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In some ways the 1920s was one of the pivotal decades at Jenolan Caves, and were certainly a time of great excitement. Jenolan Caves House, already famous as a retreat for the upper classes of Sydney, was completed with the addition of the magnificent Grand Dining Room in 1926. Now known as 'Chisolms Restaurant', this remains in use today retaining the opulent feel of the era of its completion.

The 1920s also saw the arrival of royalty at Jenolan, with a visit by the Duke and Duchess of York on March 31st 1927. The couple, the future King George VI and the Queen Mother, stayed overnight in Caves House.

The era was one of opulence and the sense of giddy fun that was the 'Roaring 20s', but for the guides of Jenolan at the time it was also a period where guiding was a serious business. The great James Wiburd was in charge, and Jenolan had gained a reputation as the finest place to visit caves in the world. The Guides of the day were proud to be a part of a tradition that was already over 50 years old and took their responsibilities to the public very seriously indeed.

Now, almost a century on, the 1920s are returning to Jenolan Caves on Sunday February 16th. As a part of the Blue Mountains 'Roaring 20s and All That Jazz' festival, Jenolan Caves is running special activities including  a historical guided cave tour of the "Left Imperial" (now Chifley Cave) conducted by Jenolan Guide and character actor David Hay at 11.30am. at 1pm, Jenolan Caves House is holding a Traditional High Tea featuring a 1920s orchestra followed by a guided tour of the fabulous historic building of Caves House. Fun 1920s dress is optional for visitors - why not join the fun and take a trip back to another age at Jenolan!

To enquire or book for any of these very special events, contact the Jenolan Guides Office on 1300 76 33 11.

 

 

How did the fantastic caves of Jenolan form? Why do they look the way they do? What do we really understand about the millions of years of processes that have resulted in the cave system that we can see today, and what else is there to learn?

Ted Matthews, a former science teacher and a Jenolan Guide since the 1960s, has spent many years studying the limestone and the intricate and diverse caves of Jenolan. Here he discusses the geology of the area and theories of cave development both at Jenolan and elsewhere with Cave Operations Manager Dan Cove.

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The history of Jenolan Caves is rich with colourful characters and perilous exploration, interwoven with the wish to protect and conserve the fragile cave system. Jenolan's explorers and early caretakers were amongst Australia's first conservationists of the 19th century, and their efforts resulted in the legal protection and public awareness that have allowed subsequent generations to see them in all their splendour.

David Hay, a Guide at Jenolan, has extensively researched the characters of Jenolan's past. Here he discusses the rich history of the Caves and their exploration and development with Cave Operations Manager Dan Cove.

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Are there Ghosts in the Jenolan Caves?

Many Jenolan Guides and visitors to the caves over the years claim to have had unusual experiences, ranging from the feeling of being watched or followed through to actual sightings of unexplained figures. Today a popular tour, "Legends, Mysteries and Ghosts", takes visitors underground every Saturday and Wednesday nights to explore these unexplained happenings.

Cory Camilleri, a Jenolan Caves Guide, has developed a particular interest in the subject of the paranormal and in the mysteries of Jenolan in particular. In this podcast, Cory discusses these mysteries and possible answers with Cave Operations Manager Dan Cove.

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The Nettle Cave was almost certainly one of the first caves at Jenolan to be discovered and explored by Europeans in the 1830s  as it connects directly to the mighty arch of the 'Devil's Coach-House'. The cave is often referred to as being a "twilight cave", as there are no permanently dark areas - daylight penetrates the cave from three separate entry points. The result is an environment completely different from all the main 'dark tour' areas at Jenolan Caves.

For the reason of its difference, the Nettle Cave was selected in 2006 for development as a self-guided tour, the only such tour at Jenolan. Visitors today can explore the Devil's Coach-House and Nettle cave without a Jenolan Guide, but are accompanied by a digital audio guide offering tour commentary in 14 languages (provided by Acoustiguide of Australia). The trip involves climbing several sets of stairs into the main areas of the cave, however the effort is rewarded by truly spectacular views back through the Coach-House, and the opportunity to inspect areas of crystal formation of highly unusual shapes - a result of the high volume of air movement through the cave. Of particular interest, visitors can view close up the exceedingly rare sight of Stromatolites - colonies of blue-green algae formed in layers of calcite crystal. Amongst the oldest forms of life on Earth, Stromatolites are rarely found outside of marine environments (such as the famous Shark Bay in WA). Within the Nettle Cave, several large and bizarrely shaped examples are clearly visible - their odd shape early earning them the nick-name of "craybacks" or "lobster tails".

The Nettle Cave cannot be toured as a standalone trip, as it is so different from all of Jenolan's other guided tours. However, with any purchase of a full price guided tour, visitors are automatically provided with a ticket for entry to the Nettle Cave as well. The image below is of the Nettle Cave in the 1920s.

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The Chifley Cave is the largest of the caves in the Northern part of the Jenolan show-cave system. Originally known as the "Left Imperial Cave", the tour was renamed in honour of Ben Chifley, Prime Minister and the local member of Federal Parliament in the early 1950s.

A fantastic tour for children, the Chifley Cave is relatively easy and, at an hour's duration, one of the shortest guided tours. The cave itself falls into two quite distinct sections. The first half passes through areas of relatively dry formation - the result of high air flows. This area is historically significant as it was here in May 1880 that the first ever electric lighting was trialled in a cave! Some of the old electrical fittings are still on display. This area also features coloured lighting - today rare in Australian show-caves. However, as the tour continues into the cave the group will notice the cave transform around them. Crystal begins to sparkle, natural colours to emerge and the cave becomes increasingly active with distance from the main area of high air flow. The second half of the tour takes in some of the most spectacular chambers at Jenolan, including the Lucinda Chamber - described by explorer Jeremiah Wilson as the finest ever found and named for his wife! Then there is the massive Katie's Bower named for the first person to ever explore this part of the cave...a young girl in 1881 lowered down a rope by the tour party that included her father!

There is a great deal to see within the hour, another reason that this tour is popular with families as the group is largely on the move. The tour is also one way, with the cave doing a great loop that begins and ends in the Grand Arch.

Guide David Hay in 19th Century Costume examines the Chifley Lighting.

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On Saturday December 10th a much loved event returns to Jenolan caves, this year celebrating its 20th year - Carols in the Caves! The highlight of Jenolan's annual event calendar, Carols is a multi award-winning phenomonen - winning Gold again at this year's Regional Tourism Awards of Excellence.

The annual Carols in the Caves is a celebration of Christmas held in the magnificent natural amphitheatre of the Grand Arch. There are two concerts held, with a 2pm matinee and an 8pm evening performance. In both cases, the Grand Arch is transformed into a Christmas wonderland, with performers on stage as well as (on occassion) appearing from high up, perched on rocks or between the stalactites and stalagmites. A variety of performers from across the region donate their time and talents to the event. This year will also feature celebrity MC Peter Vickery of TVs MasterChef fame! For the past six years the Carols have been produced and directed by Domino Houlbrook-Cove - Jenolan's Manager of Corporate, Functions and Events. Domino has the further distinction of having performed in all 19 Carols concerts to date! Classically trained as an Opera singer, Domino was once known as the 'Singing Guide' of Jenolan.

Carols in the Caves is a charitable event, with all monies raised going towards the Children's Hospital at Westmead for research into childhood cancer. Over the past four years Carols has raised in excess of $50,000 to this most worthwhile cause, and it is hoped that a record donation can be made in 2011.

Tickets for the 20th Annual Carols in the Caves are available via Ticketmaster, or by calling Jenolan direct on 1300 763311. It would be wonderful to see a record crowd in 2011 for this special day, to join together in one of the most spectacular venues in the World to celebrate the spirit of Christmas.

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Thursday November 17th proved a great night for Jenolan Caves at the annual NSW Tourism Awards.

Jenolan had been successful in reaching the finals in six categories, in itself a record for any single attraction in NSW. Management and staff from Jenolan dressed up to attend the Gala Tourism Awards Dinner at Darling Harbour last Thursday, waiting in anticipation as the winners were announced. To the great delight of all, Jenolan began the evening by winning the Gold Award in the category of 'Heritage/Cultural Tourism'. This award was a terrific endorsement of how Jenolan staff bring the history of the site to life for our visitors, celebrating the proud heritage of tourism at the site that extends back to the 1860s. This award was soon followed by Silver for Adventure Tourism! Adventure caving has become a major part of what Jenolan offers to visitors. Everyone held their breath shortly afterwards for the announcement of the 'Best Tourist Attraction'...Gold to Jenolan Caves!!! For the second year running, Jenolan took out this category and there was much rejoicing. Celebrations only increased when Jenolan won Silver in the Ecotourism category.

These four awards represented a record on the night. Although unsuccessful in the categories of 'Festivals and Events' and 'Tourism Restaurants', Jenolan was honoured to be a finalist in both these categories also.

The awards represent a great endorsement of Jenolan Caves from the Tourism Industry, but also a recognition of the quality of Jenolan's products but above all its staff. It is always the people who make the experiences, and Jenolan's staff are truly amongst the finest in the industry.

From here, it is on to the National Tourism Awards to be held in Cairns in March 2012. Jenolan has never won a national award before, but all shall be hoping that this changes early in 2012.

Every tour at Jenolan Caves is distinctive, and there is certainly no "best cave". However, the Imperial Cave does have certain aspects that make it unique. For a start, it is the easiest tour that anyone can take at Jenolan. Caves, by their nature, are generally reasonably strenuous to explore, but not so the Imperial! After a short ramp and 30 stairs to enter the cave, the rest of the tour is largely level, with no major staircases (excepting one optional section).

Why so easy? The Imperial Cave is a classic example of an ancient river passage through the mountain. As you make your way through the cave, you can clearly see the evidence of the passage of the water in the shaping and scalloping of the limestone walls, as well as in the gravels and river sediments left behind by this ancient waterway. The walls of the Imperial Cave also contain many fine example of fossils - the Silurian marine creatures that are the basis for the limestone.

But easy does not mean that the Imperial is any less beautiful than Jenolan's other caves. When it was first discovered in 1879, caretaker Jeremiah Wilson declared the cave to be the "grandest of the lot". It has some particularly fine crystal areas including 'the showroom', 'Grand Stalactites', 'Ridley's Shortcut' and 'Lot's Wife'.

One highlight of the tour is an optional trip down a winding set of 66 stairs to visit the Jenolan Underground River, still making its way through the mountain. There is something very peaceful in the gentle movement of water through the cave, and this section of the river is famous for the clarity of the slow moving waters.

So much to see in an hour! The Imperial Cave is a beautiful and relaxing part of the Jenolan tour experience.

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Do you believe in Ghosts?

Over many years, there have been a great many unexplained happenings at Jenolan Caves, some within the walls of historic Jenolan Caves House and many more underground within the caves themselves. These happenings have been recorded by staff at the caves over the years and have formed such a collection of stories that a distinctly different tour experience has been designed and runs every Wednesday and Saturday night...the "Legends, Mysteries and Ghosts Tour". But is this all just a bit of fun, or is there really something unexplained deep in the cave system?

Of course, we do not really know and nor are we attempting to convince anyone. However, caves have long been associated with mystery and the unknown. In western culture, caves have frequently been the home to dragons, goblins and other fantasy creatures reflecting a perception that there is much that we do not know about the subterranean realm and that the unknown may contain more than we expect. At Jenolan, cave guides frequently feel as if they are being watched in the caves and many a seasoned sceptic has reported seeing or hearing things that seem to have no natural explanation.

No explorers have ever perished exploring the caves, and there are no ghost stories to chill the marrow - no stories of horrors such as may be encountered at Port Arthur or Sydney's Quarantine Station for example. The most common belief is that, if there is indeed some form of presence within the caves, that it is a watchful and a protective one. And quite right too, as the caves are deserving of protection. Some guides believe that, just maybe, those who dedicated their lives to exploring and protecting their beloved caves have never really left...

Whether a believer or not, Jenolan remains a place of many mysteries and unanswered questions. The "Legends, Mysteries and Ghosts Tour" explores some of these issues and yet another aspect of the Jenolan Caves experience.

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