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16 December 2020

Sullen Teenager Momentarily Gracious While Exploring Historic Tunnel. 

In what her family are calling a miracle, 15-year-old Phoebe Cornell emerged from her notoriously sulky mood for a good six or seven minutes while exploring the historic Dalmorton Tunnel last Sunday afternoon.

“For the life of me I don’t know what came over our Phoebe,” says bemused father Darren Cornell, “but I’m glad it did.”

“She was smiling, inquisitive, joking with her brother. That’s the Phoebe we know and miss.”

Earlier that afternoon, as the Cornells made their way west of Grafton on the Gwydir Highway and along the Old Glen Innes Road to the historic site, family members report there were no hints of the forthcoming display of rare good spirits.

Phoebe’s adolescent angst seemed to simply evaporate in the warm December air

The extent of Phoebe’s communication with father Darren, mum Meredith and younger brother Scott consisted exclusively of eye rolling, exasperated huffing, and accusing her backseat-sharing sibling for wilfully breaking wind – a strict breach of Cornell family in-car protocol.

This accusation was proved correct and all windows were lowered accordingly, with Meredith gently admonishing her son and speculating aloud what the lad could possibly have consumed for breakfast.

Indeed, on the gloriously scenic 40 minute drive out to Dalmorton Tunnel, the only time Phoebe tore her gaze away from her phone to glance out the window was when her father proudly announced they had left the bitumen behind, and were now officially a family of “off-the-beaten-track adventurers” as they motored along the 35 kilometres of well-groomed dirt road that took them to the tunnel.

Nonetheless, moments after stepping out of the car at the site in question, the dark clouds of Phoebe’s adolescent angst seemed to simply evaporate in the warm December air.

We may never know exactly how or why, but something about the sight of this tunnel – blasted out of an otherwise impassable hillside back in the mid 1800s – awakened in our young heroine a sharp sense of curiosity.

In fact, so struck was the young lady by the sensory overload – the cicadas trilling, the hum of the Boyd River running in the gorge below, the Currawong call – that she left her phone in the car as she ran to join her brother exploring the tunnel.

Running river Dalmorton

At one point, Phoebe was distanced from her phone by a record-breaking gap of over 47 metres, and exhibited no visible signs of separation anxiety as she ran her hands over the burnished rock face and tried to imagine being in this very spot, over 150 years ago, in an era before cars, aircon, Uber Eats, and – heaven forbid – Sershall Meedjha.

And when her father guided her gaze upwards to check out still-intact graffiti from the 1880s – each letter finished with a curl so distinctive of that era – something sparked in her keen and intelligent mind: something beyond the self-absorption that consumes any healthy 15-year-old. For the first time ever, Phoebe felt a sense of the precious swiftness of our lives, and with this came a thrilling shock of gratitude and appreciation.

They stood there, this bickering, loving little family, silent for a moment or two, in this unique tunnel of history, before the spell was broken, and thoughts turned to lunch.

- For more Daz, Meredith and the kids adventures, sign up to our newsletter down the bottom of this page

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