Tunnel team digs deep under Sydney

It’s a job that only a few can do, which makes Walgett man Clive Cubby so sought after in Sydney.

Mr Cubby’s latest project is working 70m underground in a critical wastewater tunnel that services millions of Sydneysiders.

“I call it my loungeroom – it’s peaceful, nice and cool, and the big bosses leave you alone,” Mr Cubby said.

“The tunnel is about 3.5m wide by 2.7m high — we are desilting the tunnel and then strengthening its walls and roof.”

Mr Cubby and his crew, including three nephews, are currently cleaning and repairing a section of Sydney Water’s critical Northern Suburbs Ocean Outfall Sewer tunnel in Mosman.

After seven years in specialist tunnel services, Mr Cubby enjoys that every day on the job presents a challenge.

“The tunnel work is a high-risk environment, which keeps you on the ball,” he said.

“Safety is priority and we are always on the lookout for things like potential collapses, high gas levels and increasing water flows.”

The three-year NSOOS program began in July, with the Walgett crew cleaning 1150m of the tunnel, removing 180 tonnes of silt and 50 tonnes of debris.

“It’s definitely an unusual role, but it is easy work for me, so I brought in my nephews to train them and teach them about the tunnel work,” Mr Cubby said.

Brothers Duncan Simpson, Jack Simpson and Craig Maguire, also from Walgett, about 660km north of Sydney, are providing specialist tunnel services to leading engineering group Monadelphous.

Duncan Simpson, who has been working in the tunnel for about three months, says: “I really like the job and it helps when you work with a great bunch of people.

“When I first started, I found it scary but now I see it as a new challenge every day – we are working with lizards and frogs in the water, and you sometimes see rats too.”

Craig Maguire, 18, has been on the job about one month and says safety is at the forefront when working in a tunnel.

“I always tell myself not to mess up as there are so many risks, but I love it because of the many parts of the work: drilling, descaling, water blasting, core drilling, and PH testing.

“My favourite part is the descaling. I just left school so this has definitely been a different experience for me and I would never have thought I would have been working down a tunnel for a living.”

Monadelphous Project Manager Suresh Pavey said 90 per cent of the crew was Indigenous.

“The country boys came in with the right attitude and willing to learn, so they have picked it up quickly and grown into the role nicely, and under the guidance of Clive, become a highly productive tunnel specialist team,” he said.

Monadelphous site supervisor Terry Clark credits their country upbringing to producing such a resilient hardy team.

“Clive and the crew face so many challenges in the tunnel, but despite the uncertainties in the job, Clive and the boys always stay positive and keep on going and going,” Clark said.

Duncan Simpson drives a dumper in the tunnel and says the difficult conditions do not deter him at all.

“This has been a great experience for me and the best part is that I am getting lots of training and new qualifications to help me do my job and drive the dumper in the tunnel,” Simpson said.

“Ten years ago if you asked me what I would be doing, I would never have thought in a million years that I would be living in Sydney working in a tunnel.”

Mr Cubby said one of the best parts of his work was educating the workers.

“One of the best parts of this work is educating these boys and giving them a headstart in life, passing on my knowledge and skills so the boys can take over from me when I retire,” he said.

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