Notes of a Trip to the Fish River Caves.
The following contribution, which has been furnished to the Bathurst Free Press by Mr. J B. Youdale, of Sydney, will be interesting to many of our
readers:- The above-mentioned Caves are, beyond a doubt, among the grandest natural sights in New South Wales; perhaps we might safely add, in the world. We had, from time to time, heard a good deal of them; and now, having the leisure to visit them, our desire and curiosity were about to be gratified. The writer and two other gentlemen, having made the necessary arrange- ments, agreed to meet at Tarana, the nearest station on the line, from which we travelled on horseback to the caves - a distance of rather more than 30 miles. The first afternoon we rode as far as Oberon, in the neighbourhood of which we pulled up at a farm-house, where we were made comfortable and welcome for the night. About noon of next day we resumed our journey, having some fifteen miles further to travel. The guide, Jeremiah Wilson, now joined the party, mounted, and with a pack-horse laden with the necessary provisions and other requirements for the three day we in- tended to spend inspecting the Caves. It is a grand ride, over and among the mountains; and the silence and solitude of Nature proved a grateful change from the work and worry incident to com- mercial life in the city. Longfellow gives sound advice when he says: If thou art worn and hard beset With sorrows that thou wouldst forget ; If thou wouldst read lesson that will keep Thy heart from fainting and thy soul from sleep, Go to the caves and hills. No tears Dim the sweet look that Nature wears." Our party being small and well mounted, and the guide very familiar with the country, he took us by a bridle path instead of along the usual road. As we approached the Caves, the general scenery at times was grand. Our path, in the main, lay along the bed of a dry creek; while on either hand bald pre- cipitous cliffs rose, sometimes to the height of 500 feet, from the rocks of which now and again a nimble wallaby looked down upon us, and seemed to say "What business have you intruding on our domains?" The traveller cannot but notice with pleasure the well-grassed hills and the number of small running streams among the valleys, which give a bountiful supply of water to birds and beasts. Our path was often steep and sometimes dangerous; for a slip would have resulted in a roll over into the creek below. All the journey we had to go in single file, and our pack-horse seemed to know both his work and his way. I could not but think, had the Kelly gang been in the district, and any stranger seen us starting through the bush, with gun on shoulder and well laden pack home in front, they would have reported having seen them, and perhaps have given a small detachment of police a rough and profitless journey. In times past, a secluded spot—a valley shut in by high and steep moun- tains, about two miles from the Caves— was the resort and hiding-place of bush rangers and cattle-stealers, and I would pity the band of police who had to find and capture a company of well-armed, resolute men, hiding among these im- pregnable mountain fastnesses. The Government is making provision for a much easier approach to the Caves by a zig zag road, which is now being formed down the mountain sides. Having arrived at our journey's end; about five o'clock, the guide at once commenced to make preparation for having tea, and it was not long before we set dowm to a humble but acceptable
meal. Whatever may be the normal character of our clerical friends, during their trip to the Caves, they practised freely the art of punning and being face- tious. At the very comencement of our first meal, doubtless occasioned by the primitive style of thinge, one was heard to say, " You don't call this dining, but putting food away." Tea being over and night coming on, we thought it well to enquire of the guide about sleeping apartments, when we were somewhat surprised to see him pointing up at some great boulders of rocks about eighty feet above the plat- form on which we stood, and informing us, " Yonder is your sleeping camp." We then began to clamber up, and if any of our city friends could have seen, us marching to bed in single file it would, have provoked a hearty laugh. Having selected a spot and placed our blankets on the ground behind a perpendicular rock, we again descended and got ready to follow the guide into the caves. One thing I would impress upon all visitors to the and that is -Provide yourselves with suitable apparel, viz., the very oldest your wardrobe can pro- duce; for, what with crawling, climbing, and sliding, with a plentiful supply of candle droppings into the bargain, by the time you have done the caves your clothes will also be done. The guide now introduced us to the Flitch of Bacon Cave, so named on account of the roof being formed of pendant rocks, bearing in shape and size a strong resemblanco to " flitches of bacon." I should think a Sussex-street produce merchant would feel quite at home in this store-house of dame Nature. There is not much beauty to be seen in this cave, and the guide displays his wisdom by making it the first, leaving the "old wine" to the last. There are some large caverns, the proportions of which are revealed by the use of magnesium wire, which the guide now and again makes use of. Some of the passages we had to pass through are almost dangerous, and as I beheld one of my clerical friends desperately striving to squeeze through a small passage in the solid rock, there came across my mind the awful possibility of having to dig him out; however, the human frame is pliable, and a little combined exertion carried him through. Having spent about an hour in exploring the Flitch of Bacon Cave, we returned to find our selves about ninety feet above the spot where we had entered, and the descent to the platform demanded considerable care. Having seen a portion of the caves by candle and lime light, we were now favoured with a grand moonlight illumi- nation, the general effect of which was very pretty, as the moon rose right opposite the grand archway. We all stood still, admiring the combination of the grand and the beautiful, — "Till the moon, Hiding in clouded majesty, at length Apparent Queen, unveiled her peerless light. Aud o'er the dark her silver mantle threw.' The night brought us rest, but little sleep. The novelty of the position, the murmuring of the running stream below, and the character of our beds and bed- room, with the roof 150 feet above us, all combining to prevent sleep. We rose early the following morning, and at once brought ourselves into harmony with the novel state of things around us. We awoke to find ourselves nearer dressed than usual, and the first thing we carefully sought for was our hats, and then we prospected for our boots, they having been used an a foun- dation for a pillow; after which we marched down to the creek to perform our toilet, and the water being so clear and cool was most inviting. After breakfast we again made a start on our exploring trip, visiting the Devil's Coach House, with its grand archway 270 foot high; also the Devil's Hole, down which, if you throw a stone, you can hear it fall into a subterranean creek some 500 feet below. In this cave we made, our first acquaintance with the wire ladders. At present there are nine of them, and they vary from ten to ninety feet in length, and it requires, some little nerve to ascend and descend them. However, they are a great convenience and a save of climbing. One of the most formid- able of these ladders is found in the New Caves; it is about fifty feet high and almost perpendicular. It is very credit- able to the guide that, although hun- dreds have gone up thin ladder, no serious accident has befallen visitors. When ladies ascend, the guide is imme- diately behind them, so that if they fall it is into his strong arms. The ARCH Cave is very lofty and grand, presenting a weird appearance in many places. In this cave, there are some stalactites which produce a very musical sound when struck with a stone. Both in the grand archway and all through the caves names of previous visitors are thickly strown, being written on every available space. In the grand archway some have been adventurous climbers, seeking to write their names higher than those of any others. We noticed the names of some personal friends amongst them. What is known as the Grand Arch is an immense tunnel right through the hill, about 1000 feet in length. The arch, on the side you enter, is about 40 feet high; but is fully 200 feet on the western end, with a perpendicular cliff above, rising to the height of 500 feet. Just below the grand arch, which con- stitutes the camping ground, a subter- ranean creek springs from under a large rock, having a strong flow, and the water is delightfully cool and clear. We next visited what are known as The New Caves, and adequately to convey to the mind of the reader a conception of the beauty and vastnesss of these wonderful lime- stone excavations is difficult indeed. I shall perhaps best impress the mind with a general idea of the dimensions of these natural caverns by simply saying that we wandered about in them for three hours, walked and climbed three miles, did not cover the same ground twice, and then came to daylight, again
without seeing all the points of interest. Tlio uev caves are a suite of caves of vast extent, and for superior to those we had formerly visited. The names of some of the apartments are -Cathedral cave, Music Hall, Exhibition, Bride's, Fossil, Snow-Ball, Lurline, Rolling, and Shawl. To the mind of the intelligent reader the names given the various por- tions will convey some idea of their characteristics. Many a wallaby seems to have retired into the Fossil Cave to die in peace, and their bones are bleach- ing on the limestone floor. The forma- tions in the Snow-ball Cave are such that one could suppose a snow-balling match had recently come off, and the walls had been frequently struck. The Lurline Cave, contains some of the most handsome stalactites; and they are beautiful indeed, various in size and shape, and all more or less transparent. It is difficult to say what the stalactites and stalagmites are like; but we would be safe in saying that they resemble marble, alabaster, china, and crystal. The Exhibition Cave contains a well 20 feet deep, from which we all had a draught of the purest water. This well is supposed to be at a lower level than the creek outside. The Shawl Cave is very pretty, having on one side what looks like a waterfall, caused by the stalactites that have been formed on a perpendicular rock; the manufacturing process is still going on, and the end of every pendant is bristling with a drop of water. It is almost needless to say the caves are as dark as Erebus; and if anyone of a poetic turn of mind longs to tread in Milton's footsteps, let him just pay a visit to the Caves and there fire his im- agination. At the close of the day, we returned to the camp with these words in our minds - "His wisdom's vast, and knows no bound, A deep where all our thoughts are drowned! The last day of our trip we spent exploring The Imperial which just been discovered, the exact date being February 6th, 1879. The keeper of the Caves, Mr. Wilson, was on what he terms a "fossicking tour," and had himself lowered by means of a rope down a dark opening, some 50 foot deep, when he found himself on the floor of a new suit of caves, henceforth to be known as the "Imperial." From the name and the guide's intimations, we expected much. We entered the Elder-tree Cave, so called because to reach it you have to descend an elder-tree, which, by the way is nearly unfit for further use, being worn out by the treading of many feet. Its removal will result in gain to visitors, if replaced by a ladder. For the first hour it seemed us if we were to be disappointed with the Imperial, which, so far, gave but little promise of of realising the high expectations we had formed. Many of the passages to this cave are exceeding difficult and demand nerve and caution to pass through them. The placing of a wire ladder in the hole the guide was let down when he discovered the cave would overcome, much of the difficulty. The guide has just discovered in these caves a subterranean creek, having a strong running stream about 10 feet wide and 1 foot deep, about 500 feet below the part we entered. It is almost impos- sible to reach it, the descent is so pre- cipitous; but a ladder will remove the difficulty. As we reached the new and more beautiful apartments of this suite of caves, we had frequently to linger to admire the beautiful pillars of vestal purity and rare magnificence which rose around us. Being the first party to enter the Imperial Caves, things were new and points of interest still un- named and having two clergymen with us, it was a fitting opportunity to do a little christening, so we named one pillar "Lot's Wife," another stately column "Pompey's Pillar," and a third "The Sentinel," for it stood alone on some rising ground, as if keeping watch over the treasures around. One most apartment, with walls like alabaster, we named " Marble Hall;" and when the guide introduced us to what he had already called the " Gem of the West," we said, " Enough—you cannot show us aught more beautiful !" The roof is covered with stalactites of all sizes and shapes, and as ceiling, walls, and floor separate in the light, the whole scene is novel and charming. This marvellous piece of Nature's handiwork will long live in the memory, for "a thing of beauty is a joy for ever" and without wishing to explore further, we returned to the entrance with the Psalmist's utterance upon our lips:- All thy works praise Thee! The Imperial Caves, in point of extent, are quite equal to any of the others. We entered at 0 o'clock and travelled about until 1 o'clock, having gone about 4 miles, and then returned without having seen a considerable portion of these extraordinary caves. There is no question that in time to come, when easily accessible, these caves will be largely frequented by visitors from all parts of the world; and now, while it is possible, would it not be advisable for the Minister for Lands to make provision by placing, wire netting at exposed points, and by placing iron gates at the entrances, for preserving these glorious products of Nature's handiwork in their, primitive state otherwise Goths and Vandals (in the persons of reckless men) will soon rob them of their beauty and attractiveness. I would also suggest that the guide be provided with a suitable book for visitors to write their names in, and in this way the number who annually visit the caves could be determined. Not being very wise, but rather other- wise, on geological and scientific sub- jects, my expression of opinion will not carry much with it; but still I think that there is little doubt that the denud- ing influence of water has been the principal agent in producing the Fish River Caves. We know that the two conflicting forces in Nature are fire and water—the one volcanic and eruptive in its tendency; the other over striving to reduce everything to a common level; and, doubtless, in this case both elements
have had something to do in forming the wonderful hills of still more wonder- ful Caves it was our pleasure to visit. We will not stay to add anything about the return trip, with its little incidents by the way, such as wallaby shooting &c, but conclude those notes in the grand and sublime lines of Milton:- "These are Thy glorious works, Parent of good, Almighty! Thine this universal frame; Thus wondrous fair : Thyself how wondrous then: Unspeakable, who sitt'st above these heavens To us invisible, or dimly seen In these thy lowest works; yet these declare Thy goodness beyond thought, and power divine." Sydney, March, 1879.
Many of our readers are aware that, not withstanding the difficulty of the task, the bushrangers who had their hiding-place in this region were both found and captured; when the late Mr. James Whalan, after riding several days, in company with the police, first saw from the top of the distant ridges, the mouth of the "Coach House," and after- wards smoke ascending from a higher point up the valley; and, guided by the smoke, they came upon the camp and soon suc- ceeded in capturing McEwen, who was inno- cently disguising himself as a woman. After his return, Mr. W. reported having seen the mouth of a cave to his brother, Mr. Charles Whalan, who shortly alterwarde set out, and following the directions received, came upon the cave and entered it, and for many years (until the appointment of a guide by the Government) was always ready to escort any party who might wish to see the Caves.—ED.