There are plans to re-open the old tunnel to visitors.
Construction of the now disused Glenbrook railway tunnel began in 1891. It was opened the following year.
Artist Arthur Streeton, then just 24, had been living at Glenbrook for several months in 1891. His time was spent painting and sketching in the area and following the progress of work at the tunnel. He described the construction in a letter to fellow artist Frederick McCubbin.
Blasting was carried out in a set routine. Four holes were drilled in the shape of a square and charged with gunpowder. The top two were very deep, at over two metres. The lower two were about a metre deep. Then, a much shallower fifth hole was drilled in the centre of the square and packed with dynamite….this was known as the ‘pop hole’, meant to be fired last.
It was twenty six year old Edward Brown’s job to light the fuses. He was considered a competent and careful worker, but inexplicably made a fatal mistake. For some reason he lit two of the deep charges, but then the shallow ‘pop hole’, which exploded while he was stooping to light the remaining fuses.
Brown was killed instantly. He was found face down, a two hundred weight rock pinning one of his arms. Arthur Streeton was present when the man was carried out, and was profoundly affected by the sight. Describing the day in another letter to McCubbin he wrote;
The tragedy inspired one of Streeton’s most famous works, Fire’s On!. It was named for the warning call sounded before a blast in the tunnel. The harsh landscape dominates the painting, with human figures appearing as ant-like workers. Spillage from a dray leads the eye down to the human drama being played out.
Detail from the painting showing Edward Brown’s body being removed from the tunnel.
The painting is held in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.