Jenolan Caves

Here Comes the Bull!

September 15, 2020

The Jenolan Farm by the Jenolan River.

At Jenolan, 1916 to 1918 were gala years.  In 1916, electric lighting was installed in Caves House, Then, in December 1917, the Orient Cave finally opened to the public, with great fanfare.  And by 1918, Caves House had been transformed with the addition of an ambitious 4 story extension. And then, (this is a little known fact)  to meet the high standards of guests and to ensure an abundance of fresh meat, eggs, milk, fruit and vegetables for the Grand Dining Room, Jenolan started its own farm.

The farm was not just for supplies. It was also intended to be part of the tourist attraction. Visitors were encouraged to see it. In fact a road was built specifically so that visitors could reach the farm. School groups put the Jenolan farm on their excursion itineraries. Unfortunately, the farm no longer exists. What happened?

When the NSW Tourist Bureau took over Jenolan’s grand hotel, Caves House, in 1916, they did it with great enthusiasm and vision.  Jenolan was to be their flagship government-owned tourist resort.  In May 1917, The Blue Mountain Echo printed, “Some 12 months ago, on the bureau taking over the control and management of the Caves House, which had previously been leased, a large farm was laid out below the trout hatchery, and vegetable supplies for the Caves House are being grown with considerable success.  Poultry-raising and egg production is to be feature of this new activity.” 

To further encourage visitation to Jenolan, the government had also taken over management of the road from Hampton to Edith, in order to make improvements.  “A distance of 40 miles, with Jenolan Caves between, has already been attended with such marked improvement in the facilities of access to the caves…It will undoubtedly contribute in an increasing measure to the popularity of this most interesting and attractive of the tourist resorts controlled by the Government.” The glowing article finishes with, “The grandeur and variety of the scenery opened up by this round tour has to be viewed to be appreciated, and, taken in conjunction with the unrivalled attractions of Jenolan and its Caves, constitutes perhaps almost the best of what New South Wales has to offer to the tourist on holiday.”[i]

Eight months later, the Sydney Morning Herald reported, “The idea of the acting superintendent of the Government Tourist Bureau, Mr E. H. Palmer, who is supervising the management of the Caves House, is to avoid bringing vegetables and other garden products from a distance as at present. At Jenolan as many as 200 people can be accommodated, and a farm supplying their wants in the locality should, in time, be made a paying proposition.”[ii]  By this time, peas, beans, cabbages, tomatoes, beetroot and spinach were growing “to perfection” and there were plans for strawberries, apples and other fruit trees. Turkeys and pigs were already being raised.

The farm was located about 1 mile down the Jenolan River from the caves, near the hydroelectricity station.  The river provided water for irrigation.

By May 1918, plans were underway to make a road to the farm, “The farm and garden…are proving not the least of the attractions of the resort. By next season, the resident controller hopes to have them connected by a well graded road, by which the climb will be easily negotiated by the departmental lorries and of course motor cars.”[iii]

By January 1919, the farm was celebrating a recent acquisition – “a fine pedigree Middle Yorkshire boar, with the high-sounding title of ‘Hawkesbury Rupert’. He was secured from the Hawkesbury Agricultural College for seventeen guineas.”[iv]

Little did anyone know that Jenolan would soon suffer a bushfire and devastating flood, followed by the Spanish flu.  Bouncing back after these terrible disasters, the new road to the Jenolan farm was finally official opened on Monday, August 4, 1919.  The Lithgow Mercury described it as “a valuable, additional attraction.[v]

In the old days, before long commutes became the norm, Jenolan staff all lived at Jenolan, with their families.  In 2001, Joy Sandland, whose family ran the Jenolan farm in the “early ‘30s” sent some of her reminiscences to the Jenolan Caves Historical & Preservation Society (JCHAPS).  She wrote, “We children helped with chores. One was to wrap large bundles of flowers in newspaper, tie with string and carry them down the steps for the milk truck to collect. Another job was to help pluck chooks in the slaughter house. Very unpleasant, but there was no complaining allowed. I was given the job of collecting the eggs from hundreds of chickens. Their ‘runs’ were large – almost free-range, running from near the house to the bottom, near the creek.  There were always turkeys also, A couple of pigsties housed 2 sows and piglets. We can remember a few ducks. We caught fish in the stream below the house. Kitchen refuse was sent as food for the pigs”[vi]  This memory really offers a fascinating little window into the times, because it shows the wide range of produce, even including flowers and every type of farm animal.  There must have been a farmhouse, a slaughterhouse, a chook house and probably numerous other outbuildings, none of which exist anymore.  Joy wrote, “One day, our Aunt was walking back to the farm with the 2 of us, when around a bend we came face to face with a bull. It looked furious and cranky. Saliva dripping from its mouth. With perfect presence of mind, without breaking her step, she gripped a hand of each of us and started singing ‘Here comes the bull’ to the tune of ‘Here Comes the Bride’. Nothing happened - maybe it liked the song. At 6, I remember feeling awesome respect for our aunt.” 

The Jenolan Farm flourished, and by the 1930s it was expanded.  It was the Great Depression, and to try to help the huge numbers of unemployed, the Unemployment Relief Council granted £1000 to Jenolan to expand their farm.  A new farm was planned “at the top of the Five Mile Hill, just to the west of the road.”[vii] The plan employed 20 men to clear 30 acres for potatoes, pumpkins and other crops.  So the earlier farm became known as the ‘Pig Farm’ and the new farm was known as the ‘Top Farm’.  Both farms remained in operation for many more years.

Salvator Victor Onorato managed Caves House for nearly 20 years, starting in 1954.  An article by JCHAPS (Aug 2010) said, “The ‘Top Farm House’ had survived the 1942 and 1957 bushfires that swept through the Jenolan Caves area, but because of improved transportation from Sydney to Jenolan Caves, Mr Onorato decided to have supplies carried by the NSW Railways to Mt Victoria and a Jenolan Caves truck would bring the supplies from there. This brought an end to the farming and self-sufficiency at Jenolan Caves.” No trace of the farm remains.  All the same, good on Mr Onorato for taking advantage of all the modern efficiencies that post-war society offered![viii]  

Today Jenolan is part of a huge nature reserve, teeming with native plants, birds and animals. We embrace changes that help us to protect the natural environment, support local businesses and enable visitors to experience Australia’s most spectacular caves in ways that are safe and meaningful.

Although we are no longer self-sufficient, our pure drinking water comes from deep underground in the caves, as always. Food on our tempting Chisolm’s Restaurant menu, and in the Caves Café, comes from the farms and shops of nearby Oberon, and the surrounding region.  Although there are no pigs to feed, all food scraps go into our own worm farm. We look back with pride on the days of the old Jenolan Farm, because they are now part of our rich history.

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4655 Jenolan Caves Road, Jenolan Caves, Blue Mountains NSW. Ph: 1300 76 33 11 or +61 2 6359 3911
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