Jenolan Caves

Boys, Bombs, Big Brother and Other Great Memories of 1949!

January 7, 2022

Tiny souvenir booklet "All About Jenolan Caves".David Darr, age 16Recently, we received a fascinating item in the mail. Wendy Schuetz of Kewarra Beach, Queensland, while delving into treasures of her late father, David Darr, discovered a small Jenolan Caves souvenir booklet, ‘All About Jenolan Caves’.

Wendy was kind enough to post it to us, along with her father’s school excursion permission slip from 1949.

She then followed it up with some info and a photo of her Dad, which made us think about 1949 – the world and Jenolan’s place in it.

The World in 1949 – Dawn of the Atomic Age

The world changed radically in the 1940s. 

1949 can be described as early ‘Atomic Age’ or early ‘Cold War’ era. America had already demonstrated its nuclear power, and in 1949, the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb.

School excursion permission request, dated 30 May 1949.

Seeking safety in numbers, 12 European and North American countries got together and established the North Atlantic Treaty (NATO) that same year. 

First Russian atomic test, in August 1949.At the same time, Chairman Mao Zedong formally proclaimed the People’s Republic of China. And, sadly, South Africa institutionised apartheid.[i]

But, on a brighter note, RCA perfected a way of broadcasting colour TV.

First jet air liner maiden flight in July 1949.

The Musical South Pacific opened on Broadway in 1949.

The first commercial jet airliner, the de-Havilland Comet took its first test flight in England – a big step towards making the world a much smaller place.

The musical, South Pacific, opened on Broadway, and its most timeless song, Some Enchanted Evening became a world-wide hit.[ii]

Australia in 1949 – Boom Times

On the other side of the planet, Aussies were enjoying the post-war boom.

Australia's first digital computer ran its first programs in Nov 1949.

Prime Minister, Ben Chifley.Australia’s first digital computer (SCIRAC) ran its first test programs. [iii]

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) was established, and the Snowy Mountain Scheme began.

For most of 1949, Ben Chifley was Prime Minister, although he was succeeded by the conservative Robert Menzies in late December. (The left-wing Ben Chifley was so popular at Jenolan that after his death we renamed our spectacular ‘Left Imperial’ cave after him - the Chifley Cave.)

Jenolan in 1949

wedding notice extract, Inverell Times, 12 Jan 1949

And what was happening at Jenolan Caves, hidden in its mountain valley?

Brett Whiteley, Self-Portrait, 1975

Brett Whiteley visited Jenolan with his family in 1949. He was only 10 years old at the time, but later became one of Australia’s most famous artists.

wedding notice extract, Cumberland Argus & Fruitgrowers Advocate 23 Nov 1949

The first stage of Oberon Dam was completed, bringing many workers and their families to the district and to Jenolan.[iv]

And Jenolan honeymoons maintained their extreme popularity. In, we quickly discovered roughly 32 wedding notices in 1949 that specifically mentioned happy couples honeymooning at Jenolan.

Adelaide Schoolboys Tour NSW

The caves were, as always, a magnet for school groups. On 1 September 1949, for one excursion in particular, plans were published in the Adelaide News.[v] This is where David Darr comes back into this story.

Barrier Miner article 16 Sept 1949 re Nailsworth Boys' Technical School trip to NSWDavid, along with 29 other boys from Nailsworth Technical School, South Australia, planned a 15-day education tour of all the most well-known sights of NSW, including Jenolan Caves.[vi]

It was a very expensive trip and - this really shines a light on the times - each boy had to come up with £15, which was approximately $865 in today’s money, after inflation. According to an article in the Barrier Miner [vii], the school had a travel fund, to which all students made regular contributions.

But it was still a lot of money.  The average weekly wage in Australia was only £7/15/9, so David’s school trip cost at least 2 week’s wages.  David’s daughter, Wendy, wrote to us, “Dad’s father was a ganger on highway construction and his mother was a housewife (four children). As a school child, Dad worked delivering papers and firewood from the local wood yard, by bicycle, so he likely contributed. The expense would have been considerable for the family.”

On August 26, 1949, the boys boarded a train in Adelaide and headed for Sydney. On the east coast, they visited the Australian Museum, Bondi Beach, Taronga Zoo, Manly, the Royal National Park and Bulli Pass. They toured the BHP works at Newcastle. In the Blue Mountains, they went to Sublime Point and Jenolan Caves.

The Jenolan Leg of their Journey

Because it took a long time to get to and from Jenolan from the train station in Mt Victoria, the boys probably would have had to stay the night at Jenolan. If so, they would have most likely stayed in the 1906 wing of Caves House. Now, the ground floor of that wing features our Caves Café, while the first floor houses our large Kanangra-Boyd room – great for functions. But for many years, the 1906 wing was entirely accommodation, perfect for schools.

Souvenir Jenolan booklet 1949, showing old refreshment prices.

It’s possible that the boys dined in what is now Chisolm’s Restaurant, but which, in 1949, was the grand ‘silver service’ dining room. If they dined there, they would have been expected to act like young gentlemen.

The Souvenir Booklet – a Mine of Information

We know that David bought a souvenir – a pocket sized, 2 shilling booklet, “All About Jenolan Caves”, the booklet that Wendy sent to us.

It is a mine of little-known historical information about Jenolan in 1949, revealing marvellous details, for example, cave tours cost only 3 to 5 shillings. Lunch at Caves House cost only 3 shillings. Morning or afternoon tea cost only 1 shilling, 6 pence. A cup of tea and sandwich could be purchased at the kiosk for 9 pence.

Jenolan souvenir booklet 1949, with info about petrol and garages.


The booklet tells us that “Petrol is on sale from a pump in front of Jenolan Caves House.”

Considered a fire risk, in a national park, the petrol pump was removed years ago. But now we have 2 Tesla charging stations at the rear of Caves House and plans for more.

The booklet says that “Locked garages are available at 2s.6d per day.”

Many years ago, people who could afford that wonderful new invention, the automobile, could drive it to Jenolan and lock it safely in a garage, while their chauffeur was accommodated in a humble room above.

Souvenir Jenolan booklet, 1949, mentioning post office and bank.

In 1986, the old garages were demolished, and our motel-style Mountain Lodge (great family accommodation) was built in its place.

We also read that “Telegrams, trunk line telephone calls, and money orders receive attention at the Post Office.” And “An Agency of the Commonwealth Savings Bank of Australia is conducted at the Post Office.”

The Internet has certainly changed the ways we communicate and handle money. But we still have our cute little post office - now a museum run by the Jenolan Caves Historical and Preservation Society.

Jenolan souvenir booklet 1949, showing cave tour fees.


How Cave Tours Have Changed Since 1947

Unfortunately, we don’t know which of several caves David visited, but we know that cave tours were done differently back then.

In the old days of 1949, very formal cave guides would introduce each cavern, saying something like “Now you may do your inspection.”

modern cave tour guiding

These days, we all demand in-depth and meaningful information. So, today’s knowledgeable and friendly cave guides encourage questions and reveal fascinating facts and stories as they lead visitors through the bizarre underworld. This transforms each cave tour into an experiential journey of discovery, adventure, fun and learning.

Young David Darr

The boys from Nailsworth Technical School had a great time at Jenolan, then proceeded to Broken Hill where they inspected the Zinc mines, the Flying Doctor base and toured the city before heading back to Adelaide.

Article from The News (Adelaide) 1 Sept 1949 re Nailsworth Boys' Technical School excursion to NSW.

So whatever became of young Nailsworth student, David Darr?  Before his NSW tour, his headmaster, Mr. Harvie had stated that, “such visits were regarded by the school as a valuable part of a boy’s education.”[viii]

Well, as it turned out, it certainly did them no harm. Wendy was proud to tell us that shortly after his NSW trip, her Dad left Nailsworth Technical School. He “went to Adelaide High to do his leaving honours, won a scholarship to university and became a High School Principal.”

What a good story! Thank you so much, Wendy, for sharing it with us.

Let Imagination Take You Back

When you next visit Jenolan, let your imagination take you back to 1949. Picture the old accommodation wing, alive with schoolboys.

1949 cover of George Orwell's novel, 1984.

In the company of wild rosellas, sit and sip, on the verandah of the Caves Café. A soothing cup of tea was the very thing in 1949, so maybe go upstairs for a rustic high tea or even delicious dinner. The grand architectural features of Chisolm’s Restaurant are unchanged, BUT back then, you would have first donned your evening wear!

Over a chatty dinner with friends, through the nicotine haze, you might have light-heartedly extolled the virtues (or deprecated the vices) of Ben Chifley or Robert Menzies, and laughed at the silly notion of building a nuclear fallout shelter, "Ha Ha! Whatever next!".

Finally, before turning in for the night, you might have dived into a gripping chapter of George Orwell’s ominous new novel, 1984. (“Big Brother is watching you!”)

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