A few months ago I wrote an article about an anonymous student, known as ‘L’, who made a ‘Marauder’s Map’ of secret spots on campus. A few weeks ago, I received an anonymous message. The author had his own map of USyd, he told me, and wanted to get in touch with L. He knew about other stairwells and rooftops, and offered to show me a few of his discoveries.
He signs off the letter as X, and when we meet up he declines to give me another name. I can’t tell you who he is or what he studies. I can tell you that he’s known about L for a few years now, and that they’re not the only explorers out there.
Our first stop is the Old Teacher’s College. We round a corner, and I keep walking for a moment before I realise that X has stopped. There is a set of stairs before us, which lead to a small, cupboard-like door, the kind of thing you’d normally walk past.
X climbs the stairs, with me following close behind, and opens the door to an abandoned room that might still be used for storage. Empty shelves line the walls.
We go up a smaller set of stairs and suddenly we’re in the roof of the Old Teacher’s College. It’s warm in here, the old tiles retaining heat. Gaps in the roofing let in small slits of light. There’s also an asbestos warning sign. X mentions that he’s been in here before with a dust mask. I half-heartedly hold my notebook over my mouth and we don’t venture further than the entrance.
From the outside, there are few signs that there’s a room up here. That’s something that sets X apart from your regular explorer: attention to detail. He’s made most of his discoveries by noticing the little things— things that don’t seem right, space that doesn’t quite add up.
He confesses that there’s a degree of luck involved in exploring the campus. X’s adventures often consist of ten minute detours, stopping at point C on the journey between points A and B, and being lucky enough to find something in that ten minutes.
X says that you also have to go exploring regularly to find places. He visited the Electrical Engineering rooftop every two weeks when he was in the area. Most of the time he’d leave unsatisfied. But then, one time, he found it unlocked.
I ask if he’s ever been discovered.
“Not directly, no.”
I laugh, and ask what that means.
He says that in some cases it’s forgetting to close doors properly or lock them on your way back out. In others cases, it’s doing the opposite: locking an unlocked door you didn’t realise was unlocked in the first place.
We amble down the fire escape of the Wentworth Building, passing each level because none of the doors have handles. We reach the bottom level, which has a door with a handle. We can hear voices from the other side.
“This is a corner I haven’t been in before,” says X.
He listens at the door for a moment, before slowly turning the handle and peeking around it. He relaxes slightly, and opens it further:
“Back of Hermann’s apparently.”
This is a magical moment. The door opens into Hermann’s Bar, next to the stage in the corner. Emerging from the other side into a space I consider familiar makes the familiar strange; I’ve never seen Hermann’s from this angle, and there’s something truly thrilling about that.
We go through the door and walk out. If we get any strange looks on our way out, we ignore them.
Our final destination is the roof of an Engineering building. It’s late in the afternoon and a few doors are locked for the night. But one door is not locked, and X pushes it open.
“How do you feel about stairs?”
The fire escape winds around tightly, each level marked with a big number on the wall. It’s around 5 that my confident strides start to slow down. We get to 7, and X says, “We’re halfway”.
I joke about 7 being halfway, but he’s not kidding. The building’s fire escape goes up 12 levels, and they’re not easy. I struggle my way up to level 12, and to a locked door.
It doesn’t really matter that the door is locked, the roof inaccessible; the journey up here is most of the fun, and X seems to extend that attitude towards all of his discoveries. He apologises a few times for things not being exciting enough, but I think he knows that the adventure itself is well worth the effort.
I’m glad to be there, especially because there’s a collection of graffiti at the top of the stairwell. The most striking piece appears to be a contract of some description. I won’t reveal the details of the contract; you’ll have to climb those 12 flights for yourself to find out. All I’ll say is that there is a table of conditions, two signatures, and a date: an imprint of two people who climbed these stairs and left their mark.
It’s here, at the top of the stairs, that X reveals his journal of secret spots. I can’t help but feel like this climb has been a kind of test, and that maybe I’ve passed it.
Where L’s Marauder’s Map is a quick guide to a few of the rarer spots, this is a compendium of secret locations. Lovingly rendered in pencil, there are architectural maps, multi-level dissections of buildings and step-by-step instructions. Here his attention to detail is put to its best use, a record for him to save, or pass down. He doesn’t let me look at it for long, just enough to catch a glimpse of a mention of tunnels; an adventure for another day.
I ask how X feels about me writing this article, publishing the details of these secret places.
He seems to share L’s feeling that too much exposure is bad: the more people visit these places the more likely they are to get shut down. Since my article was published, he’s noticed changes in the rooftop of the Woolley Building.
I haven’t visited since writing the article, and I definitely don’t make ten minute detours on my journeys across campus, but maybe from here on out I’ll be more willing to open the doors I stumble across. If you’re a fellow adventurer, try to leave them unlocked.