September’s Guest of the Month takes us down under to find out more about what must be the biggest urbex crew in the world. This months special guest is one of Australia’s notorious underground explorers, Doug …
1. Hey Doug, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m from a place called Gippsland in Victoria, Australia, however I spent most of my exploring years in Melbourne and frequently visited most major Australian cities.
I kind of thought that when I moved down to Gippy with my partner, turned 40, purchased a house, had a kid, got married and then had another kid, that it would be the end of my exploring life.
#1 (done up for photo)
She’s not happy about what’s written on the door at this abandoned pub.
Luckily I have a VERY understanding wife and up until the birth of our second child I spent about four years checking out Gippsland and finding quite a few cool locations that none of the people I explore with knew about – good ones as well, such as: a couple of prisons, a 3km glow-worm tunnel where torches are not required (I hold an expo to the tunnel the day after The Clannies each year – the image below was taken during the walk to the inlet…
…dozens of mines, an abandoned school camp, disused towns (I live quite close to where most the power stations are in my state and the government has taken over some towns to extend their coal fields) and a river diversion pipe among other nice stuff.Click here to see a clip on the diversion pipe.
Me being a model for Curly in Gippy.
Glow Worm Tunnel (of course the glow-worms don’t show up in the photo)
Abandoned School Camp (Feat. Deathray Eyes the Draindog)
School Camp. Yours truly and victim.
I’ve been interested in exploring for as long as I can remember. I can recall dreaming of tunnels when I was 5 or 6. At primary school I heard there was a tunnel under the school, so I took to digging a hole under one of the portables in the school (with little success).
Once I was old enough to go off on my own I started trying to find people to explore with.
The first thing I explored was an old council depot/swimming pool in 1979.
2. Are you more a photographer that explores or an explorer that takes photos/videos?
I don’t have the patience for proper photography. I’m all for, “Everyone stand around that feature and I’ll take a group shot for Il Draino”. Il Draino is the Cave Clan newsletter/zine that I’ve been making… nearly forever… since 1988 or something.
There are way better photographers that I explore with, so the need for me to take photos nowadays is really a non-issue.
The group of people that I have explored with over the last 25 years or so are a really sociable group, so I would make these really dodgy video clips and have video nights. We recently had our third short film night so a lot of the clips I do now are for that.
I’m also currently trying to convert about 150 VHS tapes to digital and get it “out there” as I know I won’t be around forever so most of it will be lost once I become even older and grumpier.
So to answer your question, definitely 100% an explorer that takes photos and shoots videos.
3. What’s the most memorable explore you have done and why?
A simple one was when I was 16 and went for an 8-hour-ride on a hot summer’s day (and I mean Australian hot, not the Motherland type of hot) looking for potential locations and on the way home the creek I was following home disappeared. I was confused and then found the massive inlet where it headed underground.
I rode back flat-out to Woody & Sloth’s place (my exploring buddies) and told them about the tunnel. I was exhausted but I was so excited (you all know the feeling right?) that an hour later we were all peddling furiously on our way out to the tunnel. That night in bed I could not get that tunnel out of my head (you’ve all experienced that right?).
Doing the 14th District under Paris was a dream come true…
as was doing the tunnels that featured in The Third Man
When I first moved to Gippsland and I thought my exploring life was over, I got a tip off about a rock-blasted tunnel that was big enough to ride a motor-bike through. Generally every time I get a tip about a tunnel that someone went in as a kid, it ends up being half the height I was told, but nevertheless, the hunt was on. It took me about 5 visits and walking around rain-forests to finally find the tunnel. I was 17 again! And then when we finally got into the tunnel a few days later and there were hundreds of bats and hundreds of thousands of glow-worms. It was amazing! A 3km walk with just glow-worms to guide you (photos do it no justice… which is kind of a good thing because photos usually make places seem better that they actually are).
Depending on who I am with, I can really enjoy exploring the same-old-location that I’ve done 200 times… seeing people genuinely getting something out of the places you explore has been a real incentive for me.
4. You seem to be part of a large crew, can you tell us a bit about the Cave Clan?
Cave Clan is massive.
There are exploring groups all over the world and there have been explorers around way before Cave Clan (even in Australia we had The Drainiacs in the 60s – a way better name than Cave Clan), however Cave Clan was the first group to move and grow.
It started off on Australia Day (January, 26) 1986 in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. We’d travel to other parts of Melbourne and leave messages in drains showing how to get to our local drain, leave a meeting date and then hook up. We soon spread to all areas of Melbourne. Putting Message Bags (a plastic bag tide to ladders further up tunnels with some photos, details on other tunnels, and a cassette tape made by the Cave Clan) up in drains really helped us gain new members that usually had more locations that we could share. We then started putting up stickers with a PO Box on it, but we’d keep getting letters saying, “I’m a Nick Cave fan too” or “When are you having a Clan of The Cave Bear meeting next”. So we went to the media so people knew what we did (we are talking about much more innocent times… and Australia too).
In the early 90s we started going to other capital cities, putting stickers up all over the place that said things like, “Interested in tunnels other than caves then write to…”. (We actually got caught putting them up in Sydney by some cops who thought we were a Pro-Homosexual group).
A newer sticker.
Now there are branches of varying sizes in just about every Australian capital city (so if you are ever coming over, let me know because we can make your trip a lot easier, cheaper and fun) as well as members that spend a lot of time living and exploring around the world.
I see the Cave Clan as is an information gathering service. Nowadays the internet does that, but the Cave Clan is a great tool for all types of explorers – we explore just about ANYTHING nowadays (and have done so for about 20 years now), but the media tends to focus on drains – this clip that I put together is all taken from media clips on the Clan.
Most of the 50-plus clips in my IronFistDoug YouTube account are about Cave Clan and urban exploring or go to vimeo.com & search for IronFistDoug (if putting a location on YouTube puts it at risk then I don’t do it – I know that some people think I’m giving unwanted attention to what we do, but see my answer about the media on that one).
5. Your portfolio consists of lots of underground exploring – what’s the type of kit that you take with you?
Nothing against people that like to kit up, but I generally travel light. Up until about 2000 I would buy a throw away torch and bin it once I’d finished. I now wear a cap that has a built in light.
Of course there are times where we go with whatever gear is required (a boat maybe, or a video camera, climbing gear, etc) however the majority of expos are pretty straight forward – most of our tunnels you can just walk into so waders are pretty much non-existent downunder.
6. Do you have a place above ground that you would like to explore?
Battersea is a bit of a cliché so I better some up with something better.
There is so much stuff out there. Every time I see the Maunsell Sea Forts I get a bit excited.
7. What would you recommend for people looking to get into underground exploring?
Find someone with experience. Know the dangers – there are plenty, however you can easily control them if you are careful and don’t get complacent. Know that when you are in a drain that the pressure of a flood will kill you and the drain will spit you out like a rag doll.
Other than that, have fun.
8. The Cave Clan seems pretty infamous in Oz, how do the media take you guys?
I’ll keep this one quick, but answer it in two parts.
I love the stuff I’ve done with the media.
Putting that into context I mean that the Cave Clan gained so many amazing explorers that only found out about us through the media. Many of these new members had great locations and techniques that were new to the Clan. Readers would also send us letters telling us about tunnels and locations they had explored.
I was pretty careful with what I told them. I only did media interviews in locations that weren’t at risk and with experienced explorers who knew what to say and, more importantly, what not to say.
We took advantage of the media and it pretty much worked all the time – they did little annoying things, but mainly things that other people wouldn’t even notice.
Sydney had a couple of bad experiences that were basically because they were poorly organised.
The second part of the answer is that keep in mind the urban exploration hardly existed back in the 90s. Now we have the internet and the media plays second fiddle. Although since September 11 (Wow, I’m actually writing this on September 11) I think doing stuff with the wrong kind of media can be dangerous.
Most branches of the Cave Clan have a media ban of some level.
The funny thing, in my opinion, is that the issues that people don’t like the media being involved for (bringing unwanted attention to the scene, ruining locations, etc…) are really insignificant as the internet is doing all of that anyway.
So in closing – media bad.
This YouTube channel has about 30 Cave Clan TV and Student interviews as well as a few news snippets.
9. You seem to have a great laugh whilst exploring and don’t take yourself too seriously, what tips do you have for explorers to keep get maximum enjoyability?
Me, have fun??? Never!
I’m usually pretty serious when I’m doing stuff for the first time and while on locations where you can get into serious trouble, but because the Cave Clan has been around for so long, we have planned so many social functions and events because you can only explore that same shit so many times. We have two annual awards night called The Clannies (two hundred plus people attend each year)
Winner of the 2011 Kodak Moment by Critt.
The Golden Torch Awards in Sydney. We have Race Around The System which is a take off from The Amazing Race, The Cave Clan Short Film Festival (where the clips are projected on to the wall of a location)…
…The Tour Le Dungeon (a bike race though one of Australia’s longest drainage systems), Back To The Drains parties (pictured below)…
…Anniversaries, & Video Game Nights.
There are more, but I think you get the picture.
Having said all of that, we are also professional when required and despite what it looks like, we actually don’t damage or ruin locations.
10. What underground places do you have on your list to do ?
I’m too old/settled to travel exclusively for exploring, but if I get the chance I will check out G-Cans in Japan.
I got really close to doing the Sydney Telecommunications Tunnels once but after seeing the sign stating that the police have already been alerted, and that listed the types of alarms that are in the tunnels (infra red, ultrasonic etc…). If you look at a map of Sydney, well these tunnels ran under most of the streets, they had lunch rooms with vending machines in them, all kinds of cool stuff. Once upon a time you could just pop a manhole and walk through the tunnels (a friend of mine used to walk to the cinema with his girlfriend through these tunnels). A disgruntled ex-employee got the shits and cut all the micro-cables with the exception of the emergency numbers – the bastard spoilt it for everyone, but more importantly he spoilt it for me.
Like a lot us, I am obsessed with urban exploration – I don’t know how many dozens of times I have almost driven into a parked car as I’ve tried to make out a potential location. I suppose I’m unique in one way – I’m obsessed with the Cave Clan. To a lesser extent these days, but obsessed nonetheless.
11. Fosters or XXXX Gold?
Now you’re just being rude!
XXXX is mainly sold up north (Queensland) while Fosters… I don’t even think you can buy it any more – I’m pretty sure it’s only made for export. I know places like Bondi get stock in for the Poms, and you can buy it from places that sell imported beer, but yeah the most popular Cave Clan beer during the 1980’s and 90’s was VB (Victoria Bitter).
I drink Grolsch!
12. Who would you like to see interviewed as Guest of the Month?
From Australia – Scarecrow, Siologen & Dsankt.
Pip & Ath might be interesting – they’ve only been in the Clan for 5 years but they are really keen and a bit of a laugh – they are joined at the hip so you would need to do both at once.
A guy called Brewal that showed us around Paris was just about the nicest person I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, but I’m not even sure what his story is nowadays.
Big thanks to Doug for an awesome interview, you can check out more of Doug’s clips here.