Jenolan Caves

The World is a Dangerous Place to Live – Quote by Albert Einstein

January 25, 2021

Albert Einstein is probably not the first or last wise person to say, "The World is a Dangerous Place to Live." One of the dangers is the bushfire season.  As in many rural, wild and leafy regions, over the years, the inhabitants of Jenolan have had to defend their homes and facilities from destruction on several occasions, sometimes unsuccessfully.

For example, 1889 started with joy and good wishes at the Jenolan wedding of Miss Sarah Riley and Mr Wilfred Marshall [i]. But before the week was out, Jenolan staff had to stop a bushfire from burning its way through the Jenolan valley. 

On 7 January 1899 the Daily Telegraph reported that "a bush fire had started about a mile distant from the Grand Archway on the eastern side where the whole of the side of the mountain was blazing. The residences of Messrs. Cale, Wiburd and Edwards were only saved by the determined fighting of a few helpers. Several huge trees were across the road and coaches were unable to leave. The foliage in close proximity to the Grand Archway was destroyed and fencing was burnt badly in several places."[ii]

On 31 January 1902, the following grahic account was printed in the Lithgow Mercury. “The terrific bush fires, which have been raging around here for the past few days, partly surrounded the Caves hotel and Government buildings. Early in the day Mr. F. Wilson gathered up all the available fighting stock to battle with the flames and save the buildings. Until midday about a dozen hands laboured in vain in their attempt to overcome the progress of the fire, which although checked, was again gaining speed. By noon extra men were on the scene, each rendering valuable help. By 2 p.m. the fire that threatened the Government buildings was under control, and a rush was made to protect the material at the dam. The flames were by this time shooting up the hill like a rocket towards Mr. Bailey's house. Mr. Bailey who had been working at the fire made off to save his home and was working like a Briton when help arrived, just in time to save the building; in fact, the hope of saving the place seemed so small, with the flames leaping up on all sides, that Mrs. Bailey and two young children hurried off to a neighbour's place (Mr. Whalan's). The retreat towards the Caves being cut off by the raging fire.

"Never before have I seen such a fire roaring and raging, trees falling, and with huge boulders rolling down the hill sides and setting fire to the opposite ridges. Fire fighting in a locality like this is really a dangerous occupation owing to the continuous stream of rolling boulders. Most of the hands battled until 10p.m when things were considered safe. A good mile and a half of the fence on the caves hill, Oberon side, was demolished. The last arrival from the scene was Mr. Campbell, black as a sweep from clearing the fallen timber off the road. Anticipating a block on the road he came provided with an axe and left the road clear for traffic.”[iii]

But then, a few days later, a bushfire approached Jenolan from a different direction and destroyed  staff houses.

Lithgow Mercury again reported on a bush fire, on 6 January 1909, that fiercely burnt up to the Grand Arch, the newly constructed Blue Lake dam, the dynamo shed, engine-drivers cottage and close to the stables and postmaster's residence. The road and fences again suffered great damage as burning trees crashed in all directions.[iv]

Jenolan visitors returning to Bathurst dramatically reported that they had to pass “through a veritable archway of flame”. They endured “the noise of exploding rocks, caused by the great heat, and the consequent shower of broken pieces down the hillside into the valley …” Yet the site was not closed, and at least one honeymooning couple arrived the very next day.[v]

In 1918, bushfire must have come very close to Jenolan because the Daily Telegraph reported “the road to the Jenolan Caves is ablaze.”[vi]

Although this fire got almost no mention in the papers, it hugely increased the damage caused by the devastating flood that followed. The Evening News in Feb 1919 wrote, “As the result of the continuously dry and intensely hot weather, together with the recent bush fires, the whole of the surrounding hills had been denuded of grass and there was thus no resistance to the volume of water which rapidly filled the creek. The deluge washed huge logs along…”[vii]

Ten years later, the Sunday Mail reported, “There was no sleep at Caves House last night.  The guests watched the awe-inspiring sight of a surrounding ring of flame.”[viii] But on 7 January 1929, a providential downpour came to the rescue, extinguishing bushfire flames [ix].

Buildings at Jenolan have been lost to fire on a number of occasions. Wilson's buildings had burned down in 1895 and Wallace's Braeside Guesthouse had a close call in 1898, but both these fires were from other causes.

It was in January 1942 when the guesthouse ‘Kia-Ora’ was lost in a bush fire.

This building was located on Katoomba Point near the top of the 5 Mile road, where there is a clearing on the right hand side as you leave Jenolan. Fire fighters prevented the fire spreading to Edith. The Caves House and cottages were in great danger when the flames looked like sweeping through the valley. There was danger from rolling stones and falling burning timber. The firefighters averted serious damage. Mr. Wilson, captain of the Oberon brigade, yesterday extended his thanks to the volunteers.[x]

During the recent fires, there were modern resources (at right) available to those at the fire front.

Hopefully, it will be many years before Jenolan has to fend off a bushfire again.

For information about the Jenolan Caves Rural Fire Service, see their Facebook page

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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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