Adelaide hotel offers tunnel mystery

By Sean Mooney

Sean Mooney gets a first-hand history lesson at the heritage-listed Medina Grand Adelaide Treasury hotel.

Adelaide's Medina Grand Adelaide Treasury hotel was formerly the State Treasury building. Today, its guests can freely explore the building's network of underground tunnels, which once stored gold.
Adelaide's Medina Grand Adelaide Treasury hotel was formerly the State Treasury building. Today, its guests can freely explore the building's network of underground tunnels, which once stored gold.

Adelaide is not a difficult city to get to grips with. It is ordered, neat and compact. Indeed, The New Yorker magazine once called South Australia's capital "the last well planned and contented metropolis on earth".

It's certainly clear where the centre of town is. Victoria Square is in the middle of the city's 'one-square-mile' grid, surrounded by various courts, churches and government buildings. It is old-school Adelaide.

The city's famous beach-bound trams run straight through the square, passing one of the Adelaide's oldest buildings along the way.

The heritage-listed former State Treasury building is now a hotel, which is good news for visitors who like their luxury mixed with more than a hint of history.

The Medina Grand Adelaide Treasury celebrates its 10th birthday this year, but the building's foundation stone was laid more than 170 years ago.

The original structure was demolished in the 1850s and rebuilt as part of a complex of government offices, although one section of wall from the original 1839 building remains standing.

The restoration work required to create a 4.5-star apartment hotel cost more than A$20 million. The result is 80 beautifully appointed studio rooms and open-plan apartments, as well as the Treasury on King William restaurant and bar, indoor swimming pool, sauna and fitness centre.

But what makes the Medina Grand Adelaide Treasury so special is its heritage features, including wooden staircases, vaulted brick ceilings, limestone walls and cast-iron columns.

There are also artefacts on display that were discovered during the restoration work, including old coins, glassware and cutlery, as well as many old photographs hanging on walls throughout the property.

The building has seen more than its fair share of historically significant moments. For almost a century, members of various Premiers' inner-circles made important decisions in the Cabinet Room.

Australia's first gold coin, the Adelaide Pound, was minted on the premises. The courtyard provided shelter for settlers queuing for land grants in the 1840s, while The Beatles evaded fans by running through it in 1964.

The most mysterious and mythologised section of the building is its network of underground tunnels. Much of the mineral wealth extracted from the Victorian goldfields in the 1850s was stored there. It was once thought that the smelting of gold was carried out in two small furnaces that remain in the tunnels.

In reality, a ground-floor furnace room took care of the gold, while the underground kilns provided warmth for state cartographers and surveyors creating maps in their subterranean offices.

The famous explorer Charles Sturt worked there for a time, as did Robert Torrens, the third Premier of South Australia and the man behind the Torrens title system of land ownership still used in many parts of the world to this day.

Mystery still surrounds the entrance to a sealed tunnel at the northern end of the treasury vaults. It is thought that it once provided access to the nearby Torrens Building, giving rise to talk of secret underground railway lines and emergency escape routes. Its most probable use was for the movement of government paperwork and officials between the buildings.

The National Trust of South Australia runs weekend tours of the tunnels and other historically significant areas of the Medina Grand Adelaide Treasury. However, one of the joys of staying at the hotel is that you can wander through the tunnel system whenever you please.

Another benefit is its close proximity to many of the city's major attractions, such as the Botanic Gardens and Central Market, as well as the shops and eateries of Rundle Mall.

The Medina Grand Adelaide Treasury is a veritable treasure-trove of political history, urban mythology and modern luxury, making it a great option for visitors who enjoy delving a bit deeper to discover a city's secrets.

IF YOU GO

Staying there: The Medina Grand Adelaide Treasury is at 2 Flinders Street, Adelaide.

Touring there: The National Trust of South Australia runs daily (by appointment) Old Adelaide Treasury Tours.

The writer was a guest of the Medina Grand Adelaide Treasury.

- AAP


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