Jenolan Caves

Women of Our Past Inspiring Women of the Future

March 10, 2021

When we think of the history of Jenolan Caves, we imagine treacherous subterranean waters, ancient, unforgiving rock and impenetrable darkness, as brave men risked death to explore the alien underworld. And yes, this aspect of Jenolan’s history is so exciting! Such exploits inspire and fire the imagination of each generation.  But it’s a little-known fact that from way back in the 1860s, there have been just as many women working at Jenolan, supporting the men and the business. Their work wasn't glamourous, and one just doesn’t hear as much about them.

Once accommodation was built at Jenolan, women were hired to work in the dining room, the laundry and to do the general housekeeping. Remember that housekeeping was much more menial in those days before handy electrical appliances. As the hotel grew to 100 rooms, the need for staff increased. For all those guests in busy times, that was a lot of sheets to wash and, unfortunately, a lot of chamber pots to deal with!  It wasn’t glamourous. Women needed to be strong and stoic!

These days, Jenolan is a day trip from Sydney, but way back then, it took a couple of days to reach the isolated mountain valley. So whenever a man started work at Jenolan, they either brought their wife and family with them, or married a local lady, who then also came to live at Jenolan. The hills surrounding the caves were dotted with staff family cottages. The children were schooled at Jenolan and wives usually got part time or casual work in Caves House hotel.

Few Surviving Records

NSW Government records list permanent cave staff only - no casual workers and no one who worked at the hotel over the many years when it was privately managed. Of those people, all records seem to have vanished, but most of them would have been female domestic staff.

There have also been many female managers at Caves House hotel, but it isn’t easy to spot the tiny references to them in old newspapers. For example, there’s this item from 1926, “Lord and Lady Allenby were met at the Caves House by Mr. and Mrs. Stilling, manager and manageress.” [i]

The Gatehouse female staff accommodation

Here is one from 1918, which completely omits the manageress’s name, “The visitors were welcomed by the controller (Mr. E. H. Palmer) and the manageress, to whom they were introduced by Mr. Dooley, and Mr. Roberts, theGovernment tourist officer.”[ii] 

And this one from 1907, “…Mr. and Mrs. Anderson (manager and manageress' respectively), assisted by a very able staff, are doing their best to assure the comfort of visitors during their stay, and in their efforts have been very successful.”[iii] There are many such examples, to be saved for another article.

On your next Jenolan stay, park up the hill behind caves house, and walk down. Pass the chalet-style Mountain Lodge. As you approach the 3-storey GateHouse, stop and imagine how it would have looked in 1926, with wide verandahs across the front, on all 3 levels. Many years later, the verandahs were enclosed. Most recently, the Gatehouse was used for backpackers and school groups, but it was actually built as accommodation for the numerous female members of Jenolan’s hospitality staff.

Several women have set benchmarks at Jenolan over the years.

Note the mention of J. Falls.

The Mysterious Jane Falls

Irish immigrant Jane Falls is a mystery.  It is thought she was the only woman in the courageous first group to explore the newly discovered Lucas Cave, by candlelight, in 1860[iv].  ‘J. Falls’ was listed among the names of the people in that group. ‘J. Falls’ could have referred to Jane’s father, James, or to her brother, also James. However, legend has it that it was Jane, who would have been 31 at the time.[v]

Lucinda Wilson

Lucinda and Jeremiah Wilson

After Jeremiah Wilson became the first caretaker, his wife, Lucinda managed the accommodation from 1880 to 1897. Jerry grew to be highly successful – even a celebrity of the Oberon region. He not only managed the caves and spent a lot of time in exploration, but he owned several properties, with sheep, cattle and horses.

His very profitable sideline was carrying people from Tarana train station to Jenolan caves, and back, passed his own house, where his wife Lucinda would feed them all and put them all up for the night.  After he had built accommodation at Jenolan, with room for up to 50 guests, Lucinda managed that also, as well as raising 8 children.

Katie Webb

Katie and Selina Webb

Katie Webb is said to have been the first person to enter Katie’s Bower in the Chifley Cave.  Jenolan legend has it that she was part of a group exploring the Left Imperial Cave (as the Chifley was once known). It was 1881. With a rope tied around her waist, and holding a candle, she slowly and cautiously made her way down a steep, narrow incline, enveloped in darkness, with no idea what dangers lay ahead. She discovered an enormous cavern, now called Katie’s Bower. It is the last major cavern on the fascinating Chifley Cave tour.

Selina Webb was Katie’s equally adventurous sister. The National Advocate, in 1890, mentions that Katie and Selina Webb were 2 of only 3 ladies who had been able to get into the Coral Cave (a small cavern off the Elder Cave). The article said, “We were informed that, hitherto only some female member of Mr. Wilson's family and a party of well-known and prominent Bathurst ladies (the Misses Webb) had seen this cave.”[vi]

Eva Hoad

In 1919, Jenolan had an unwelcomed guest - the Spanish Flu. Sick staff were not cared for in Caves House hotel.  Instead a separate guesthouse at Jenolan was converted to a hospital. Women were brought in to nurse the sick, risking their own lives. The only women we know about were “Miss Batchelor, the Jenolan schoolteacher, whose father and uncle were among the infected patients, Matron Ward and Miss Hoad, manageress.”[vii] Miss Eva Hoad fell ill with the Spanish Flu herself, but fortunately recovered and stayed to work at Jenolan for at least a couple more years. The very independent Eva Hoad had a caving background, having grown up at Yarrangabilly Caves, and after leaving Jenolan went on to travel the world.

Miss Chisholm, who worked at Jenolan from 1930 to 1958

Barbara Chisholm

Jenolan’s grand dining room is now Chisolm’s Restaurant, named after Miss Barbara Chisholm, who worked at Jenolan for 28 years, from 1930 to 1958. She migrated from Scotland, on her own, aged 23, waitressing in various restaurants in NSW and Victoria, until settling down in Jenolan. The 1935 wages book described her as a 'dining room attendant', and later on as 'dining room supervisor'. She became a highly respected manageress in Caves House. Firm but fair, she personified everything that Caves House represented – charm, quality and respectability – and is remembered as a role model for the many young women that she trained.  Miss Chisolm was one of Jenolan’s longest serving staff.

She actually died in Caves House, which she is now said to haunt – nothing too terrifying - just rearranging table settings and little things like that.

Mary Moran

Another long serving female staff member was Mary (Molly) Moran. She was a housemaid who commenced at Caves House in 1928, 2 years before Barbara Chisholm. Both women had alot in common, and we like to think that they were friends.  She worked at Jenolan for 22 years, until her death in 1950, and was buried in Lithgow cemetery, with a headstone erected by the staff at Jenolan. 

Therese Holland

Many years went by before Jenolan had its first female cave guide. Therese Holland was employed as a casual guide, in 1978.[viii]  She must have made a good impression, since she paved the way for many more female cave guides.  Now, women make up around 50% of Jenolan’s guiding staff.

International Women’s Day

Today, almost half of Jenolan’s total staff is female. Our General Manager is female - Jodie Anderson. Women are even part of our maintenance crew – and love it! 

A few of Jenolan's female staff March 2021International Women's Day logoWe are talking about women who left their mark on Jenolan, because March 8 is International Women’s Day, “a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.”[ix] 

This year’s theme is, ”Break the Bias.”[x]

International Women’s Day has been observed since the early 1900s. So, as they say, “Make a difference, think globally and act locally! Make everyday International Women's Day. Do your bit to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.”[xi]


0 Comments (Reply)
4655 Jenolan Caves Road, Jenolan Caves, Blue Mountains NSW. Ph: 1300 76 33 11 or +61 2 6359 3911

Please Contact Me