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Colong Caves

SUZANNE REICHARD.

from The The Sydney Bush Walker 1935

 

 

The first mob-expedition to the Colong Caves was made in 1934, when our party of twenty-one, led by Tom Williams, did the trip. Previous to this, the Caves had only been visited by a select few.

The expedition left Sydney on the Thursday night before Easter. Tom had arranged that we should do the eighty-odd mile trip from Camden to Yerranderie and back in a lorry for the very reasonable sum of 107- per head. But the jamming of twenty-five people, plus a similar number of hefty rucksacks into that lorry, caused us to resemble the proverbial sardines. I was so wedged that I could neither completely sit nor completely stand, and spent the night uncomfortably vacillating between the two. However, rolling through that magnificent valley in the frosty Easter moonlight was an experience not soon to be forgotten. Arrived at our destination at 3.30 a.m., we literally threw ourselves down on the grass. No one so much as thought of pitching a tent. Fortunately the rain-god decided to overlook such defiance of his majesty.

At 7 a.m. the dead almost simultaneously came to life. After much washing and breakfasting, we tramped the remaining mile into Yerranderie amidst a fine drizzle.

Yerranderie is a very old settlement. The first exploration of the country was made by Lieutenant Barrallier in 1802. He managed to reach a sj>ot south of Mt. Colong, now known as Barrallier's Pass, but did not succeed in his objective of crossing the mountains. Settlement gradually took place during the next fifty years, but it was not until 1871 that the first discovery of silver-lead ore was made. Since then the district has chiefly been noted for its silver mines.

After pausing in front of Mr. Golding's store sufficiently long to give the natives time to admire us, the expedition set off on the seven miles' trek to the Caves. Our route was via a bridle track, which passes through the Colong Swamp and skirts round to the north of Mt. Colong. We reached the limestone bluffs at Cave's Creek at about 4.30 p.m., and camped just above the entrances to the Caves. Our trip had been waterless, and we had not had a proper meal en route, so that our tempers, which were already pretty bad, were not improved by having to belt down the nettles in all directions before we could so much as lay a ground sheet. However, a good dinner set us all to rights, and some even felt sufficiently energetic to follow the indefatigable Ninian Melville when he afterwards proposed to take a party into the Cave. One rather "stout cove" found the squeezeholes and abysses so terrifying that he fell out of the Cave into a clump of nettles from sheer exhaustion. On reaching camp again he fainted, and there were loud cries for brandy, which I duly proffered. Ninian considered himself also so exhausted (!) that he swigged a good half before offering the remainder to the patient.

The first survey of the Caves was made by O. Trickett in 1899. They were already known to some local residents as the Bindook Cavesó"Bindook" being the native word for a made waterhole. Trickett requested that they be called the Colong Caves after Mt. Colong, the most prominent landmark in the vicinity. Colong is derived from the native word "Colung," signifying the home of the Bandicoot.

The Caves are situated in a belt of limestone about five miles long and a quarter to a half-mile wide, running between Lannigan's Creek and Church Creek. The Caves are the Colong or Key Cave, the Onslow Cave and Lannigan's Cave. Their general direction is S.S.W.

The Key Cave has two entrances. The southern one lies about sixty feet, and the northern one about one hundred feet above the creek. It is sixty to eighty feet wide, and about two hundred feet long. It reaches a height of perhaps seventy feet. Stalactites hang from the arched roof, and near the s.outhern entrance there are four large pillars which have sunk with the floor, thus becoming separated from the roof.

Twenty to thirty feet below the Key Cave is the opening to the Onslow Cave, which is a series of narrow passages. On the wall in one passage there are numerous shawls which, though earthy and opaque, are not wanting in beauty. Ninian Melville found a second entrance to this cave, a little to the south of the original one.

About thirty feet above the level of the southern entrance to the Key Cave is Lannigan's Cave. It is probably seven hundred feet long, and contains many branch passages. From the entrance the cave slopes steadily downwards until a spiral turn with a hole to the right is reached. Having negotiated the spiral by means of a rope attached to the wall, one continues in a general south-southwesterly direction. After one has successfully wriggled through the first real squeeze-hole and slithered down a sharp slope, one finds oneself in King Solomon's Temple. This is perhaps the most imposing chamber in the caves. At the entrance stands a squat stalagmite, while a single'column and two magnificent twin columns stand guard at the end of the cavern. They are about forty feet high and delicately fluted. One of them shows the fan-tracery effects reminiscent of a Gothic cathedral. (See illustration, page 21.)

A little further down the passage and just before the entrance to the King's Cross cavern stands another single pillar. King's Cross was very aptly named by Oliver Glanfield, who has already made a survey of a very large part of the Caves. It seems to be the centre of the known part of the Caves, and numerous passages leading into the Onslow Cave, the Maze, Penelope's Bower, and The Terraces, open into it on all sides. These last are one of the finest sights of the Caves. They occur on a sloping floor which they cover for a distance of perhaps eighty feet. They form a series of crystalline basins enclosed within frilled and delicate rims, once of marble whiteness, but now muddied by visitors.