The small idyllic town of Helensburgh, 45km south of Sydney, is home to several historic old train tunnels, including two that were abandoned when the railway line was duplicated in 1915. The most famous is the Metropolitan tunnel, home to a stunning colony of rare glow worms that light up the tunnel roof like the Milky Way on dark nights.
Very few people were lucky enough to know the location of the abandoned Helensburgh Tunnels, in fact, you could walk right past without even noticing, but in 2011, after the social media boom the often-spooky train tunnel became an instagrammers delight.
Attracting photographers of all genres, the tunnel is set upon by those searching for their little piece of Instafame, with no thought about the “imagery” they are creating and the destruction they leave in their wake. The NSW Department of Industry (Lands & Water) says “anti-social and dangerous behaviour was among the reasons why access to the Helensburgh tunnel had to be restricted and fenced off from the public” as reported in the Illawarra Mercury.
“The department also received reports of damage to heritage items on the platform, and there are concerns about the impact of light, noise and pollution on the glow worms in the tunnel,” Allan House, Helenburgh Landcare Group.
Fashion, Landscape and Urban photographers spinning steel wool, setting the old rails and tracks alight and lighting flares has led to complete devastation of the once thriving glow worm colony which has now been reduced to little more than a few hundred.
A brief snapshot of the problem currently facing Helensburgh.
So WHat Does it mean?
Light Painting, flares, smoke bombs and steel wool spinning are a hugely popular photography craze. Photographers of all ages are drawn to the art and create images all over the world. However, Helensburgh Tunnel is home to a rare species of glow worms and the result is a significant reduction, almost extermination of the species within the tunnel. The sparks created by steel wool and flares are hot enough to melt glass. The result was the cremation of a significant proportion of the glow worms colony throughout the tunnel. The video shows the spectacular nature of steel wool light painting, however imagine glow worms being hit by the sparks and flames! (please note: the video is NOT taken in the Helensburgh tunnel).
A urban fashion shoot and promo video as taken by Photographer Merryl Kemp, “The smoke from the flares and smoke bombs seen in the video (link below) lingered for days. The shoot impacted other visitors dramatically as they could not enter the tunnel as the smoke was too thick”.
Link to video on YOUTUBE
The Real Impact
The local community groups erected a fence at the Helensburgh Tunnel and officially it became closed to the public, however it would be opened at certain times. Bus loads of tourists flowed through the tunnel in the few hours I was at the location. The destruction inside the tunnel and burn marks was nothing like I had seen and were spread through the entire length of the tunnel, and fresh traces of accelerant lined the tracks.
Click images for captions and larger images (Lightbox)
the Before and After
Unfortunately the picturesque tunnel has been closed to the public (May 2018) due to ongoing issues with antisocial behaviour. The changes to the location in 2 short years is remarkable.
“I don’t know that I care about the glowworms, I mean i’m a small fish in the social media pond. All I care about is creating fresh content, my followers want me to push the boundaries on what is acceptable, and that gets me the most likes and engagement”.