It’s dark in here. All I can see are some dancing lights ahead with the sound of water splashing as footsteps come towards me.
We are walking in a long dark tunnel carved through the Napier range by the waters of Tunnel Creek. I am barefoot, feeling the crunchy coarse sand and cool water on my skin. I begin to make out the shapes of the people ahead as they splash through the water towards us. The walls of the cave are ochre red and white. Stalactites hang down and create amazing shapes in the shadows of the torchlight. All is pitch dark except where the torches flash.
It’s impossible to see the depth of the water in this light and we are cautious as we step into a dark deep pool of water ahead. It’s quickly up to, and then over my knees. I hope there are no freshwater crocs in here. We walk on.
We hear water falling into the creek to our left and point the torchlight that way to find a small waterfall where the creek water falls in a bubbling curtain over a marble white overhang. We watch for a while. Maybe that’s the head of a croc lying under the waterfall? No, no, it’s just a stick throwing strange shadows.
The tunnel is about 750 metres long. The ground is rocky in places and I wish I had waterproof shoes to protect me from the sharp edges and uneven surface of the creek’s course.
Splash, splash. We turn a corner and fierce bright sunlight pours through the end of the tunnel ahead. Clambering out, squinting in the light we walk under the shade of palms and blood woods. Howard calls and we look up to see him peering down from a limestone overhang above. “Up here. Rock art!”.
Indigenous people have used this tunnel for centuries. But there’s a more recent story that conjures up ghosts as we walk back through the darkness.
This tunnel is said to have been the hiding place of an aboriginal man known as Jindamarra, nicknamed Pigeon. He appears to have been a kind of black Ned Kelly, an indigenous outlaw.
Working for the police as a tracker, he is asked to round up men from his own people. He does as asked, but then relents, kills the accompanying policeman and sets his compatriots free. They run off with him and the gang hide in this mountain range for 3 years, raiding the local area for food and some say leading an armed insurrection against the police. He becomes a hero to his people, who believe he has supernatural powers to avoid capture for so long. The police are desperate to catch him, as a rebel, for killing their own, and as a turncoat who they had once trusted.
Eventually they find their man, and he is injured in a shootout. He hides in Tunnel Creek to nurse his wounds, there they track him down and he is killed.
Wading back though the water with our 21 century torches, this tunnel is still daunting. What a hiding place it must have been. How deep into the tunnel in the dark did he hide? How did his hunters discover him there? What shouts and cries reverberated around this place? Like all the best stories, many questions are left unanswered and so to our active imaginations.
We reach the stone waterfall. Halfway back. The torch shines under the overhang. That stick? It’s gone. It was a croc after all! Splish, splash we hurry out towards the safety of the daylight ahead. The story of Pigeon and the darkness of the tunnel lingering in our minds.