Turn south off Goodwood Road as you pass Centennial Park Cemetery and you’ll climb through an unremarkable stretch of suburbia before reaching a dirt road that disappears into the grey box scrub backing onto Watiparinga Reserve. Beyond a gate lies a hidden treasure that vanishingly few living people have laid eyes upon, but that’s about to change this Fringe.

Dave Munro first heard about the Sleep’s Hill Tunnels at the turn of the millennium, when a neighbour mentioned that the lease was up for tender, and he immediately recognised that the site’s constant temperature would make it ideal for wine storage.

The Sleep’s Hill Tunnel entrance. Photo: supplied

Built in the late 19th century, the two tunnels were used by steam trains taking freight and passengers from Adelaide to Belair and onto Melbourne until 1914, when heavier locomotives rendered the nearby viaducts unsafe.

During World War II the tunnels served as an ammunition store and a depository for valuable objects from the State Library, Government House and the Art Gallery of South Australia, before being turned into a mushroom farm in the second half of the 20th century.

“When it was a mushroom farm it was producing approximately 2000 boxes a week, with 22 pickers working two shifts a day, six days a week. It was a big commercial enterprise,” says Munro, who converted the northern tunnel into a wine storage facility after taking over the lease in 2000.

“Now it’s the ultimate bomb shelter – just bring your cheese and biccies!”

The nearby southern tunnel lay largely unused until Adelaide Fringe CEO and director Heather Croall approached Munro six months ago with an idea for an audio-visual installation that will be the signature event of the 2024 Fringe.

The Sleep’s Hill Tunnel installation divides the 377m-long passage into seven zones that highlight different aspects of its history, but one of the chief attractions is the rare opportunity to enter the striking 4.6m-high arched tunnel lined with hand-laid bricks.

Time-lapse videos of fungi are projected onto the tunnel ceiling. Photo: Jenny Kwok

Banks of blackout curtains allow visitors to slowly transition from a warm summer day into the cool, dark tunnel that sits at a constant 18 degrees, and timed sessions run on the quarter hour between 10am and 6.30pm every day except Monday (the production team suggests allowing 45 minutes to view the entire installation).

The first two zones include screens and projections documenting the tunnel’s history, while others feature blacklit artworks by local artist Clare Miyuki Guerin and The World Beneath Our Feet, an installation co-created by activist George Monbiot that examines the incredibly complex and biodiverse make-up of soil.

The World Beneath Our Feet, an installation in the tunnel co-created by George Monbiot. Photo: Jenny Kwok

Undoubtedly the most striking sections are a mirrored runway within the tunnel that looks like a set-piece from a Hype Williams film clip and a collection of mesmerising time-lapse videos of fungi captured by Stephen Axford and Emmy-award-winning BBC cameraman Neil Bromhall that are projected onto the ceiling. Tiny yellow mushrooms and bright blue parasols magically sprout from logs before drooping under their own weight, while luminescent green ghost mushrooms swell rapidly before liquefying and innocent-looking white puffballs burst open to reveal nightmarish red and black fungi.

Infinite: Inside the tunnel of mirrors. Photo: Jenny Kwok

While Croall provided the creative vision, Novatech Creative Event Technology managing director Leko Novakovic was the one tasked with bringing it to life, and he says the unique nature of the venue presented numerous challenges.

“As you can imagine, the tunnel is quite reverberant but safety requirements meant we couldn’t completely block off each section,” he explains. “That made it tricky to design a system and make sure the zones weren’t too loud.”

The solution was to bring in three Disguise media servers, 17 Barco projectors and more than 60 L-Acoustics speakers valued at more than $4 million.

This zone is a nod to the tunnel’s history as a mushroom farm. Photo: Jenny Kwok

For Munro, who is used to seeing the tunnel empty, the transformation has been “absolutely amazing”. And while the Fringe event will mark the first time the tunnel has been open to the public since its construction, he laughs off any suggestion that this puts any pressure on the production.

“The tunnel itself is a beautiful piece of engineering and looks pretty spectacular, so I have no doubt it’ll do its thing. But it’s not just a show in there – this is about appreciating the tunnel and its history, so it’s definitely worth coming up for.”

Going by ticket sales so far ­– with a number of sessions already full and others said to be “selling fast” ­– plenty of Fringe-goers seem to agree with him.

Sleep’s Hill Tunnel is open from February 16 until March 17.

This story is part of a series of articles being produced by InReview with the support of Adelaide Fringe.

Read more 2024 Adelaide Fringe coverage here.

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