Jenolan Caves

“I Don’t Like Cricket. Oh No, I Love It!” ~ Quote from 10CC song, 'Dreadlock Holiday'

January 14, 2021

It’s summer, the season of cricket.  Every year, this age-old sport allows us to set aside the world’s woes and partake in the drama, the excitement, the saga that is cricket. Representing noble ideals, such as fair play, courage, camaraderie, patience, persistence and respect for the people of other nations, Cricket has influenced our attitudes as a culture.

In 1871, this is how London journalist, Frederick Gale, described Cricket – “The two men at the wickets are viceroys, who alternately rule each other’s kingdom, and the space between the batsman’s wicket and the popping crease, though it be but four feet in extent, is as much the batsman’s kingdom, so long as he can hold his fortress... The laws of the game are just and reasonable as the laws of chivalry were…”[i]

First newspaper mention of Jenolan Cave Cricket Club, in 1897.

The Jenolan Caves Cricket Club

Cricket appeals to young and old, and it is played in even the most isolated regions of the world. Even Jenolan Caves once had its own cricket club. The Jenolan Caves Cricket Club competed again other clubs from the villages around the Central West of NSW.

Where was the Jenolan cricket pitch? If you wander along Jenolan’s McKeown’s Valley Track, spotting wallabies and lyrebirds along the way, you will come to a long, open paddock, now called the ‘Old Playing Field’. This is where cricket was played regularly. The pitch is no longer there, and we have no records or photos. So, we have gone back through old newspapers to try to make a little window into the past.  

The earliest mention was in the Sydney Morning Herald from November 1897, in which some of the local teams are listed – the ones that played in Lithgow on the previous Saturday – Wallerawang, Capertee, Tarana, Sunny Corner, Lowther, Jenolan Caves, and 2 Lithgow teams, fondly named the ‘Probables’ and the ‘Improbables’.[ii]

It must have been fun for local teams to play at Jenolan.  The Lithgow Mercury mentioned in January 1898 that the Lowther team visited Jenolan, where they were very narrowly defeated and then treated to a dinner at Caves House followed by a concert in the Grand Arch.[iii] The next month, Jenolan Cave was again victorious against Lowther.[iv]

Edward (Ted) Wainwright, English cricketer

Cricket Celebrity Visit

In March 1898, something rather exciting happened. Mr Edward (Ted) Wainwright visited Jenolan.[v] Wainwright was a member of the English Cricket Team, in Australia for the 1897/98 Ashes Tour.[vi] Did he participate in a friendly game? We do not know, but he did promise to induce the English Cricket Team to visit Jenolan.

Jenolan cricket results October 1898

Harry Malthouse’s New Wicket

In September 1898, the Lithgow Mercury wrote about Jenolan, “The local cricketers have been putting some good solid work in improving their ground, in burning off, grubbing, etc. A new wicket has been made by Mr. Harry Malthouse, who for some time had charge of the Centennial Park wickets. On Saturday afternoon practice was indulged in, and the cricketers are loud in their praises of the improved wicket.”[vii]  

In those days, grand hotels were expected to have gracious gardens, so Joseph Henry Maiden, the Director of the Sydney Botanic Gardens had designed beautiful terraced gardens around Caves House. He had sent William Henry (Harry) Malthouse to Jenolan to help create these gardens. Harry, a lover of cricket, not only created a more respectable wicket, but also joined the Jenolan Cricket Team. [viii] [ix]

Female cricket team played at Jenolan in 1899.

Visiting Cricketers

The Jenolan Caves team continued to play regularly against local teams, and they also hosted exhibition matches.  In March 1899, the Tarana and Wattle Flat Rockley Clubs accepted an invitation to play at Jenolan. These were teams of young female players.  The National Advocate reported that “A considerable number of spectators were present...We may hope, for the pleasure of others, that it will not be long before such another trip is arranged especially as the new buildings are now finished at the caves, so there is plenty of room and comfort may be relied upon.”[x]

Visiting groups of tourists also used the Jenolan cricket ground.  In December 1899, the Lithgow Mercury reported that 40 members of a cycling group planned a cricket match on their upcoming Jenolan visit. Afterwards, the versatile cyclists planned to give a concert in the Devils Coach House cave, during which a collection would be taken up for the Jenolan Cricket Club.”[xi]

From the start of the Boar War (1899 to 1902), mention of a Jenolan Caves cricket team is absent from the newspapers.  Some local men may have gone to South Africa, as part NSW army contingents, and perhaps local cricket took a break.  The Lithgow Mercury wrote, “Here, as elsewhere, the war news overshadows everything.  Even the municipal elections pass almost unnoticed, and cricket, when discussed at all, is spoken of only when General Buller’s latest movement has been exhaustively dealt with.”[xii]

The English Cricket Team visited Jenolan Caves in 1902.

The English Cricket Team

In 1902, the English Cricket Team returned to Australia for the Ashes Test. While in Sydney, they travelled to the Blue Mountains, Bathurst and Jenolan Caves. On Sunday, February 9, the 13 cricketers left Mount Victoria “in two of Cooper’s four-horsed coaches for Jenolan Caves. They inspected the caves that afternoon… and after the morning inspection on Monday they returned by coach to Mount Victoria…”[xiii]

Did they make use of the Jenolan pitch?  Newspapers do not say, but it is unlikely they did, as they were very pushed for time. Neither do the newspapers mention which accommodation they used at Jenolan Caves, but we might assume that they stayed in Jenolan Caves House, as the first wing had been built only 5 years before, in 1897.

In 1904, when the English Cricket Team returned to Australia again, “Some of the Englishmen returned to Sydney on Saturday Night [Feb 20], and the remainder broke the journey at Mount Victoria, with a view to visiting the Jenolan Caves”[xiv]. By 1904, several fabulous new caves had been discovered - the River Cave the Temple of Baal Cave, and the Pool of Cerberus Cave (originally called the Skeleton Cave) - so the English cricketers would have been keen to explore them.

Friendly Matches

Mention of the Jenolan Cricket Club vanished from old newspapers until March 1935, when there was a match at Oberon, between Jenolan Caves and St. Ignatius. St. Ignatius scored an “easy win”[xv]. However, the following month, “In a match at Jenolan on Saturday, St. Ignatius was defeated by a local eleven by 19 runs.”[xvi]

In 1939, a team from Jenolan Caves played against Edith Cricket Club.  “Edith were the winners of an interesting match played in the light hearted and enjoyable fashion of village cricket.”[xvii] Mr V. Rose, the manager of Caves House, donated a trophy cup, and said that “his main purpose was to stimulate interest and foster the spirit of cricket at Jenolan and the surrounding district.”

In old newspapers, we could not find further references to Jenolan cricket. Undoubtedly, guests continued to use the cricket ground, because families in those days usually stayed for several nights.

John Norris  with koala in koala compound.

Koala Compound

Sometime in the 1960s, a koala compound was built on the Old Playing Field. Koalas had once been plentiful at Jenolan, until the bushfire of 1942. The compound was quite big, so the concrete pitch was broken up, and trees were planted for the koalas. The public could access the compound via the McKeown’s Valley Track. Unfortunately, the koalas failed to thrive and the enclosure was removed.[xviii]

However, in 1992, “…a few hard workers cleaned up the cricket pitch in McKeown's Valley and replaced the concrete which had previously been broken up to plant trees in the Koala enclosure. No doubt it is not up to SCG standards but should prove a trying pitch for any team.”[xix] So, once again, staff and guests were able to enjoy a game of cricket.

The Mystery of the Vanished Pitch

But what happened to the 1992 cricket pitch?  Not a trace of it remains, so if you can solve the mystery, please share the secret with us.

The McKeown’s Valley Track

If you would like to see where cricket was once played at Jenolan, take some water and a hat. The walk starts opposite Caves House foyer. Walk up to the dramatic Carlotta Arch lookout.  Between Carlotta Arch and Car Park 2, take the stairs down to the McKeown's Valley, and turn left. Keep your eyes and ears open for lyrebirds, wallabies and echidnas. Follow the track to a long, wide area. There are many trees, but you can see that it was once cleared. Unfortunately, there is no longer a sign to let you know you are at the ‘Old Playing Field’, as the signage was destroyed in the 2019/2020 bushfire. You must use your imagination. Envisage where the pitch must have been. Imagine the spectators in long dresses and wide hats, children playing, cicadas, the billy boiling over a small fire and tea ready to brew for the determined cricketers.  Then retrace your steps all the way back to the Caves Café for a cool drink and a snack.


[i] http://web.uvic.ca/vv/student/cricket/empire/empire.html

[xviii] The Binoomea, Issue 146, May 2011, page 8 – article ‘Koalas at Jenolan’, by John Culley

[xix] The Binoomea, issue 76, April 1993, page 2

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