through their official website, but had no response. Next I attempted to sign up for an account on the Cave Clan forum, but my request failed.

It wasn’t until I left Australia that I would hear back from them – but for now at least, it looked like I would be going in solo.

Luckily for me, the ANZAC Drain wasn’t difficult to find; and so, a couple of days after arriving in Australia I donned my headlamp, strapped on a pair of disposable trainers, and waded into the musty darkness of the drain.

 

ANZAC Drain

It’s a local tradition that whoever discovers a ‘new’ drain has the right to name it. The ANZAC Drain was so named because it was discovered by the Clan on ANZAC Day; the 25th April celebration which recognises the wartime efforts of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.

This particular drain was constructed in 1910. It had once been a natural stream, but as the surrounding area became increasingly urbanised this flood-prone tributary proved to be problematic. So, as Melbourne developed the water was forced underground; to be built over and in time forgotten by the majority of the city’s inhabitants.

 
Cave Clan clubhouse inside the Anzac Drain

 
Cave Clan clubhouse inside the Anzac Drain Cave Clan clubhouse inside the Anzac Drain

 

Stepping inside the drain at its outflow, the red brick tunnel disappears back beneath the river bank. After the first 200m or so, reinforced concrete appears as the drain passes beneath a main road; here the tunnel rumbles from the sound of heavy traffic above. When the concrete isn’t ringing with the echoes of engines, the still of the underground is punctuated by the regular chirping of crickets and constant dripping water. The walls are thick with spiderwebs, while cockroaches scuttle underfoot.

The names of clan members graffitied onto the passage walls give this place a sense of deep significance, and sets the tone as one approaches the hallowed meeting place. There were a few names I recognised… but many more that I didn’t.

A little further along, a painted sign reads: “TO THE CHAMBER. 38 METRES. CC.”

 

The Chamber

I had spotted the Chamber up ahead long before I knew what I was looking at. Natural light filters in from above, reflecting off the stream which follows a recessed path along the central gully. On either side of the brook, large, elevated platforms provide spacious seating areas.

Cave Clan clubhouse inside the Anzac DrainThe walls were covered with images – ranging from personal tags and signatures (including those left by visitors from other chapters of the Cave Clan), through to full scale murals. The standard of artistry ranged as broadly as the subject material – with a few of the pieces standing out from the rest as works of not inconsiderable artistic merit.

Painted above the lintel at the Chamber’s yawning entrance, a sign read: “CAVE CLAN WELCOMES YOU TO THE CHAMBER”.

The Chamber here in the ANZAC Drain serves as the venue for the Cave Clan’s annual awards ceremony: ‘The Clannies’. Held sometime each autumn at the end of the draining season (that’s spring, to anyone north of the equator), the Clannies celebrate the best and the worst of each year’s underground adventures.

There are awards presented for the “Best First Year Explorer”, “Best Drain”, and the dubiously titled, “Goes Furthest Up Drains”. The final award of the night is the “Gold Clannie” – a gold-painted bowling pin, awarded to the Clan member deemed to have put in the best performance of the year.

A large wall painting commemorated the unofficial sponsors of the event: Commonwealth Bank, Centrelink, Victoria Police, Melbourne Water and Victoria Bitter. On another wall, a painted grid provided a floor-to-ceiling guestbook for visitors to sign.

 
Cave Clan clubhouse inside the Anzac Drain

 
Cave Clan clubhouse inside the Anzac DrainCave Clan clubhouse inside the Anzac Drain

 
Cave Clan clubhouse inside the Anzac Drain

 

A bag in one corner was filled with unused tealight candles. Dripping wax stains on shelves and lintels around the chamber gave an idea how they might look, in use. Later, I’d even hear stories of projectors being dragged down to this drain, to screen films up on the walls inside.

From time to time the eerie silence was broken by the sound of footsteps from above. The Chamber’s only source of natural light filters through a set of outdoor steps, located somewhere in a public thoroughfare; occasionally a pedestrian would pass up or down the stairs, entirely oblivious to the yawning cavern directly beneath their feet.

Storm Drains in Melbourne, AustraliaBeneath the steps, the ANZAC Drain continued towards the source of the stream. A shallow passage disappeared beneath the lights, where the central gully spilled out from an enclosed tunnel. I walked a little way in to take a look.

Stooping beneath the low concrete ceiling, the stale-smelling water was soon washing up around my knees. The passage split into two narrow pipes, their ends disappearing in darkness.

Judging by the thick cobwebs and relative lack of graffiti, it was clear that Clan members rarely travelled further along the ANZAC Drain than this main chamber. These roach infested tunnels could only get smaller from here, so I decided against venturing any further.

As I finally made to leave the Chamber, I spotted a memorial high on one wall. Dedicated to the Big Drain Posse, were a series of painted tombstones naming deceased members of the Clan. While many of the names were strangers to me, there were a few that caught my eye… such as founder of the Sydney Clan, Michael “Predator” Carlton (1971-2004) and Canadian urban exploration guru, Jeff “Ninjalicious” Chapman (1973-2005).

The ANZAC Drain might host all the best Cave Clan parties, but it is only one very small fraction of their domain. Beneath Melbourne alone, there are more than 150 storm drains – and many of them are considerably harder to access than the Chamber. Just take a look at the Maze Drain, and see for yourself.

 
Storm Drains in Melbourne, Australia

 
Storm Drains in Melbourne, Australia

 
Storm Drains in Melbourne, Australia

 
Storm Drains in Melbourne, Australia

 
Storm Drains in Melbourne, Australia

 
ANZAC Drain, MelbourneANZAC Drain, Melbourne

 
ANZAC Drain, MelbourneANZAC Drain, Melbourne

 
ANZAC Drain, Melbourne

 
ANZAC Drain, Melbourne

Support The Bohemian Blog on Patreon

The Exclusion Zone.

The Bohemian Blog is bigger than it looks. In fact, there’s a whole restricted area hidden away behind the public pages… a space where patrons of the site can access exclusive content, book previews and private image galleries. It’s called The Exclusion Zone. Just sponsor me the equivalent of a cup of coffee for each new article I post, and I’ll send you the password. Check out my page on Patreon to find out more about the perks of getting involved.

Yugoslav Tour Banner

Post a comment

  1. we have a similar group called the underground mines of Victoria esb 2013 but tent to stay in the mines rather than drains or caves.

    • Interesting, I hadn’t heard of that group before. I’ve been getting more and more fascinated by mines lately – I might have to check some out on my next visit. Cheers!

  2. On this secret cave thing I know of a small group of troglodytes building a small petra/dmanhur cave temple in undisclosed location (I have been told it is 113.84km bearing 138deg from worlds end)

  3. Amazing article.
    I’m an Adelaide tunnels and have exhausted my travels in the limited tunnels of Adelaide.
    I’m heading to Melbourne to hopefully discover some nee tunnels.
    It’s good of you to remove too much location info from the public eye but if possible a *hint* on location even a suburb would go very appreciated, of course if your hint helps me find it you would get a mention in my tunneling photo blog.

    • Hey Rayven, thanks a lot for the kind words! I never made it over to Adelaide… guess I’m saving that for my next trip. If you’re running out of tunnels to explore though, Melbourne is just amazing. So many drains! Just walk along the River Yarra for a bit, and you’ll find dozens of entrances for yourself.

  4. This tunnel has been posted up in public too often. Melbourne Water have now dammed the outlet so you need to wade through shin deep mud and syringe infested water.
    Great stuff everyone.

    • Hi Doug, I’m sorry to hear that. This article has been up for almost two years now, and I did run it past a few CC people before I posted to get a second opinion – no one had any concerns then, but I apologise if you feel it has since become a part of the growing publicity.

      I’ve just been back through the article and given it an edit – removing any exterior photos that might help to identify the place from outside, as well as deleting a few comments. I realise this won’t undo any damage that you feel has already been caused, but hopefully it’ll offer fewer clues to future readers.

  5. does anyone know whether the 2000$ fine is enforced at the location? like is the entrance monitored by police?

    • From what I’ve heard that fine is very rarely – if ever – enforced. I think it’s printed on signs more as a deterrent than anything else. I’m sure the police have better things to do than monitor the entrances to drains, but ultimately, that’s the law and if you break it there’s always a slim chance of it coming back to bite you.

  6. Hi Darmon, Love the post. Check out this site when you get a chance. Not spam, just a site of drain dwellers you may enjoy 🙂
    http://www.webring.org/l/rd?ring=draining;id=25;url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.angelfire.com%2Fok%2Fbunkerboyz%2Findex.html

    • Amazing! Thanks for the link. I’m hoping to get to Sydney next time, so this might turn out to be very handy. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  7. Found your calling card in The Chamber,

    I find it strange that your contact went unreplied, usually we’re quite accommodating for visiting explorers.

    Did you message Info@Caveclan.org?

    • Hi Hayden, glad to hear you found the card…

      I actually got a welcome email from Ath @ Cave Clan shortly after writing this post. Turned out he had been busy doing other things for a while, which just coincided with my visit.

      It’s a shame it didn’t work out this time, but I’ll definitely be in touch next time I’m in Melbourne!

  8. Great piece of writing.

    I ventured into ANZAC drain earlier today, but was driven out by the encroaching darkness.

    You might be interested to know that I found your calling card on the gangway under the Church Street Bridge.

    Well played, good sir. A true gentleman explorer indeed.

    • Thank you for the kind words – and I’m delighted to hear that you found the card! I was wondering who would pick it up, and whether I’d ever hear from them.

      Did you manage to avoid waking the pigeons?

See all 23 comments on “Looking for the Cave Clan in Melbourne’s ANZAC Drain”

More Urban Exploration

Postcards from Kupari: Visiting Croatia’s ‘Bay of Abandoned Hotels’

One afternoon, five abandoned Yugoslav-era hotels.

Read More

Kyiv’s Hidden Secrets

Exploring the tunnels, drains, lost places & underground rivers of the Ukrainian capital.

Read More

Urban Exploration in Saudi Arabia: An Interview with WATA

The risks and rewards of trespass in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Read More
House of Revolution at Nikšić, Montenegro (Marko Mušič, 1976-Unfinished).

Nikšić House of Revolution: Death & Rebirth in the Ruins of Yugoslavia

A visit to the abandoned Nikšić House of Revolution.

Read More

Climbing All Over the Massive Modernist Architecture of Cuba

Concrete and daiquiris on a tour of Havana's big, bold, brutalist beauties.

Read More

Nuclear Tourism: Exploring the Unfinished Chernobyl Reactors

Contemplating 'disaster tourism' inside Reactors 5 & 6 of the Chernobyl Power Plant.

Read More

Recommended Posts

The Soviet Legacy: Inside Cuba’s Unfinished Nuclear Power Station

Crabs, bats and communists, in Cuba's greatest Soviet souvenir.

Read More

What it’s Like to Spend 32 Hours in The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

Ghost towns, radiation & the ethics of ruin lust.

Read More

Hunting for Pokémon in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

Digital psychogeography & the gamification of dark tourism.

Read More

Encountering Haitian Vodou: Le Grand Cimetière of Port-au-Prince

I went looking for Haitian vodou… but amongst the rituals and refugees of the Grand Cemetery, I fo

Read More

MiGs, Stars & Magic Books: A Brief History of Trespassing in Moscow

An illustrated guide to urban exploration in the Russian capital.

Read More