Jenolan Caves

Basking in the Sunshine of Royalty

May 29, 2015

Duke and Duchess of York in 1927, in royal car outside Caves HouseOn the morning of March 31, 1927, a huge crowd greeted the Duke and Duchess of York, as they boarded the Royal train at Sydney Central Station. Five carriages, drawn by two huge engines painted blue, were lavishly furnished, and preceded by a pilot train. It was bound for a tour of the Blue Mountains and Jenolan Caves.

As the Duke was a fully qualified pilot in the RAF, it was suggested to him that he should drive the Royal train, but he did not feel inclined to leave the Duchess. He intimated, however, that on a longer journey he would be delighted to take charge of the train.

100 train tickets had been printed, but no more than 60 were expected make the journey. However politicians descended on the treasured invitations, and the Royal train was uncomfortably crowded as they and their wives basked in the sunshine of royalty.

After lunch in Katoomba, the royal party travelled the rest of the way in 10 official motor cars. The Duke was not an ostentatious man, so when his car went by, onlookers did not recognise him wearing only a grey suit and a soft felt hat.

A big crowd of visitors waited at Jenolan Caves House. The Royal party dined lavishly at Caves House, where the magnificent grand dining room (along with a new accommodation wing), had recently been completed.

Then, there was an inspection of the Left Imperial Cave. The Duke of York frankly expressed his delight at the beauty of the Jenolan Caves, and the Duchess was no less enthusiastic. “If people in the Homeland only knew what a wonderful place Australia is,” the Duke was heard to remark, “many more would make this trip.”

He advanced some theories to account for the presence of a skeleton, half embedded in the limestone. The Duke suggested that the owner of the bones may have fallen through a hole in the vaulted roofs, fled in a panic through the intricate corridors, and eventually died in the profound darkness.

The Duke and Duchess were shown through the cave by the chief guide, Mr. J. C. Wiburd, whose explanations of the beautiful formations, particularly in the Orient Cave, kept them constantly interested.

It was a unique spectacle to see Duke and Duchess bending low, as they made their way along the passages and climbed the steps. The Duchess fluttered a gloved hand close to the white wall. “One could almost write one's name on it,” she said.

“If you put your initials there, it will mean a long holiday for me.”, said the guide.

The Duchess told the wife of one of the local officials that the grandeur and weirdness of Jenolan had overawed her much more than the biggest crowd she had ever faced. “The memory of that visit to the enchanted underworld will remain with me all my life.”, she added. “I have never seen anything else like it.”

Across Australia, the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York provided unprecedented stimulus for the radio Industry. A dozen microphones had been placed in the caves, and Station 2BL,which was carrying out the transmission, fully expected success.

But the Duke was notoriously reluctant to make speeches, due to his infamous stutter. So listeners were disappointed, when at about 8 o'clock they heard the words, “This is Station 2BL Sydney transmitting from the Caves House, Jenolan. The Duke and Duchess of York have just left to inspect the Caves. We regret to announce that the Duke has expressed a wish that there will be no broadcasting from the Caves during the inspection.”
Listeners filled in the next two hours hearing a concert broadcasted from Caves House. Then came the announcer's further statement, “The Royal Party have returned from the Caves, and have gone upstairs.”  A couple more songs followed, and then, “That completes our transmission from the Caves House.”
Prior to departure, presentations were made. The gift to the Duke was a book of Jenolan Caves scenes. The gift to the Duchess was a beautiful leather cushion, on which were painted waratahs and Christmas bells. The Countess of Cavan and the Hon. Mrs.

Gilmour received cushion covers, one with painted kookaburras, and the other with Australian wild flowers.

Among the presents from the Duke of York was a silver matchbox, bearing the Duke's coat of arms and the initials of the Duke and Duchess in gold, to Mr. Wilburd, chief guide at Jenolan Caves.

On April 1, 1927 the residents of Jenolan gathered outside Caves House to bid their Royal Highnesses farewell. Promptly at 10 o clock, the latter entered their car and departed amid the cheers of the onlookers. Nine years later the royal couple became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. 

Jenolan Caves is still able to bask in the sunshine of that long ago royal visit.  The hotel room that the Duke and Duchess stayed in is still in use and today's dinner guests can read that lavish dinner menu, on display on the wall of Chisolm's Restaurant.  





















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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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