THE HISTORY OF ILLAWARRA SPELEOLOGICAL SOCIETY Inc.
By Dave Dicker
Below is a synopsis.
“By 1956, there were three groups operating in the Illawarra District and making fairly frequent visits to non-tourist caves. Late in 1956, the three groups held a combined meeting and joined forces in the one club called "The Wollongong Speleological and Expeditionary Society."
“Some of the more notable achievements of WS & ES included a cable ladder descent of the Big Hole, and many exploratory trips around Bendethera and Wyanbene and an expedition to the Nullarbor and Western Australia. The WA trip resulted in the exploration and development for tourism of the now well-known Augusta Jewel Cave.
As time went on, these trips became more frequent until Jim Goold convened a meeting on the 13th of February 1963 to set the "Illawarra Speleological Society" underway.”
In 1979, Bendethera was aquired by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Significant work carried out included:
The rediscovery of Gin Cave and many more caves on the Gin outcrop
The “pushing” of BD6 to discover much more passage. BD6 is a very wet cave and is significant in the hydrology of Bendethera
The re-discovery of most of the caves on the Krawarree saddle (except BD26!)
A field guide to Bendethera was published in the ISS Newsletter in 2002
ISS, and Canberra Speleological Society has had input into the management plan for the Deua National Park
ISS had also installed a visitor's book in Main Cave (BD1) for several years. This monitored visitation to Main Cave, however, not all visitors to Main Cave signed the book, and not all visitors to Bendethera visit Main Cave.
As well as Bendethera and the South West, ISS visited many little - known caving areas in the 1960's, areas such as Narrengullen, Ettrema and Jones Creek. They also visited Colong and Wyanbene. In the late 1960's, a group led by Rick Kelly found their way up the Wyanbene water crawl and eventually into the Gunbarrel Aven. It is believed that his may have been the first time anyone had actually entered the Aven. Many subsequent exploratory trips were run into Wyanbene.
From the early 1970's a more active and practical interest was shown in the Gunbarrel Aven. In June 1973, the first stage of the exercise was carried out – the height was measured. This was achieved by attaching a helium filled balloon to fine 40 denier polyester thread. The height was measured at 365 feet (112 metres). All was well until a candle was attached just below the balloon. The candle burnt through the thread and it came down pretty quick. The balloon was recovered on a later trip.
As a side issue to Wyanbene, a permit was obtained at the request of the Jenolan Chief Guide, John Cully, to photograph the top of an aven in Mammoth Cave, Jenolan. The results indicated that there may have been a passage from the top, but it was blocked off with formation. On the same weekend, we measured the heights of the Grand Arch and the Devil’s Coachhouse. This was carried out in the late afternoon, after the tourists had left!
The last chapter of the balloon exercise was carried out in April 1978. Allan Warrild, the renowned rock climber / caver, was attempting to climb the Gunbarrel. He was some 50 metres up. We ran a combined trip with the aim of getting photos of the climbers. Conditions were very poor, with heavy mist and a fair bit of rain. Some fair results were obtained, and an interesting factor was the presence of fine tree roots on the balloons when they were finally retrieved.
Around 2011, ISS along with other interested caving clubs became involved in cleaning and restoring parts of the cave in conjunction with the NPWS. This will be an ongoing project.
Slightly overlapping the "Wyanbene Balloon Exercise" came the Kimberley Trips! These were never ISS-only trips although there was always a strong contingent of ISS members along. The first trip was scheduled for August, 1977. August was picked as it was well into the dry season, and it was thought that there would be little risk of rain. In the event, temperatures were higher than earlier in the dry, and many water holes were drying up. The trip was organised in conjunction with the Blue Mountains Speleological Club, and due to the fact that little speleo work had been carried out in the area, the organising took well over two years.
The 1980 trip was held in June, statistically the best month to be there. Much time was spent in Mimbi Cave surveying, and the cave was extended to 8.5 km of cave and grike. The elusive "Lost Section", briefly entered in 1977, was looked for without success. Another side issue of this trip was the gathering of moths from the Northern Territory and Kimberley areas.
Other than brief visits in the mid 1960’s, ISS visitation to the Nullarbor started in 1999. This first trip was about two years in the planning, with consultation taking place with many Nullarbor experts. One of the main aims was to familiarise ourselves with some of the known caves and to gain experience with home of the conditions peculiar to the Nullarbor. We were lucky to have Max Hall with us as he was a keen caver, based at Balladonia.
Known caves such as Weebubbie and Abrakurrie were descended and photographed. Features such as Kutowalla and Winbirra dolines were looked at. In the early part of the trip, a number of new caves were discovered, explored and surveyed, notably, Sarib and Lonesome Caves. We re-grouped at Thampana Cave. From Thampana Cave, various forays were made without startling discoveries.The group continued on to Liar’s Lair, and Devil’s Lair, and Steg Cave, all known caves which were entered and photographed.
ISS had learned from Kimberley experiences that it was not a good idea to run major expeditions on consecutive years. The attendance on the second trips tended to be a bit light! So, the second visit to the Nullarbor was set for April, 2001
The 2003 trip was also run in April. Max Hall had organised a permit for the group to cave in South Australia. Consequently, this trip was spent in South Australia, discovering, exploring, GPS’ing and surveying caves on this side of the border.
JUDBARRA – GREGORY NATIONAL PARK
From 1995 to 2012 Lloyd and Dorothy Robinson attended the annual surveying trip to this area. Other members of the club – Bob, Jenny and Gary- attended in various years, and more information on the area can be read in the Helictite Journal (Volume 41, 2012 Published May 2012 by A.S.F. Inc, edited by Ken G Grimes. --http://helictite.caves.org.au/contents4.html)
One of the planned aims of the 1982 ISS Kimberley trip was to visit the Ningbing Ranges, north of Kununurra. In the event, we were sidetracked to Whalemouth Cave in the Turkey Creek area. In 2005, our President, Gerrard Collins and his partner, Jodi Sellick were in Kununurra, and met up with John Cugley - a local caver, who showed them some caves in the Ningbing Ranges. On their return Gerrard and Jodi, fired up the interest of ISS members enough to propose a trip to the Ningbings in 2007 and we have been returning annually.
Based at Station Creek, the caving in the Ningbings is four stars, plenty of clean water to drink and swim in, lots of shade, plenty of firewood for cooking and campfires, and the karst is only a stone throw away. (This area has now been returned to the Traditional Owners, who with DEC have a management plan of the area and camping and campfires here are not allowed).
The next visit to the Ningbings was scheduled for 2009. Some members came over from the Bullita area in the NT and some flew up from the eastern states. Our area of interest was much the same as in 2007, with the intention of extending known caves and finding new ones Significant finds on this trips were 6KNI 118, 119 & 120. These caves have good decoration and they were surveyed and photographed. Another series of entrances were also found - 6KNI 123 and 124. They were explored until snakes were encountered. The cave was significant and was named Twin Snakes Cave.
The Ningbing Karst covers a huge area. ISS has only looked at a small section of it - this small section still has potential. The rest of the Ningbings are still largely unknown.