Urban exploring is the act of discovering and investigating old and run-down man-made structures. Urban explorers, who commonly shorten the act to ‘urbex’, operate semi-secretly as the places they are digging into may not be safe or even legal to enter – think underground tunnels, rickety abandoned theme parks and curious ruins. Gia is a passionate Urbex-er from Sydney, who runs a photography blog called ShhSydney, cataloguing her adventures and sharing stories about the interesting pasts of long-forgotten locations.
“I want to reach out to Sydney folk so everyone can enjoy these places without having to travel there themselves,” she says. Most recently, Gia, 35, visited the old Emmanuel Margolin estate – an overgrown mansion with an attached private zoo and theme park that once specialised in dancing Spanish horses called El Caballo Blanco. An Urbex dream scene. “It is completely derelict now, and nature has totally reclaimed the zoo’s facilities. It’s still evident that this was once an incredibly opulent place. It was a very humbling and haunting place to visit, as many animals were said to have been mistreated here; at the time there were no rules or regulations for exotic animal ownership.”
Gia prefers to operate solo, though she’s part of many online Urbex forums and Facebook groups: “a quirky collection of history enthusiasts, oddballs and adventure seekers”. The images she posts on ShhSydney are often haunting and enigmatic, showing building remnants overtaken by plantlife. “It's so surreal wandering around a place that has been forgotten by society – every sound you hear is magnified, and it’s empowering to pluck up the courage to go somewhere alone. It's the closest to a spiritual experience I've ever had.”
She conducts extensive research before visiting a site, and regards older people as invaluable tools. “We tend to take it for granted now that the internet will have all the information we need to know – and, yes, while recent inventions like Google Earth are a great tool to have, it may just be the little old lady next door who remembers some place really special from the past that you might not have found otherwise.” Gia hopes to explore the ill-fated theme park Old Sydney Town and the water-fringed Peat Island Asylum next, but says she’ll have to get over a fear of boats and acquire a drone before those are possible. CF shhsydney.wordpress.com.