Jenolan Caves

Jenolan During WW2 - Oasis in a Turbulent World

August 17, 2021

Examples of fabulous Australian Women's Weekly Magazine Covers in the war years

On 14 August 1945, Japan accepted the Allied demand for unconditional surrender. For Australia, it meant that the Second World War was finally, over.  What happened at Jenolan during those years and how did wartime changes effect people living in isolated Jenolan?

Shocking news of death at Jenolan Caves in January 1940

Local Headlines

Important war-related issues meant that Jenolan didn’t make it into the headlines, as in previous years. But local newspapers did reveal the following:

  • Jenolan’s staff recreation building was completely destroyed by fire on 3 May 1940. [i]
  • A devastating bushfire in January 1942, completely destroyed a guest-house at Jenolan, and would have reached Caves House if not for the efforts of 500 men.[ii]
  • An escaped prisoner was recaptured near Jenolan, in March 1944.[iii]
  • the first wedding to take place in Caves House [iv], was on July 1, 1944. The wedding was held in the grand dining room, now known as Chisolm’s Restaurant, where an altar had been set up. 

Also, 2 shocking tragedies involving Jenolan, were so ghastly, that they were reported in newspapers across Australia:

  • The death of a member of Caves House staff, whose body was found at 2am, January 30, 1940, in a dry creek at the base of the Grand Arch. She had fallen from the top of the arch – 320 feet – breaking almost every bone.[v]
  • The murder in October 1944 of a young, pregnant woman, who was strangled by her estranged boyfriend, after they returned to Lithgow from a day out at Jenolan Caves.[vi]

Everyone felt the effects of the war, even in isolated Jenolan. Some effects were welcomed, such as the increase in weddings.

Wedding Bells Chimed Out

After war was declared in September 1939, there was an upsurge in weddings, as couples married before men went off to war. 

While researching this article in old newspapers, one thing that jumped out was the sheer number of couples who went to Jenolan and other parts of the Blue Mountains, on their honeymoon.

In fact, from 1939 to 1945, the vast majority of news items mentioning Jenolan were about weddings and honeymoons, such as, “The bride wore a tailored frock of grey imported fabric with accessories to match, and was unattended. A short honeymoon was spent at Jenolan Caves House, as the bride groom had to leave on Saturday for Menangle with his battalion.”[vii]

By 1942, honeymoon numbers were going through the roof. Blue Mountains guest houses were booming, including Caves House. And if honeymooners weren’t staying in Caves House, they were at least making day trips to the caves. It was great for business.[viii]


Visitor Numbers Boomed

News of record visitor numbers at Easter 1941It sounds disrespectful to say that business at Jenolan was good during the war, but it was true, at least at the start.  For example, on December 28, 1939 alone, there were about 800 visitors.[ix]

News of big tourist numbers in spite of petrol rationing in Oct 1941For the 1941 Easter long weekend, there were over 4,000 visitors – a record – in spite of petrol rationing.[x]

An article from October 1941 says that when people couldn’t fuel their own cars, they crowded onto trains and buses instead, to get to Jenolan.[xi]

Eventually, it was the wartime labour shortage that caused guest numbers to fall at Jenolan.  Shortly before Christmas in 1943, the Daily Telegraph quoted Caves House Manager, Vincent Rose, "We were booked up three months ago for Christmas. We could take an extra 75 guests if we had the staff. Guests are allowed to stay only four days at a time."[xii]

Lithgow Population Explosion

In the earlier part of the war, Jenolan’s popularity may have been due to the honeymoon business. But later on, there were 2 other factors. One was the population explosion in nearby Lithgow and the other was the closure of other major government-managed tourist hotels.

Interior of Lithgow Small Arms Factory

The population exploded in Lithgow, less than an hour away. No, it wasn’t a baby boom, but the Small Arms Factory was under huge pressure to produce .303 Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) rifles, for the war.

A tourism ad from 1941

Before the war, it had been making around 30,000 per year. At the outbreak of war, the demand rose to 100,000 per year, increasing again in early 1941 to 200,000 per year. By the end of 1942, it needed to make 4200 guns per week.

How did it cope? It employed 6000 people, with a further 6000 in feeder factories in Bathurst, Orange, Forbes, Wellington, Mudgee, Cowra, Young, Dubbo, Parkes, Portland. Many were women.  The government seconded women from other factories to work in the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow.[xiii] Presumably in their time off, factory workers and their families would also visit Jenolan.

Daylight Savings

Daylight Savings was reintroduced. Previously, it was introduced during WW1, but was so unpopular that it was stopped after 3 months.

But it was reintroduced in January 1942, to reduce the number of hours during which people needed to use artificial lighting, thus saving fuel.[xiv]

Daylight savings was also thought to increase productivity.

Jenolan’s Competition Closed

Petrol was scarce and it was rationed rationed.  The Government was criticised for continuing to promote their tourist resorts, when getting to these resorts meant wasting petrol, and worsening petrol rationing.

The Smith’s Weekly printed this angry letter to the editor, “While Federal Government is howling for further cuts in the consumption of petrol to conserve dollar exchange, this advertisement is being inserted in the ‘Amusement’ columns of Sydney daily papers by the Victorian Tourist Bureau: ‘An 18 Days' Motor Tour For 24 Guineas. A grand holiday over good roads through three States in sedan coaches leaving Sydney every Wednesday.’ WHY IS THIS PERMITTED?”[xv]

So, in June 1942, the NSW government closed The Hotel Kosciusco and the Charlotte Pass Chalet.[xvi]

There were still major hotels in the Blue Mountains, such as the Hydro Majestic and The Carrington. 

But the closures reduced holiday competition for Caves House, which was allowed to remain open.

Food and clothing ration booklets from WW2Rationing of Clothing and Food

In June 1942, rationing was implemented all over Australia. Almost every type of clothing and footwear was rationed, along with many foods, including meat, tea, butter, and sugar.  Identity cards and ration books were introduced.

Decreased imports, increased demand from the military plus a labour shortage in the Australian textile and clothing industry all caused the clothing shortage.

The solution was rationing, which controlled shortages, consumption, inflation and spending. It ensured fair distribution.

The Government hoped that cutting consumer spending would increase savings, which in turn could be invested in war loans.[xvii]

Spitfire Fighter Fund poster from WW2

Jenolan staff may have been effected by clothing shortages, but there was probably no shortage of food at Jenolan, which fortunately had its own farm, providing food for staff and guests.

There’s much to be said for self-sufficiency!  Jenolan not only had its own farm, but its own hydro-electricity supply, its own underground water supply and its own sewage treatment plant (still going strong today).

Victory Loans

The government raised money for the war effort by issuing bonds called “Victory Loans” and urging citizens to buy them. We have no way of knowing if Jenolan staff bought these bonds, but it is likely they did, because Ben Chifley was the Federal Treasurer for most of the war, and he was enormously popular at Jenolan.

We know that Jenolan staff were keen to support the war effort in any way possible.  We found an article in the Goulburn Evening Post, Dec 1940, reporting that the Jenolan Recreation Club had raised funds to donate to the Spitfire Fund over in England, saying "Members of the club…intend to spend Christmas present money on the Spitfire Fund."[xviii]

Battles in Federal Parliament

In 1941, the Australian Parliament was locked in battle with itself. Australia ended up with 3 different Prime Ministers in 3 months. Due to general disillusionment with his leadership, Robert Menzies resigned and was replaced with Arthur Fadden. Six weeks later Fadden was forced to stand down and Labor Leader, John Curtin, became Prime Minister.[xix] He remained Prime Minister until he died, only 3 weeks before the end of the war, when Ben Chifley took over.

Isolated as they were, the staff of Jenolan were quite concerned with the politics of the time. Ben Chifley, who was Jenolan’s Federal MP, visited Jenolan on a number of occasions, throughout the war years, to speak to Jenolan staff.  In Sept 1940, the National Advocate printed, “Jenolan. Caves Is likely to prove one of the small Chifley strongholds on Saturday next. This is proved by the response to the appeal for funds for the Labor Campaign.”[xx] The article then went on to list the names of 9 Jenolan staff who donated money to the campaign.

Visits by Service People

On 9 June 1941, the Lithgow Mercury reported that 600 men, members of the Australian Imperial Force, were to have a training march from Bathurst to Jenolan and back, “in battle order fully equipped with field kitchens etc.”[xxi]

In fact, one of those young men somehow managed to carve his name and enlistment number in a hidden spot inside the Left Imperial Cave. (We cannot stress enough that carving and writing on the caves, or otherwise damaging them, is deplorable.) But in this case, the historical graffiti intrigued Kath Bellamy of the Jenolan Caves Historical and Preservation Society. Kath did some research into QX14699 Mervyn Evans, and discovered that he came from Queensland, and enlisted in the Army on 15 July 1940, serving with the 2/26th Battalion. Mervyn marched to Jenolan from Bathurst, with the other trainees, before being sent to Malaya. Unfortunately he became a prisoner of war and died in the Kanchanburi camp in December 1943.[xxiii}

Again in the Lithgow Mercury, an article from 1945, said, “A party of 20 British Navy personnel are at present on a four-day stay in Lithgow… Arrangements were made for the group to visit Jenolan Caves … It is the first organised visit of British servicemen to Lithgow…It is expected that the visit will be the forerunner of many others.”[xxii]

Happy Days Returned

On 14 August 1945, Japan surrendered. Happy days returned.  The economy and the population boomed. It was the start of the Atomic Era.

The Chifley Cave at Jenolan CavesJenolan – A World Apart

When we look back through the unusual history of isolated Jenolan, one thing stands out – Jenolan is a world apart.  The indigenous people regard it as a special place, where the waters had healing powers. Since 1837, Jenolan has been an oasis, amidst a world of troubles, a place of fun, mystery, adventure and romance, where time sometimes seems to stand still.  

From World War 2, there were no lasting effects at Jenolan, except for one thing.  Ben Chifley was so popular, that in 1952, after he died, a cave was named after him. Because Chifley was on the left side of politics, they chose the Left Imperial cave to be forevermore known as the Chifley Cave

[xxii] 22 Mar 1945 - ROYAL NAVY MEN VISIT LITHGOW - Trove (

[xxiii] The Binoomea, issue 134, May 2008, page 8

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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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