The Cave Clan Has Been Sneaking Into Drains for 30 Years

It's the club for people who like exploring storm drains. Now, for the first time, a founding member has cracked open their photo archive.

by Anonymous
19 September 2016, 1:58am

Doug bought a Polaroid camera in 1987, about a year after he, Woody, and Sloth founded the Cave Clan on January 26, 1986. What started as three Melbourne teenagers sneaking into drains, soon became the largest consolidated group of urban explorers in Australia. Doug's photos capture all of this—the parties, the pranks, and the underground adventures—through the course of their 30-year history.

During its rise, rumours abounded about the Cave Clan. "People said we lived down there, preparing for the nuclear holocaust, stockpiling supplies," Doug says. "That we'd get under your house and come up through your toilet. That's one that we started ourselves..."

The first Clannies, Mosh and Gilligan, 1989

Now 30 years after the Cave Clan was first formed, Doug is opening his archives. His photos aren't of a group of "shadowy characters," which is how the media has often seen them. Instead they just look like kids out adventuring. "I had these boxes of old Cave Clan photos sitting in my garage just gathering dust," Doug explains. "So I figured, rather than letting them just rot and eventually be forgotten about or destroyed, I'd get them out there for anyone that wants to have a look."

The photos chart the group's exploration of drains and holes here and overseas, including the catacombs beneath Paris. There's also snaps from the infamous Clannies—the Cave Clan's annual awards show. "For our first year we had 17 people. But this year was the 30th anniversary and we had over 300 people there," Doug says. "A dozen from overseas, around 35 from interstate including 150-200 members and friends."

There were dark times too though. Doug comes back to a 15-year-old Cave Clan fan who died in a storm drain near Northcote Golf Course during a heavy summer storm. "We knew of them. Brian even got my phone number, which is very rare, he's the only person to ever get my phone number," Doug says. "He rang me before this day and said he wanted to join the Clan. I asked how old he was. He said 15. I said, you're too young mate, and that was it... That day the summer storm killed Brian."

Cave Clan founders (from left) Doug, Sloth, and Woody, in Melbourne, 1988

Brian's mother called Doug after the summer storm. "She was pleading and moaning, not crying. She had a strong Scottish accent. She asked if there was anyway he could've gotten out or crawled to a safe spot—but I knew there wasn't," he recalls. The mum said Brian was a huge Cave Clan fan, he wanted to join as soon as he turned 18, he'd even made fake Cave Clan shirts.

This reverence for the Cave Clan isn't unusual. Every few months another journalist will take on a Cave Clan story and some publication will "break" the story once more. As Doug knows too well, the group seems to fascinate people. "When I was 16 I never planned for the Cave Clan to become anything like it ended up becoming," Doug tells VICE. "I do think the Cave Clan was something special—it was more than just me, Woody and Sloth—because no one person created it. "This is the first time I've said this, but I'm proud of it. Hopefully I'll be proud of it for the rest of my life."

Interview by Mariam Koslay. Follow her on Twitter

German bunker under Paris, 2001

New Explorers Expo, 1992

Myth in Canberra, 1998

Doug in the Paris catacombs, 2001

Drain romance aka Drainmance, 1995

First media shoot for "People" magazine in 1989

Fil and Bob in Canberra

Skeleton in the 14th District catacombs, Paris, 2001

Mask party 1996 in Melbourne

Bob in Hobart, 1993

1992 New Explorers Expo in Melbourne

Gilligan, Prowler, and Cro in Paris, 2001

Vandal, Woody, and Sloth in Melbourne

Sloth in the Third Man Tunnels, Vienna, 2001

Sloth, Woody, Doug, and Cobra in Melbourne

Melbourne, 1993

Paris, 2001

Misfit, Doug, Prowler, Alien, and Seanile in Melbourne, 1991

Bob, Amik, Hatchet, Maddog, and Bathory in Adelaide, 2001

Doug, Myth, and Bathory in Canberra, 1998

Canberra, 1997

Maze triple split, Melbourne, 2002

Melbourne Dog Expo, 1996

The Room, New Explorers Expo, 1997

GOD, Melbourne, 1996

Prowler in Melbourne, 1993

Swipe in the Falls, Melbourne, 1997

Amik in Melbourne, 2002