Jenolan Caves

Memories of the 50’s – A Young Kiwi’s Trans-Global Adventure

May 7, 2020

Andrew Sullivan, now age 92, remembers the 1950s at Jenolan.While Jenolan Caves is closed for the pandemic, we have focused on the old days and stirring up fond memories. Wendy Turton contacted us because in 1950 her father worked at Jenolan for 2 months. Jenolan was the first leg of his huge adventure – a two-year working, cycling and hitch-hiking holiday that took him across the globe. Now at 92, Andrew and his wife Alma, live in New Zealand.

In 1950, 22-year-old New Zealander, Andrew Sullivan, joined a university group and crossed over from NZ to Sydney, for holiday work. His companions planned to go back to NZ afterwards, but his plan was to travel the world. He joined the group through the student’s association at Sydney University, which was supposed to supply them all with summer jobs in Australia.

Andrew said, “They turned out to be hopeless. But I knew what to do, because in New Zealand, two student friends of mine got their jobs for summer through the Automobile Association. So I thought, well, l’ll look for the Automobile Association, which I did in Sydney. And sure enough, I got a job, and it happened to be at Jenolan Caves.

“I got on the train and went up, and got picked up by a bus, and got conveyed to Jenolan caves. I was a yardman, sweeping the yards, seeing to the outside toilets and any other jobs around the gardens that came up.

“But after a short time, I was keen on cooking and so on, so the chance came of getting into the kitchen. I took that on. It was interesting, amongst other things, sitting down and shelling eggs – shelled maybe 40 eggs for a custard or something – down-to-earth basics in the kitchen. I sat down to peel about 4 dozen potatoes, and things like that. I was 3rd or 4th cook. There was a very interesting chief cook from London. I was planning to get to England, so it was very interesting to work beside him. I don’t remember his name, but I enjoyed working under him. Years later when Alma and I were in London, the man who had been the cook was a few blocks away, in Battersea London, living. We met in the street.

Unfinished Men's quarters just visible behind Caves House“My roommate happened to be an Englishman too. I shared a room for staff. Men’s quarters were separate from the women. I found myself sharing a room with a man from Southampton, England and he was very good – delighted to have me, because there was a weekly beer ration. We were only given a couple of bottles a week or something. He got mine, because I was not drinking in those days.

“The manager was a decent sort of bloke. He was quite gentle giving me a reproof. I broke the rules at one time. It was a hitchhiker that happened at the Caves, and I let him sleep overnight in my room, and the manager heard about it, and he gave me a reproof, but not too bad.”

And Andrew fed the fellow too, saying, “Well, the manager was not around the kitchen much, and these things get taken care of.”
At Jenolan, there used to be a building where the small tennis court is now, and in 1950 that was the Men’s quarters.

When asked about the Women’s quarters, Andrew said, “I don’t know anything about the women. They were certainly nowhere near us. I have no idea where they were actually. They must have been at the other end of the building.”

It wasn’t all work that summer. In his spare time, Andrew could join cave tours. He said, “We tailed along behind the guides and got all the information, the descriptions and so on. We felt part of the whole enterprise, helping to run the caves and the tourists - looking after them.”

Andrew said, “In between times, it was jolly nice to get out and just walk for, you know, 10 minutes, or not much more, down below the hotel, and find a nice swimming pool. On the way, I one day stepped over a black snake, which reminded me that I was not in New Zealand!”

Workers never consorted with guests in those formal days. He said “Oh no. The tourists didn’t deign to come down to the swimming pool, it was unorganised, just a natural swimming one in the river”

After leaving Jenolan, Andrew hitchhiked for several days, to the fruit and wine district of Leeton, in the Riverina, picking oranges and having a marvellous time. He said, “I went on down to Melbourne, worked in kitchens and bars, and finally succeeded in getting a job on a ship which, in four months, landed me in England. I was just, for a start, doing odd jobs, and then I was put on the watch, and took my share of going on the wheel, 2 or 4 hours a day, up on the bridge, steering the ship and other times sweeping down the deck. I was the look-out at night, looking out on the ocean, so that we didn’t run into anyone.”

He enjoyed recalling a day off the ship in Adelaide and heading in a car to a “joyous festival - the Italians - great atmosphere at a wine festival there, in the Barossa.”

Andrew’s ship called into Spain and North Africa. Andrew remembered “swimming in the sea and the first mate losing his false teeth in the surf.”

Andrew’s wife Alma joined in, “He actually got to steer part of the way up the English Channel, did he tell you that? Well, the captain was standing behind him, keeping an eye on him, but one of the others didn’t approve. He thought he wasn’t a proper sailor, but the captain said he was doing very well! It took 4 months. Now you just flit over in no time at all. I think we took 5 weeks by sea, when I went with him later on. Things speeded up a little.”

After four months, they landed in the north of England. Andrew said, “I bought a bicycle there, and I cycled round the British Isles and a large lump of Europe, before coming home again 2 years later. Yes England, Ireland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Austria.” The bicycle was a sports bike with cable-shift gears – the latest thing.

Once back in New Zealand, Andrew married Alma in 1953. As a challenge-seeker, a busy Anglican priest, and high school English and History teacher, their future included more world travels, including teaching in Venezuela, 4 children, 9 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren.

In 2000, at age 72, Andrew’s family took him back to visit Jenolan. His daughter Wendy said, “He was ecstatic. He wandered into the staff area, and was eventually led back out by the housekeeper, who then kindly gave our family a tour of the hotel.”

Our sincere thanks to Andrew and Alma Sullivan, and daughter Wendy, for sharing this story.

We really appreciate stories like Andrew’s, that bring back memories about exploring the caves as a child or working at Jenolan or their parents or grandparents’ honeymoon at Caves House. We live in the fast lane now. Technology has made the world seem much smaller. Fashions, attitudes and needs have changed. But Jenolan Caves just keeps getting better. 

6 Comments (Reply)
Scott Melton (Reply)
What a great story that Andrew told! Although he was only working at Jenolan for two months, his story is part of the weaving of the social fabric of Jenolan Caves.
Carolyn Melbourne (Reply)
Exactly Scott. I loved his mention of the 'beer ration'. And I enjoyed trying to figure out which building he actually stayed in and where it was.
Donna Edwards 🌸 (Reply)
Hi Scott. Are you still out there? Prodding your memory, I was there in the late 90s
Scott Melton (Reply)
Hi Donna, Yes - I am still here! I am in my 27th year of working here... I remember you! Regards, Scott
Alan Wiburd (Reply)
I hope to visit the caves one day from WA but with the pandemic and nearly turning 80 I may have missed the boat. By the way, my son is James Wiburd and the original James W was my grandfather’s brother.
Carolyn Melbourne (Reply)
Hi Alan, Your great-uncle, James Wiburd, was legendary here. The only reason that I haven't written an article about him is that he was at Jenolan for so many years, that one could actually write a book about all that he was involved in. An article would be totally inadequate. I did write an article about how he was involved during the start of radio at Jenolan, but I need to do more research into other topics involving him. I hope you do get the chance to visit Jenolan - it sure is difficult at the moment! Lovely to hear from you.
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