by Jennifer Walsh

The Tunnels of Tarcoola is about four children: Kitty, aged 11, and her 12 year old brother Martin, along with their 12 year old friends Andrea and David. They like nothing better than messing around in the waterfront park at Balmain, where they live, and one day they discover a cave with a tunnel that burrows under the park. When they get cut off by the tide they are forced to explore further. They're just having fun, but before long it starts to look as if there is something more forbidding than ghosts in the haunted house by the park.

Click here to find out more about The Tunnels of Tarcoola on the Allen & Unwin website.

Readers have been asking questions about Balmain, Tarcoola and other places in the book. I will try to answer some of those questions over the next few weeks. Check out the section below on The world of the book.


The Tunnels of Tarcoola was published by Allen & Unwin in January 2012. You can buy it in most bookshops and on-line stores, and an eBook version is available.

The world of the book

The Tunnels of Tarcoola is set in Balmain, a real suburb of Sydney, and the place where I live. It's not just that I live here - it's where my kids grew up, so I have a feel for what it's like to be a kid living in a place like this.

Of course, I could also write stories about kids growing up in a sleepy western Victorian country town, as I did; but the problem is, and always was, that not much seems to happen in a place like that.

Because Balmain is a real suburb, I am often asked where the places in the book are. Well, I have to admit that some of the places I describe are not real, and there are good reasons for this. As for the things that are real, I have moved some of these around, and I have changed the names of a few places, or not mentioned their names.

Here are some of the things I made up or changed for the purposes of the story.

The park

I had in mind Elkington Park, which is on the waterfront on the western side of the Balmain peninsula. It's a real place, all right, and most of the features are just the way I describe them. The main difference, and I'm sorry to tell you this, is that there is no Doughnut.

The schools

In the story, Kitty is in Year 6 at primary school. I don't identify her school, and I imagine it as a sort of combination of Birchgrove and Balmain Public Schools. The location is more or less where you would find Birchgrove Public School - a bit further along the waterfront, going north-east, from Elkington Park.The other characters are in Year 7 at high school. David goes to a selective school - probably Fort Street, in Petersham; while Martin and Andrea are at the local high school, which I have placed on the waterfront in the opposite direction, where the Balmain campus of the Sydney Secondary College is located.


I imagine Tarcoola as being on the waterfront between Elkington Park and Kitty's school. I can see it clearly, but if you go looking for it there, you won't find it. The mysterious garden was once on the corner of Caroline and Waterview Streets, before a housing development went in several years ago. The disused factory, with ruined corrugated iron buildings and smashed glass strewn on the cracked concrete among the weeds, was in Mort Bay even longer ago. As for the house - I have seen the house in many places, all over Balmain. I have even seen it in Glebe. You would be surprised how many people have come up to me and said, 'I know the house you are talking about in the book - it's in my street'; but they all talking about different houses.

In any case, the house never lasts. The next time you go past, you find it has been cleaned up and turned into apartments.

The coal mine

It's all true, about the coalmine, and you can buy the pamphlet that Roger Mason gave David, or you can look it up on the Internet. The shafts, Jubilee and Birthday, are covered over by a housing development near Birchgrove School.

The Sunset Home

I can see the Sunset Home quite clearly, because it's in the street where I live. It's really just for old men, and even if Tarcoola existed you would not be able to see the trees from my street, but we don't worry about that.

Want to know more?

I will add more information to this website from time to time. If you want to see some maps and diagrams, click on FAQs.