Jenolan Caves

Jenolan Caves Dreamtime Creation

July 5, 2021

Gurrangatch & Mirrigan - artwork by Tom Brown

NAIDOC Week, from July 4 to 11, with its theme, 'Heal Country', reminds us of Jenolan’s special connection with indigenous culture.

For tens of thousands of years, Jenolan has been part of the culture of the local Indigenous people. This beautiful and mysterious place holds special significance to the Gundungurra people who knew it as 'Binomil' or 'Bin-oo-mur'.

Healing Waters by late Gundungurra artist, Tom BrownAccording to Gundungurra Elder, Old Jimmy Lynch, who lived the latter part of his life in the Gully in Katoomba, until his death in 1913, "The old natives knew the caves. They penetrated them as far as the subterranean water, carrying sick people to be bathed in this water, which they believed to have great curative powers. Sick people were carried there from considerable distances."[i]

Gurrangatch & Mirrigan

Gundungurra people's knowledge of the caves goes back a long way, and there is a dreamtime creation story about how the whole countryside around Jenolan came into being. The story describes an almighty struggle between two ancestral creator spirits, one a giant eel-like creature, Gurangatch, an incarnation of the ancestral rainbow serpent, and the other, a large quoll, Mirrangan.

The scuffle resulted in the gouging out of the land to form the river systems of the Cox and Wollondillly Rivers, much of which is now under Sydney's water storage lake behind Warragamba Dam. In this dreamtime creation story, Gurangatch and Mirragan visited Jenolan as well as Wombeyan (Whambeyan) Caves, which were already part of the landscape.  You can read the detailed story of Gurangatch and Mirrigan here.

How did this story come to the wider world?

portrait of surveyor and anthropologist, R. H. MathewsWhen visiting the Burragorang Valley in 1900-1901, R.H. Mathews, the ethnographer and surveyor, met with Gundungurra people, and recorded their creation story of the rivers in the area. Mathews devoted the last 25 years of his life to studying and documenting Aboriginal culture, especially language. Because he was maligned by his Australian contemporaries, the legend of Gurrangatch and Mirrigan was first published not in Australia, but in a German anthropological journal in 1908.

Mathews is now recognised as a founder of Australian anthropology, and his considerable works are now used as resources by anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, linguists, heritage consultants and by members of descendant Aboriginal communities.[ii]

In 2012, Jenolan's historical researcher, David Hay, liaised extensively with Gundungurra elder, Sharon Brown, then Chairperson of the Gundungurra Tribal Council. From her, we received the dreamtime story plus a wealth of details of Gundungurra culture in the Jenolan region.  In addition, artwork was created especially for Jenolan, by Gundungurra artist, Tom Brown. As a result, on our website, you can read the whole story of Gurrangatch and Mirrigan, including many Gundungurra words, and Tom's artworks. We are privileged to have been given this story and to be able to share it.


NAIDOC Week celebrations are held across Australia each July to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. NAIDOC is celebrated not only in Indigenous communities, but by Australians from all walks of life.

NAIDOC originally stood for ‘National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee’, which was once responsible for organising national activities during NAIDOC Week. The acronym has since become the name of the week itself.[iv] Find out more about the origins and history of NAIDOC Week.

NAIDOC Week 2021 is an opportunity for all Australians to come together to celebrate the rich history, diverse cultures and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the oldest continuing culture on the planet.See the NAIDOC webpage to find out about NAIDOC week activities in which you can participate, to support your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.[iii]

The NAIDOC Week theme – Heal Country! - calls for all of us to continue to seek greater protections for lands, waters, Aboriginal sacred sites and cultural heritage, and protections for Country that is more than a place but inherent to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples identity. Country that is, to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, spoken about like a person, sustaining lives in every aspect - spiritually, physically, emotionally, socially, and culturally.

NAIDOC 2021 invites everyone to embrace First Nations’ cultural knowledge and understanding of Country as part of Australia's national heritage and equally, to respect the culture and values of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders as they do the cultures and values of all Australians.

For generations, calls for stronger measures to recognise, protect, and maintain all aspects of Aboriginal culture and heritage have been made. This year’s theme also seeks substantive institutional, structural, and collaborative reform – something generations of Elders and communities have been advocating, marching and fighting for.

Healing Country means working towards resolving many of the outstanding injustices which impact on the lives of Aboriginal peoples, and is about hearing and actioning aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

Healing Country means healing our nation.

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