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2 corrections, most recently by kimvandyk - Show corrections

UNDERGROUND CAVES.

OF THE NULLABOR PLAINS.

(BY Mr. E. C. DOEPEL.)  

For 20 years Mr. Doepel, of Ballarat,

and his wife have carried out long camping tours, in the course of which they have motored 150,000 miles to al- most every part of Australia. In 1930 they toured overland to Perth, and later again crossed the continent, this time to Darwin. In a lecture de- livered to the Honorary Justices' As- sociation of Victoria early this year on his tour throngh Central Australia, he touched on the theory for trans- forming Lake Eyre into an inland sea. "From Marree to Oodnadatta," he said, "we skirted Lake Eyre, the biggest inland lake in Australia. We were in the vicinity of this lake for a number of days, and having an altimeter on the car, I noticed we were 200 feet below

sea level. This being so, one cannot but think of the great problem of transport that would be solved by the construction of a great channel to this lake. It is not, I suppose, beyond the realms of possibility that some day such a project will be given serious consideration. In the Lake Eyre dis- trict, we saw some extraordinary water formations, one of which is a bubbling pool. It is an extrordinary thing. The water in these pools is heavily salined

and mineralised. There is no fresh

water to be obtained except at the dif- ferent stations-if yon are lucky. The peculiar movements in the water start with a small bubble in the centre. This bubbles gradually becomes bigger and bigger, the whole pool being churned up into one great ebullience, until you get the effect of some huge animal  

lossing and wallowing in the water.

This bubbling action soon reaches the limit of its intensity, and it then dies down again. The whole process occu- pies about three or four minutes, but it then recurs and continues recurring for 24 hours of the day."

Mr. Doepel was keen to visit the now famous Palm Valley and was disappointed at not reaching the grot- toed pools and red-walled gorges of this altogether lovely oasis in the wil- derness. The circumstances are quoted in his own words: "When at Hermanns-

burg we heard a lot about Palm Val- ley, which is some 30 miles south of the mission station, and we wore ad- vised not to miss a trip to this place. Furthermore, remembering the de- lightful pen pictures that have been painted of the beauty and the setting of the massive palms to be seen at this spot, we needed on persuasion in mak- ing up our minds. As it was impos- sible then to go by car, we got the loan of horses and camel at the sta- tion, and with a black tracker to guide us, we set off in the direction of Palm Valley. I think Palm Valley is the only place within a radius of three or four hundred miles of Alice Springs   where it is perennially green, and it is remarkable that such a spot of wild beauty exists in this otherwise arid and desolate country. Anyone who has been there will tell you that the palms, which grow to a height of 100 feet, are a sight not to be missed. Well, we could make our black tracker under- stand but very little of what we en- deavored to convey to him either by speech or signs. I said, "How far Palm Valley, Jackie" In reply, he said: "About half-mile, boss." So we decided to go ahead. After about an hour's travelling there was still no sign of Palm Valley, so I said again:

"How far Palm Valley?" Once more he answered: "About half-mile, boss.' As we were then at a mineral spring, my wife and I decided that we would make our camp at that spot. We did this, and then took the camera and a few other things with the intention of walking the rest of the way to the valley. Well, we walked for something like "another hour and a half. As there was still no sign of what we felt sure was the real Palm Valley, I thought it would be as well to again inquire as to our progress. So I said to the black tracker: "How far Palm Valley now?" and I will leave it to you to imagine our mixture of merri- ment and amazement when he again re- plied: "About half-mile, boss." We then discovered that that was the only English he knew.

I can tell you -and I am not ex- aggerating-that the heat was in the vicinity of 120 in the shade. In ad- dition to the moving picture machine, I was carrying a .303 rifle, my wife, had other paraphanalia, and the black tracker was carrying the food. "We tramped for a couple of hours, but even then we did not get to the real Palm Valley. We did not feel in- clined to go any farther as we knew

we would not have time to return be-

fore nightfall. Actually, it was dark when we got back to the camp, and it was fortunate for us that I had a torch with me. So, we were very dis- appointed in not having reached the Promised Land.' Had time permitted us to continue, it might have been a matter of only another "half-mile.' "

THE NULLABOR CAVES.  

Among other strange features of the far outback country are the extensive and unexplored limestone caves which are found in the Nullabor Plain. Al- though the existance of these caves is well-known to overlanders, very few people have visited them. The follow- ing account, which Mr. Doepel has kindly written for "Shell House Jour- nal," gives a picturesque impression of these caves whose tentacled depths   reach underground for scores of miles.

Scattered over the Nullabor Plains are quite a number of entrances to underground caves. The most inter- esting one that I was fortunate enough

to visit was some five miles north of the Madura Station homestead on the overland trail to Western Australia. This particular area is known as the Southern portion of the Central   Plateau, and is a very lonely region, with a mere half dozen habitations in  

about 600 miles of country. Those who have motored to Perth by car will know this area well, as, after passing Eucla, one has to climb the Madura

Pass to get to the higher land now re-

ferred to. This cave entrance, like so    

many others, is hard to find and un- likely to he discovered except with the assistance of someone who knows the country well. The Nullabor Plain, is more of less flat country, and land- marks are hard to pick out.

The entrance was just a large open- ing in the ground, perhaps 100 feet by 60 feet and not noticeable until one was within a few paces of it.

A stratum of limestone framed the entrance to the cave, as it does to most of those I have seen. The edges are abrupt and it was necessary for us to use a rope to get down to a ledge 8 or 10 feet down. From then on we made our way to the bottom, which is scattered with large pieces of fallen limestone, now hardened into rocks with exposure to the atmosphere. There are also pieces of granite and a liberal siltation of sand. To enter the cave proper we faced south and walked through a large arch big enough for a couple of Shell tankers to drive through, and then entered the vault of a huge cave. The ceiling must be 45 to 50 feet high, and completely cover- ing this, hanging head down, seemed to be millions of bats. These uncanny winged creatures appear to have made their home here for many hundreds of

years.

I had with me a 12-bore gun loaded with No. 10 shot and I fired one shot into the ceiling. The noise of the ex- plosion was deafening and reverber- ated around the cave. Many of the bats fell to the floor and the remainder flew swiftly around, and with an eerie whirring of wings made their way out of the entrance. The cave was beauti- fully cool after the outside tempera- ture of 110 degrees to 115 degrees, and it was refreshing to rest there awhile before going on again.

Torches were now necessary as the light from the entrance did not pene-

trate far into the main cave.

We found a narrow tunnel and crawl-

ing through on nice soft cool sand we entered a smaller cave. On the sandy floors were the imprints of either din- goes or foxes, or both. These had prob- ably made their way farther into the caves on hearing our approach. Then

another tunnel with another cave be- yond.

We found water which was saline in this tunnel and did not attempt to go farther. We had spent a wonder- fully interesting afternoon, and our torches were getting low.

Before returning to the surface we found a couple of white owls' nests but were unable to get a young one as they had evidently flown from our unexpected intrusion. At one of the homesteads where we called on our journey westward we had seen some white owls which were quite tame. They are beautiful birds.  

The country being flat, with no trees of any size (Nullabor means ''treeless") the birds are forced to nest in these caves, and there one finds nests of the white owls and birds.

One cave we came across was at

least 80 miles from the sea, yet inside there was a nice cool draught that smelt distinctly of sea air. The caves are known in places to run right into the Great Australian Bight and it is from these that the blow holes on the Nullabor Plain are formed. There are blowholes on the Nullabor, the roaring of which can be heard before coming on to them. Even on the hottest day they emit a blast of cool air.  

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