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A disused railway tunnel, rumoured to have been frequented by Gold Coast bikies and clandestine groups, has been reclaimed by local residents and artists who are now fighting for its preservation.
Built in 1888, the Ernest Junction railway tunnel at Molendinar is a remnant of the South Coast railway line, which connected Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
Judith deBoer remembers catching the train when she was a young girl.
"I used to catch the train from Brisbane to Southport at Christmas time to visit my aunt and I realised it was through this tunnel," she said.
Five years ago she and her husband, Ted, were looking for a venue for a music concert and thought of the tunnel.
"We came out to take a look at it and it was ghastly," she said.
Both entrances were overgrown with lantana and the 110-metre tunnel was filled ankle deep with mud, empty spray cans, and rubbish.
Ms deBoer went to a heritage fair and asked for community help to clean up the tunnel.
"We had one Saturday morning work party fill truck, after truck, after truck and then Ted and I just kept going," she said.
The couple do a weekly rubbish run, mow the lawns and it has now become a community asset.
"The community thinks they own it now," Ms deBoer said.
The tunnel walls are lined with graffiti and the volunteer said locals and artists had reached a truce.
Spray painting is welcome as long as the messaging and the tunnel is kept clean.
"We always call them tunnel artists," Ms deBoer said.
"We don't refer to their work as graffiti and it's the only place on the Gold Coast, or I think in south-east Queensland, where they can actually create and not get into trouble.
"All creative endeavours are welcome. A lot of filming … wonderful stuff goes on here."
Photographer Ness Stretton used to ride her motocross bike through the tunnel as a child and now uses it as a backdrop for her photography.
"You can do things during the day that you can [usually] only do at night like steel wool spinning," she said.
"The university is using it for film practice now.
"I see a lot of independent photographers bringing models down here for photo shoots, which I never expected.
"The tunnel is alive at last now."
Tunnel historyThe South Coast rail line was used to transport people and goods until it was shut down in 1964.
Amateur historian, Peter Jones, said the tunnel was one of the last remnants of the railway line.
"There's only two main items left of the railway line — this [tunnel] and the Nerang Station — which is at the Mudgeeraba Museum and that's all that's left," he said.
He said the railway line was ripped up because the weight of the trains kept increasing beyond the engineering design of the tracks.
"They would have had to have rebuilt the whole line due to the engines getting heavier," Mr Jones said.
"The track was not designed that way."
Heritage protectionThe tunnel has been placed on the Gold Coast Heritage Register, but Judith deBoer, and a committed group of locals, now want it placed on the Queensland Heritage Register to give it another layer of protection from future development in Molendinar.
Divisional Councillor, Dawn Crichlow, said the tunnel had two owners and an agreement was needed.
"We had a problem before because it was half-owned by the council and half-owned by the state," she said.
"Now the state is happy to pass it over to the council and the council has supported the Heritage Register.
"I feel very confident."
The Friends of the Ernest Junction Tunnel are hoping the tunnel will be added to the Queensland Heritage Register by the middle of 2019.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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