Jenolan Caves

1919, When “The Most Impossible Couple” Visited Jenolan

November 30, 2021

Governor and Dame Davidson in 1919

1916 to 1918 were years of massive growth at Jenolan. Although they were war years, the NSW government poured money into Jenolan, to promote morale, health and national well-being. So, in 1916, electric lighting was installed in Caves House, Jenolan’s grand hotel, and work also began on a huge accommodation extension. In 1917, the ground-breaking hydro-electric power station was expanded, to power the lights in the caves and to prepare to light the new Caves House extension. Then, the glorious Orient Cave finally opened to the public, with great fanfare.  

In 1918, The Minister for Public Health and Local Government, The Hon. J. D. Fitzgerald, spent 2 days doing an inspection of Jenolan. The Lithgow Mercury reported that Fitzgerald “was much struck with the many improvements lately effected, and with the new system of administration which has been attended with highly gratifying results. Mr. Fitzgerald made detailed investigation, in the course of which he inspected the police station, the vegetable and pig farm, the laundry, and refrigerating plant.”

The road to the pig farm was nearly complete. The Grand Arch was fully illuminated, and the Imperial Cave lighting had been improved.[i]

At the end of 1918, the NSW Government brought in the Birds and Animals Protection Act, and a year later, in October 1919, Jenolan was gazetted an animal sanctuary. 

Illustrious Visitors

Recently knighted George Fuller was “the minister vested with the control of Jenolan [ii]”. Sir George was leader of the Liberal Party, and Colonial Secretary of NSW. In those days, Jenolan was obviously the very best holiday resort that NSW could offer, so Fuller invited the Governor and his wife to an overnight stay at Jenolan.

Sir George Fuller visited Jenolan Caves in 1919.

The Vice Regal party arrived on 1 December 1919 (102 years ago this week). There was Sir George Fuller and his wife Lady Ada Louise Fuller, Governor Sir Walter Edward Davidson, Dame Margaret Davidson, Major Frank De Villiers Lamb C.B.E, Governor Davidson’s private secretary and Commander Allison ACD. They were an illustrious and noteworthy group. 

Royal Criticism Towards the NSW Governor

Governor Davidson was highly educated and experienced.  Although conservative, he was respected for his political impartiality [iii]. And his wife, Margaret Davidson, was also highly respected, having been named Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, for her work with the Red Cross Society and the Scouting and Girl Guides in NSW.

NSW Governor Sir Walter Edward Davidson visited Jenolan Caves in 1919.But Governor and Dame Davidson were not without their flaws, it seems. We know this because Prince Edward, Prince of Wales wrote about them to his mistress. The Prince said,

“I can hardly bring myself even to talk to these - Davidsons!! However they are tamer than when we arrived not that that is saying very much; they really are the most impossible couple and no wonder the dominions get fed up with the Old Country and want to abolish all Imperial Governors if the Colonial Office will insist on sending out such hopeless boobs!! ... what a lot of harm is done throughout the Empire by the rotten Governors they appoint who are nearly always pompous duds who they don’t want in London!!”[iv]

What the Davidson’s did exactly, to warrant such harsh criticism, we will never know!

Fuller and De Villiers Lamb

Dame Margaret Davidson visited Jenolan Caves in 1919.

Sir George Fuller was also highly educated, and a qualified barrister. He represented the Liberal and then the Nationalist Party, becoming Colonial Secretary, the second most important cabinet position in 1916. He was knighted in 1919 and later went on to become Premier of NSW.

The Vice Regal party at Jenolan included Governor Davidson’s personal secretary, Major Frank De Villiers Lamb. The honorary rank of major was conferred upon him in recognition of his valuable services to the Red Cross.[v]  He was honoured again in 1918, with the title Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services in connection with the Australian Branch of the British Red Cross [vi].

An Enthusiastic Welcome

Jenolan staff went all out to welcome these honoured guests. The Blue Mountains Echo wrote vividly that “The grounds of the Caves House were specially illuminated as the party set out for an evening inspection. The word 'Welcome,' was' emblazoned on the hillside, and there was a bugle salute in honor of the visitors.[vii]”

Lady Davidson was fascinated by the new steam-electric laundry in Caves House, considered a significant labour-saver. She also had a lovely time feeding the brush-tailed rock wallabies.

The Cheero Girls 

The Cheero Girls performed at Jenolan Caves House in 1919.In the evening, at Caves House, the party was entertained by the Cheero Girls, a popular singing group which had entertained the troops in military camps and hospitals during WW1. After the war, they continued to perform, raising 55,000 pounds for the Red Cross. [viii] At Jenolan, Governor Davidson complimented the Cheero Girls for their “patriotic war-time service”[ix]

Dorrie Ward, one of the Cheero Girls, performed in the Orient Cave at Jenolan in 1919.

Caves Manager, James Wiburd, escorted the party into the Orient Cave, where one of the Cheero Girls, Miss Dorrie Ward, performed several solos. She sang a song entitled, ‘Down Here’ and also some “old scotch songs”. “Her rendition in such unique setting and inspiring surroundings was considered by the vice-regal visitors a most impressive feature- of the cave inspection.” 

Dorrie Ward was a well-known singer. She was described as ‘the soprano that all Sydney loves, and the leading lady who has made the Mosman Musical Society one of the most popular and financial of the city’s amateur operatics.’[x]

The distinguished group enjoyed dinner at Caves House grand dining room and stayed overnight, returning to Sydney the next day, without incident.

For two days, Jenolan staff had been on their best behaviour, as had 'the most impossible couple', the Governor and his wife. 

Step Back in Time

The past resonates down the corridors of Caves House, where so many VIPs have strolled. On your next Jenolan stay, while savouring high tea or dinner in Chisolm’s Restaurant, imagine you are sitting at the same table as one of many illustrious guests of days gone by.

Wander along the historic McKeown’s Valley track and keep an eye out for brush tailed rock wallabies – descended from those that Lady Davidson adored.

Imagine you are soprano, Dorrie Ward – maybe even surprise everyone by breaking into song in one of our massive underground chambers – perhaps the Orient Cave. Your friendly cave tour guide won’t mind one bit.  

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