A brand new train and train-line, with a newly completed viaduct and brand new tunnels in Belair in the newly founded colony of South Australia was quite the achievement. Although, the colony did not expect to see men standing around in the fields near Blackwood, wondering why their new shiny train could not make it up the steep incline, and so it was in 1833 when 200 of Adelaide's most proper gentleman were invited on the first trip of Adelaide’s new train line into the Adelaide Hills (As reported in the Observer March 17th 1833)
World War One broke out and the old “sleeps hill” line became a very important part of our War Communications and transport between States. Armed military guards were posted at either ends of the tunnels to stop any espionage attempts.
When the war ended in 1919, a new line was installed, and the railway lines were removed from the old tunnels (the last train ran through there on august 11th 1919). Instead the tunnels now served as a picnic and exploration area to many local people.
In 1932, an enterprising young man came up with the idea of using the tunnels to grow mushrooms. He removed the gravel floor and brought in tons of fresh dirt, and planted his first crop, looking to a bright future of all year round fresh mushrooms for South Australia.
However it wasn’t to be, as unforeseen causes saw his business take many blows. Firstly, an endless supply of unwanted brown snakes found their way into the warm dank tunnels. Then mould and fungus disease obliterated his crop...and to top it all off vandals broke in a destroyed what little he had left.
His mushroom dream finally ended after and outbreak of the fungus “Chatomium” spread throuhg his crop, a disease brought to South Australia from infected mushrooms from Herefordshire, England.
In 1938 – the old tunnels now stood empty once again.
In 1942, the Japanese bombed Darwin, and an outbreak of paranoid hysteria captured the South Australian governments minds. They decided the old Sleeps hills tunnels would be the perfect place to hide the States treasures and important documents.
Plans wee made, and the shorter of the two tunnels was soon overhauled with ventilation shafts, electric lighting, and thick brick walls at either end with heavy iron doors.
A Jarrah platform running 700ft and 18 inches high was installed running the full legth of the tunnel. Next the tunnel was divided in half down its width and dived into sections. A small hand cart was then used to place the States Treasures into their new homes.
Armed troops stood guard as endless trucks of treasures arrived to be unloaded and hidden from the Japanese Threat. War records on microfilm, Government X-rays, taxation documents and other Government papers were stored inside the tunnels alongside some of our most valuable art collections.
The Government spent a lot of money on this new storage facility, that housed not only our state treasure and documents, but also a Travelling painting of King George the VI, which happened to be in Australia at the time. Elaborate fire safe guards were installed and the facility was constantly monitored by the military for dampness, mould and pests.
The other tunnel played a lesser role and became storage for an arsenal of weapons and ammunition, it too was heavily guarded by our military.
The war ended, but this did not stop the military from using the 1st tunnel for the following few years.
There has long been rumour and innuendo that some of our treasures never made it back out of tunnel 1, but I am assured by a source I spoke to recently that everything was accounted for and returned to its proper place after the threat of war diminished.