Queensland History – Lahey’s Tramway Tunnel

Queensland history
Making Queensland history – Lahey’s Canungra Tramway Tunnel today

New Years Day, 1901:

A time when many were undoubtedly readjusting their frocks and putting away their party socks, a man known as ‘Mr Clark’ had just penetrated through 90 metres of solid sandstone in Canungra, southern Queensland. His aim was to create a tramway tunnel to transport timber to the nearby Lahey brothers’ sawmill, as other means were proving too costly and onerous with the expansion of business.

The timber industry was now sizzling in the small township of Canungra.

After some superb timber transport thinking, it was decided a narrow gauge track would be laid to match the Queensland Government Railway, so the two could connect later on (they did in 1914). In September 1903, the tunnel was in business. A Climax geared locomotive was imported from Ohio to tackle the steep inclines and heavy loads, which was followed by three Shay geared locomotives that operated right up until 1933.

Queensland history
Image taken in 1912 of a loaded locomotive approaching Lahey’s tunnel. Photo courtesy of the John Oxley Library – the State Library of Queensland

Built by the Lahey brothers, the line extended to 26 kilometres before the timber supply waned in the 1920s. In its day, Lahey’s tramway skirted wonderful scenery including waterfalls and lush ferns. Locals sat atop logs and hitched rides, as did children on their way to school and picnickers heading off on a day’s adventure. A small carriage was even built for dignitaries such as the Queensland governor and premier to experience the dense rainforest without getting their ties dirty.

The line was dismantled in 1935 and in WWII the tunnel was used to store ammunition for the nearby Kokoda Barracks in Canungra. Now known as Lahey’s Canungra Tramway Tunnel, the tunnel was officially reopened for pedestrian use in 2001 and in 2005 it was added to the Queensland Heritage Register.

Queensland history
The main entrance to Lahey’s Canungra Tramway Tunnel today

The town of Canungra, also called “Valley of the Owls”, owes its existence to its once thriving timber industry, which the tunnel (then widely known around Australia) was an integral part of. During its seemingly dormant years, Lahey’s tunnel has undoubtedly had some colourful visitors. One reader told me on Facebook just yesterday, I “even drove my Maverick through it before it was made into a tourist attraction.”

Queensland history
The tunnel’s far end

Two days ago:

I arrived at the tunnel a tad disappointed as I found out it is now fenced off for safety. Although I did have a good scout around, poking my nose into both ends where I experienced a nice breeze. To reach the non-signposted end, I climbed a hill and trekked through bushland, past some rubbish – a couch, some beer bottles – and an animal skull which I couldn’t place. Tell me if you can!

Queensland history

From this end I could imagine the tramway operating much more clearly. A wide path ran a short distance between bushland, strewn with the odd tire and some cans, and a makeshift fence covered the tunnel entrance. I stood and looked at graffiti on the wall and thought that just yesterday, almost, this place had clattered and banged with life.

Queensland history
The area at the tunnel’s far side

Upon returning, I had a passing chat to a council worker near the tunnel’s main entrance and she didn’t even know it was there. Lahey’s tunnel, it appears, is more of a monument than a tourist attraction.

Queensland history
The other side

One local even claims the iconic Australian TV series Skippy was “first ever” filmed in Lahey’s tunnel. You do know Skippy, right??? I could find no evidence to support this, although maybe Skippy – along with so many of life’s characters – once paid the old tunnel a visit.

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