Jenolan Caves

Agatha Christie at Jenolan Caves, June 1922

September 16, 2016

“To all those who lead monotonous lives in the hope that they may experience at second hand the delights and dangers of adventure.”  This is how one of the world’s greatest crime novelists, Agatha  Christie, dedicated her novel, The Secret Adversary, published in 1922.  It was only her 2nd novel, and she had just returned home to England after a 10 month voyage through the British Empire.  Although already well travelled, the wealth of experiences gained on her ‘Grand Tour’, with husband Archie and friend, Major Belcher, would have provided her with years of material for her novels.  Her Grand Tour took them through South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.  In every destination, they were treated as VIPs and met by all the important people of the day.  And her Australian leg of the journey took her through the Blue Mountains to Jenolan Caves.

In 2012, Agatha’s grandson, Mathew Prichard, compiled “Agatha Christie The Grand Tour”, a collection of letters that Agatha wrote during her trip.  The following paragraph is a quote from pages 212 and 213 of the book, where on June 23, 1922, she wrote to her brother, Louis ‘Monty’ Montant Miller,

 “After a meal we were taken as a ‘special party’ (guests of the Government!) round the Orient Cave which is supposed to be the best.  It really is wonderful, you go for two miles through the bowels of the earth, up and down steps (1500 in all – and you know it next morning!) twisting in and out through labyrinths and coming to the different chambers, the Egyptian, Indian etc, one with crimson stalactites hanging and great pillars and fringed hanging shawls, and the Indian one is all white. You go along a wire netted path – the first cave they discovered was entirely destroyed in three months by everyone pulling bits off it – and they’re not taking any changes now!  It’s lighted up with electric lights all concealed behind the rocks – really wonderfully done.  It takes a good two hours to go round it.  The worst thing to bear is the guide’s humorous remarks!  We were up early the next morning and did some of the open air caves. The Hotel (or Cave House as it is called) is right in the heart of the mountains they rise up all round it, and to get to it the road zig zags down and seems to end, but really it is a great natural arch through the mountain itself.  We saw another cave, the, ‘Right Imperial’ quite different in style, full of very delicate stalactites and miniature fairy grottos you had to lie down on your tummy to see.  We had to start back at 2 o’clock unfortunately.  I could have spent a week there quite happily.”

While at Jenolan Caves, Agatha took some black and white photos of Carlotta Arch, The Devil’s Coach House cave and Caves House. These can be found on pages 214 and 215 of “Agatha Christie The Grand Tour”, published by HarperCollins Publishers.  This book is a treasure trove of newspaper clippings, postcards, memorabilia and photos of Agatha herself, her husband Archie, the people she met and the exotic places she saw during her world tour.  Never before published, her letters are lively, amusing and highly descriptive, letting the reader feel that they are right there with her on her adventures through the lost world of the 1920s.

These days, when visitors arrive at Jenolan Caves, part of the adventure is driving through the spectacular Grand Arch and suddenly finding that they have travelled back to the Edwardian Era.  There stands the 4-storey grand hotel, Jenolan Caves House, which was built in stages from 1897 to 1923.  The earlier stages of Caves House, in which Agatha Christie stayed in 1922, are in the Federation Arts and Crafts style, while the final stages, mainly upstairs in the grand dining room, display Art Deco elements.  Many visitors have been heard to say that they expected to see Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s most enduring characters, standing in the elegant front foyer, because the architectural style is so reminiscent of the times about which Agatha Christie wrote.

Heritage-listed Jenolan Caves House is now 119 years old, and still operates as a hotel. The Edwardian features, decor and atmosphere live on, although modern conveniences have been installed. For example, in the 1920s, even when VIPs stayed, they didn’t have private bathrooms, but used communal facilities. They loved strolling down the hall to the bathroom, because in those days in Australia, it was very upmarket for a toilet to even be indoors. Now, at Caves House, guests have their own bathroom, of course.  But budget conscious family groups or groups of friends can still choose a ‘traditional’ guestroom and enjoy the novelty of using the bathroom down the hall!

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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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