First published in The Sydney Morning Herald on August 1, 1990

Two brothers were trapped yesterday when the roof of the historic Reservoir Service Station in Paddington, collapsed during heavy rain.

The underground service station in Oxford Street was built into the original superstructure of the 1864 Paddington Reservoir, an integral part of Sydney’s original water supply system. Its concrete roof was covered with turf to form part of the Walter Read Reserve.

Aftermath … The gaping hole that was once the roof of the service station.
Aftermath … The gaping hole that was once the roof of the service station.CREDIT:ROBERT PEARCE

Mr Peter Horeau, 46, who leases the site from South Sydney City Council, was drinking tea with his brother, Algernon, 34, in the service station office at about 9.30am when be heard “what sounded like a clap of thunder”.

“My brother started running for the door and I followed him,” he said.

“Then the roof caved in and we were trapped between a big slab of concrete and the wall of the office.”

The brothers were able to move the concrete slab and dig through the rubble and out of the office.

Algernon suffered cuts to his head and back in the collapse. His brother was not injured.

“Looking at it now I can see that we were lucky to get out alive,” Peter said as he watched police, fire brigade and water board officers inspecting the 20-by-10-metre hole that was once the roof of the service station he has leased for the past 20 years.

Between 15 and 20 cars were trapped inside the underground garage, which is included in a permanent conservation order on the original reservoir building.

A spokeswoman for South Sydney City Council said yesterday a heritage architect and a structural engineer would inspect the building today to assess the damage and determine whether it was safe to dig out the cars.

Lucky escape … Mr Peter Horeau speaks to police after the incident.
Lucky escape … Mr Peter Horeau speaks to police after the incident.CREDIT:ROBERT PEARCE

Mr Keith Windschuttle, a member of the Paddington Reservoir Restoration Society, formed in 1985 to fight a council proposal for a multi-storey car park on the site, said last night that the group would “fight tooth and nail to stop demolition under any circumstances”. “This is one of the most valuable pieces of industrial archaeology in Australia,” he said.

There was no immediate demolition but the garage was condemned and boarded up. It remained that way for some years until it was landscaped as a sunken garden. The award-winning Paddington Reservoir Gardens, incorporating both the Walter Read Reserve and John Thompson Reserve, opened in 2009.

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