Jenolan Caves

When Jenolan Caves Had Its Own Farm

October 21, 2021

The Jenolan Farm

At Jenolan, 1916 to 1918 were gala years.  In 1916, electric lighting was installed in Caves House, Then, in December 1917, the Orient Cave finally opened to the public, with great fanfare.  And by 1918, Caves House had been transformed with the addition of an ambitious 4 story extension. And then, (this is a little known fact)  to meet the high standards of guests and to ensure an abundance of fresh meat, eggs, milk, fruit and vegetables for the brand new Grand Dining Room (now Chisolm’s Restaurant), Jenolan started its own farm.

The farm was not just so that the hotel could have fresh food and flowers. It was also part of the tourist attraction. Visitors were encouraged to see it. In fact, a road was built specifically so that visitors could reach the farm. School groups put the Jenolan farm on their excursion itineraries. Unfortunately, not a trace of the farm exists now. What happened?

Enthusiasm and Vision

When the NSW Tourist Bureau took over Jenolan’s grand hotel, Caves House, in 1916, they did it with great enthusiasm and vision.  Jenolan was to be their flagship government-owned tourist resort.  In May 1917, The Blue Mountain Echo printed, “Some 12 months ago, on the bureau taking over the control and management of the Caves House, which had previously been leased, a large farm was laid out below the trout hatchery, and vegetable supplies for the Caves House are being grown with considerable success.  Poultry-raising and egg production is to be feature of this new activity.”

To further encourage visitation to Jenolan, the government had also taken over management of the road from Hampton to Edith, in order to make improvements.  “A distance of 40 miles, with Jenolan Caves between, has already been attended with such marked improvement in the facilities of access to the caves…It will undoubtedly contribute in an increasing measure to the popularity of this most interesting and attractive of the tourist resorts controlled by the Government.” The glowing article finishes with, “The grandeur and variety of the scenery opened up by this round tour has to be viewed to be appreciated, and, taken in conjunction with the unrivalled attractions of Jenolan and its Caves, constitutes perhaps almost the best of what New South Wales has to offer to the tourist on holiday.”[i]

Eight months later, the Sydney Morning Herald reported, “The idea of the acting superintendent of the Government Tourist Bureau, Mr E. H. Palmer, who is supervising the management of the Caves House, is to avoid bringing vegetables and other garden products from a distance as at present. At Jenolan as many as 200 people can be accommodated, and a farm supplying their wants in the locality should, in time, be made a paying proposition.”[ii]  

Jenolan trout pond and fish stairs

By this time, peas, beans, cabbages, tomatoes, beetroot and spinach were growing “to perfection” and there were plans for strawberries, apples and other fruit trees. Turkeys and pigs were already being raised.

The farm was located about 1 mile down the Jenolan River from the caves, near the hydroelectricity station.  The river provided water for irrigation.

Farming Became A Tourist Attraction

By May 1918, plans were underway to make a road to the Jenolan farm, “The farm and garden…are proving not the least of the attractions of the resort. By next season, the resident controller hopes to have them connected by a well graded road, by which the climb will be easily negotiated by the departmental lorries and of course motor cars.”[iii]

By January 1919, the farm was celebrating a recent acquisition – “a fine pedigree Middle Yorkshire boar, with the high-sounding title of ‘Hawkesbury Rupert’. He was secured from the Hawkesbury Agricultural College for seventeen guineas.”[iv]

Little did anyone know that Jenolan would soon suffer a bushfire and devastating flood, followed by the Spanish flu.  Bouncing back after these terrible disasters, the new road to the Jenolan farm was finally official opened on Monday, August 4, 1919.  The Lithgow Mercury described it as “a valuable, additional attraction.[v]

A Second Farm

The Jenolan Farm flourished, and by the 1930s it was expanded.  It was the Great Depression, and to try to help the huge numbers of unemployed, the Unemployment Relief Council granted £1000 to Jenolan to expand their farm.  A new farm was planned “at the top of the Five Mile Hill, just to the west of the road.”[vii] The plan employed 20 men to clear 30 acres for potatoes, pumpkins and other crops.  So the earlier farm became known as the ‘Pig Farm’ and the new farm was known as the ‘Top Farm’.  

In the old days, before long commutes became the norm, Jenolan staff all lived at Jenolan, with their families.  In 2001, Joy Sandland, whose family ran the Jenolan farm in the “early ‘30s” sent some of her reminiscences to the Jenolan Caves Historical & Preservation Society (JCHAPS).  She wrote, “We children helped with chores. One was to wrap large bundles of flowers in newspaper, tie with string and carry them down the steps for the milk truck to collect. Another job was to help pluck chooks in the slaughter house. Very unpleasant, but there was no complaining allowed. I was given the job of collecting the eggs from hundreds of chickens. Their ‘runs’ were large – almost free-range, running from near the house to the bottom, near the creek.  There were always turkeys also, a couple of pigsties housed 2 sows and piglets. We can remember a few ducks. We caught fish in the stream below the house. Kitchen refuse was sent as food for the pigs”[vi]  

This memory really offers a fascinating little window into the times, because it shows the wide range of produce, even including flowers and every type of farm animal.  There must have been a farmhouse, a slaughterhouse, a chook house and probably numerous other outbuildings, none of which exist anymore.  Joy wrote, “One day, our Aunt was walking back to the farm with the 2 of us, when around a bend we came face to face with a bull. It looked furious and cranky. Saliva dripping from its mouth. With perfect presence of mind, without breaking her step, she gripped a hand of each of us and started singing ‘Here comes the bull’ to the tune of ‘Here Comes the Bride’. Nothing happened - maybe it liked the song. At 6, I remember feeling awesome respect for our aunt.”

Both the ‘Pig Farm’ and the ‘Top Farm’ remained in operation for many more years.

Doomed by More Convenient Transportation

Mr Salvator Victor Onorato managed Caves House for nearly 20 years, starting in 1954.  An article by JCHAPS (Aug 2010) said, “The ‘Top Farm House’ had survived the 1942 and 1957 bushfires that swept through the Jenolan Caves area, but because of improved transportation from Sydney to Jenolan Caves, Mr Onorato decided to have supplies carried by the NSW Railways from Sydney Markets to Mt Victoria and a Jenolan Caves truck would bring the supplies from there. This brought an end to the farming and self-sufficiency at Jenolan Caves.”

No trace of the farm remains.  All the same, good on Mr Onorato for taking advantage of all the modern efficiencies that post-war society offered! [viii] 

Still Keeping It Local!

Mark Livingstone, Head Chef, Chisolm's Restaurant, Jenolan CavesOberon beef at Chisolm's RestaurantThe irony is that today, we know that, from a sustainability point of view, it’s important to buy locally grown food, because driving food and other supplies from far away uses more fossil fuel, produces more greenhouse gases and does nothing for local industry, and we want to support our regional industries.

Ever mindful of sustainability, our head chef, Mark Livingstone, is particularly excited about local beef and lamb from nearby Oberon for Chisolm’s Restaurant, upstairs in Caves House. He said, “I only ever buy beef from Oberon. It’s all grass-fed Black Angus. And our lamb is also local. It’s beautiful meat. It melts in your mouth, because local cattle and sheep are happy and loved. They spend their little lives totally free of stress, munching away on the most lush, green pastures that our region offers.”

Jenolan is situated on the western edge of the Blue Mountains, where Mark sources our fruit and veg. He only uses what is actually in season in Australia, avoiding imported produce. So, that’s something to think about.

For your next special occasion, why not come to Jenolan, and enjoy an elegant lunch, dinner or high tea at Chisolm’s. Explore jaw-dropping caves and even make a weekend of it!


[i]p7 - 18 May 1917 - The Blue Mountain Echo (NSW : 1909 - 1928) - Trove (nla.gov.au)

[ii]p5 - 14 Jan 1918 - The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954) - Trove (nla.gov.au)

[iii]p6 - 24 May 1918 - Lithgow Mercury (NSW : 1898 - 1954) - Trove (nla.gov.au)

[iv]p6 - 03 Jan 1919 - The Blue Mountain Echo (NSW : 1909 - 1928) - Trove (nla.gov.au)

[v]06 Aug 1919 - JENOLAN CAVES. - Trove (nla.gov.au)

[vi]Binoomea, issue no 109 (July 2001)

[vii]p5 - 09 Dec 1932 - Lithgow Mercury (NSW : 1898 - 1954) - Trove (nla.gov.au)

[viii]Binoomea, issue no. 143, (Aug 2010)

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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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