Jenolan Caves

C'est Magnifique, N'est Pas?

January 24, 2017

In the closing stages of WW1, with victory for the Allies in sight after 4 long years, the French Government, recognising the warm relations between its people and Diggers fighting on its soil, decided to send a delegation to Australia.

In the words of one of its members, its purpose was to, “inform the Government and traders of France of the magnificent resources of your country, and of the magnificent elements which exist here for the mutual trade we hope to establish”.

The group was headed by a 70 year old veteran of the Franco Prussian war, General Paul Marie Cesar Gerald Pau, after whom Pau street in Lithgow is named.

Whilst on the train from Springwood, General Pau, perusing the latest war map in the Sydney Morning Herald, noticed that his home town of St. Mihiel had been retaken from the Germans. He said, “ Ah there it is - St. Mihiel. I was looking for my house, but although I can't see it, it is there. And here”, fishing in his pocket, “ is the key. I had better be going home!”

In addition to the civic reception at Springwood, others were held at Wentworth Falls and Katoomba.

Dr.Siegfried, who despite his germanic sounding name, was a leading member of the delegation, explained that it was not all lunches and scenic views. He said, “It must not be imagined for a moment that our efforts have been confined to sight seeing and banquets. While there naturally devolves upon General Pau, as head of the mission, the task of receiving the overwhelming hospitality which is showered on us, other members of the mission, as well as the General himself, in every interest, have devoted themselves without cessation to the task of gathering the knowledge which is our special aim this week”

At the Carrington Hotel in Katoomba, the general made a gracious and amusing speech, praising the beauty of the Blue Mountains and expressing heartfelt thanks for the great military effort of Australia. Mindful of those who would never return, he said, “ This not a moment for giving toasts. There is no need to raise our glasses. But we should, in all our hearts, toast and drink to your army in France, your brothers, husbands and sweethearts. Allow me to express to you my sincere desire, and a fervent hope and conviction, that they will return to you, triumphant from that sacred cause in which they have fought with such glory to themselves and reflected glory upon you and upon us all.”

From Katoomba, the delegation travelled by car to Jenolan Caves, the descent into the valley amazing the General.

Mr. Palmer, head of the New South Wales Tourist Bureau, had organised a very special gesture, the illumination of the Grand Arch by a string of lights spelling out 'Vive La France'.  “ As the General and his colleagues approached the Arch in semi-darkness, the lights were switched on. All stood to attention. It was a fine tribute to our gallant ally and was greatly appreciated by Australia's honoured guests. He was loud in his expressions of admiration, as were the other members of the mission”

The following morning, the Mission Party, having been joined by Premier Holman, went into the Imperial Cave, then called the Right Imperial, where the Frenchmen were greatly impressed.  General Pau declared he had never anticipated anything on such grand a scale, particularly the colours of the crystals, the influence of iron oxide.

The contemporary newspaper report, quoting the General that he was reminded of the caves of Franche-Comte in the Jura Forest near Arbois, said that the calciferous formation was very similar to that which he had seen in France, but it too was on a scale infinitely beyond compare.

The newspaper only names the Right Imperial cave as their destination, but the description matches that of the Diamond Cave, featuring the stunning Gem of the West. It is said that in previous years, Jenolan's original cave guide, Jeremiah Wilson, would allow visitors to leave the chamber containing the Gem of the West, only when their gasps of appreciation were loud enough for him to hear through his ear trumpet.

By 1918, for such important visitors, the guide would have been Cave Manager, Voss Wiburd, who never would have followed Jeremiah Wilson's example.  Even so, when General Pau saw the Gem of the West, it is certain that he would have exclaimed, “C'est magnifique n'est ce pas!”.  

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