Monday, December 27, 2010

Darlinghurst: Reader Story: Stephen Hickmott and the Secret Tunnels

Marist Brothers College Class of 1965

A wonderful story of a boy's own adventure in 1960s Darlinghurst, by reader Stephen Hickmott (front row, last on the right), now aged 59 and living in Tasmania.

I was raised from a baby in a little house in Darlinghurst, on the opposite side of the Green Park Hotel, in Liverpool Street, just up from the corner. I went to Darlinghurst Public School through the years, up until 5th class, when I changed to the Marist Brothers College, on the corner of Liverpool and Darley streets. 

The former Marist Brother College, now the Alexandra Flats.

When I was about five we moved to the downstairs of a terrace house at 96 Surrey Street, which had a massive backyard. We stayed there from about 1955 to 1970, but my father remained there for another ten years.  My old man was a merchant seaman and later drove Green Cabs. 

96 Surrey Street.

The thing I would love to see again one day is a secret probably not many folks know about: the secret passageways that belonged to the old Darlinghurst Gaol. 
The passageways were beneath the Marist Brothers College and the manholes, or entrances to them, were boarded up after the brothers set a trap and caught me another fellow down there. 
You had to go down and along, crawling on your belly, into a small cell, only 3 feet high, which had shackles on its walls.
There was one entrance to the tunnels under the staircase in the school, which at the time was a broom closet, and there was another entryway in a room the brothers’ used briefly for music lessons. We found yet another entrance in the house where the brothers lived - when we accidentally emerged from the tunnel in to their residence. 

We first discovered the tunnels one day in 1968 when we got in to trouble and the brother told us to go and get the biggest cane in the school. As we were always getting into strife we looked ‘’everywhere’’, but of course never went into the other classes to get one.
While we happened to be looking around we opened the broom cupboard and there was a 20 feet long cane with a chimney sweep on it - we decided this was the one.
But as we were getting it out, we noticed a crack in the floorboards, so we lifted them up and discovered a tunnel down in to the dark . . . we put the floorboards back and decided to return later.
We opened the classroom door and started feeding the cane in. After about 15 feet went through, the class was laughing, but the brother jumped up and turned red and spat the dummy. He screamed ‘’Next door! Get a cane!’’. He didn’t see the funny side of it at all.
We got six each and detention for a month. 

About a week later we went back and started investigating the tunnels with a torch.
The tunnels were about 2 feet wide and made of lime and there were small rooms about 8 feet wide with shackles on the wall. I guess it was solitary confinement to the max.
We would mainly access the tunnel through one of the manholes that was in the art class, which was taught by a teacher and not a brother, meaning we could get away during the class by going down the floor under the desk.
We would usually turn our pants and shirts inside-out because we’d be white as soon as we came out, and then we’d turn them back around so it wasn’t noticeable.
This one time, we didn’t bother turning our uniforms inside-out because the old teacher had a 2-hour class and we thought we’d have plenty of time to clean up.
But someone – one of the teacher’s pets – went and told the headmaster we had gone underground, so he turned up with the other brothers to look for us.
We had made our way back to the art class by then and when we got near the entrance we heard the brothers calling to us to come out. They didn’t sound very happy about it either.
After a 15-minute stand-off they got a hammer and nails and threatened to nail us in, which they proceeded to do. 

Rear view of the old college.

We headed back to the broom cupboard exit to escape, but before we could get out the brothers realised they had been outsmarted so a general assembly in the yard was called.
We slipped out of the cupboard and joined in with all the other classes coming down the stairs from level one and two.
In the yard I was in the second row back, and the headmaster walked up each row. We stood out something shocking, covered in white. As the headmaster went past me, he said, ‘’Out!’’ and then he also got my mate up in the back row.
I received six cuts of the cane on each hand. And detention. Which was actually pretty bad because you had to stay until 4.30pm and that made the day really long. 
Ten years ago I moved down to Tasmania, where I grow cherry trees. I have many great memories of climbing all over the Cross on roofs and riding our billy-carts down Bayswater Road, and I would love to come back and explore the tunnels again.

NEXT WEEK: Violet Investigates the Secret Tunnels. 


Anonymous said...

Great memories Steve ... i got some of that 'tunnel dirt' on my uniform as well. Contact me at ''.

Greg Poole

Rascal Pants said...

Hey Violet,

I can show you some interesting tunnels underneath Darlinghurst. I work on Victoria St & I love, love, love Secret Tunnels and would like to join you on a Violet Tingle adventure.

Love your blog!

Violet Tingle said...

Yes, please! Tunnel adventures! Email me:

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I was working in the old darlinghurst Goal today with some plumbers ( me the excavator operator ) we were there to fix a blocked sewer main which was 5 m deep not far from the main entrance were people we're hung . As I got about 3 m down I started to hit the side of some very large lime & sandstone  boulders . I noticed that they had been carved & wonder why they were so far down .. It wasn't till later when one of the plumbers were standing in the 5 m deep hole that he noticed a gap in the sand stone blocks that were now at his eye level  just bigger enough to fit your fist threw I must have moved one out of place with the machine when I was digging, when he looked in he told me I better go grab a torch from his van & come check it out .. I looked in I saw exactly what you described about the tunnels .. 3 foot wide limestone walls as far as the torch would shine going off in to parts which could be those cells you were also talking about , it's was just really us working there in a fenced off area with no one to tell us what it was & up till I read your blog I thought it may have been some kind of really old storm water drain so thanks for shedding some light on it .. I'll take some photos tomorrow & try post some up . Jay bewley

Violet Tingle said...

Jay! Do send me some pictures! You may have redsicovered the Secret Tunnels!

Anonymous said...

How do I post them up ?

Anonymous said...

Hey violet I sent you some photos to your email address if you could try post then up for Stephen to see would be good thanks .. If I can tomorrow I might try crawl up the tunnel to where I can see it gets bigger & hoopfully find some of the rooms Stephen was talking about I'd like to see if the shackles are still hanging off the walls .Jay

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,
Haven't seen and heard from you since 1967. Caught your story about the tunnels at the old MBHSD. Hope you remember Mick Zammit. My contact email is and it would be great to hear from you.

George Boyatzis said...

Hi Steve. I was in the same class as you and you brought back good memories especially about the billy cart runs down bayswater rd. at times there would be maybe around 6 billy carts lined up 1 behind the other and a long rope would be held by all the carters and the last rider would always run wider as we carriered around that sweeping left hander heading to St.Kanasas sometimes hitting the elec/light pole on the kerb.

Anonymous said...


Don't know if you would remember me but I left in 1964,Brother Norman was the Boss.

I remember various Brothers including Brothers Peter,Columbus and Bonoventa.

I have been reminded of my days at Darlo whilst reading a book titled "the truth about my fathers.


Anonymous said...

Re previous post my name is Ken Breakspear.

James Paterson said...

The only problem with your story is that the school closed its doors in 1968, and at the time there were only two classes left, 6th form and 4th form. I can see my brother in the photo of the boys in your blog, he was in the class above me and he left in 1967 in forth form.

James Paterson

Michael Babarovich said...

Michael Babarovich.
Steven Hickmott brother of Jackie and son of Charlie who religiously bent his elbow with my dad Tony Bavarovich every night at the Green Park Hotel while I sat on the steps outside drinking my lemon squash and eating my bag os chips compliments of Mrs Mac the publican.I also remember working on your panel van steven after it had been twice around the clock as you travelled Australia and surfed.FJ holden panel van from memory.I'm sure you also drove your dads cab for a while around that time.My daughter who is 17 just found this blog while searching for info about my past.If yourself or anyone else from the day wishes to then please send me an addy on facebook.