Fact or fiction: Tunnels under Fitzmaurice Street divide city

Myth or truth: Cafe Sonder building owner Danny Russell wonders if two basement doors could be part of the Fitzmaurice Street tunnels.
Myth or truth: Cafe Sonder building owner Danny Russell wonders if two basement doors could be part of the Fitzmaurice Street tunnels.

The basement of a Fitzmaurice Street cafe could hold the key to one of Wagga’s greatest mysteries, or greatest conspiracies. 

Rumour has it there are a set of secret passageways beneath the north end of the city’s main street. 

The existence of legendary tunnels beneath the city’s main street has left its residents divided, with some believing entrances may still remain in tact. 

The mystery came to light when The Daily Advertiser last week investigated the history and legitimacy behind a number of Wagga myths.

But outside the feigned existence of the iconic five-o’clock wave, the so-called Murrumbidgee mud shark and the elusive Trevor Fosdyke, there is speculation the tunnels may have been real. 

Some say the Fitzmaurice Street tunnels would have been used by Chinese residents to traffic contraband around the settlement, during the gold rush. 

Wagga resident Tania Springfield said after reading up on local history and researching where she could, she began to think the myth could be real.  

“It has been told the tunnels run through the north end but do channel off,” Ms Springfield said. 

“The stories suggest the tunnel entrances are located under the Centrelink building, Saint Michael’s Catholic Church, the Masonic Hall and the old Tourist Hotel building.”

Ms Springfield’s curiosity was sparked after working and cleaning a basement in Fitzmaurice Street, that was home to two old, large and sealed wooden doors. 

Previously named the Former Tourist Hotel, the Cafe Sonder building is steeped in history, with bricks and mortar dating back more than a century. 

Building owner Danny Russell said he wanted to believe the mysterious basement doors held the secrets to the rumoured Chinese tunnels. 

“It could be a myth,” Mr Russell said. “It will just have to remain a mystery.”

Planning expert Susan Dickerson said if the tunnels were real, they would have been wood fortified and destroyed by floods, wood rot and woodworm years ago. She said the openings would be all that remained.

“According to history, a lot of Chinese had come into the area and they were adept at making tunnels,” Ms Dickerson said. “But by now they would have fallen in on themselves.”

CSU archivist Paul O’donnell said there was no documentary evidence to support the underground passageways existence, but that was not to say they had not been there. 

“You might find something in the 150 years worth of written records at council,” Mr O’Donnell said.“But you could go through tens-of-thousands of pages and you might not find anything anyway.”

He said there were people, like Patrick Byrnes, who were determined to believe the tunnels had been real. 

Mr Byrnes detailed the information he found in his book, Remember the 1980’s in Wagga Wagga. 

Despite Mr Byrnes being convinced of their existence, local historian John Winterbottom said the entire legend was based on conspiracy and not proven. 

“Council is confident there were never any tunnels at all,” Mr Winterbottom said. “They would have been built beside a river and full of water.”