Jenolan Caves

Spellbound Underground

February 15, 2016

I was having lunch in the Jenolan Caves Guides Office recently when cave guide, Barry Richard, arrived.  Obviously excited about something, he said to me, “You’ll want to hear this.” My curiosity piqued, he paused for effect and said, “I just took a group through the Lucas, and one of my people had a panic attack.” 

That's not so unusual.  Our guides deal with this situation every now and again.  Most people who don't like enclosed spaces don’t go inside caves.  Or they come to Jenolan with friends or family, and enjoy above ground activities instead.  But on rare occasions, visitors don’t realise that they are claustrophobic, until they are deep underground.  When it happens, guides are trained to assess the situation, call the Guides Office for another guide to come into the cave and help the distressed visitor back to the surface.  But that delays the whole tour, while everyone waits for that person to be escorted out.

“The sweat was dripping off this guy, and he was gasping and shaking like mad, said Barry.  “I did everything I could to calm him - told him that when we get to the Cathedral he would feel better – it’s a huge chamber -  the biggest underground space at Jenolan, etc, but when we got there, it made no difference.  I thought, ‘Oh no, I’m going to have to stop the tour and call for backup.’”

“But then, like a miracle, a lady from the group came up to me.”  Approximating the lady’s calm and confiding tone Barry said, “And she said 'don’t worry, I deal with this sort of thing all the time.  I’ll take care of this.  I’m a hypnotherapist.'”  Barry, who has worked at Jenolan Caves for 45 years was a little bit hesitant, but thought it was certainly worth trying.  

He and the rest of the tour group moved into the next chamber, leaving her alone with the frantic man, to weave her magic spell as promised.  About 5 minutes later, they rejoined the main group, and the man was fine – like nothing had happened...spellbound.  Barry was so amazed that he could hardly wait to race back to the office and tell everyone the great story.

Jenolan Caves guides are all fully trained in advanced first aid.  But claustrophobia is an anxiety disorder where the sufferer has a fear of having no escape or being closed-in.  All a cave guide can do is try to calm the sufferer, while they wait for another tour guide to arrive and help them from the cave. At the same time, the guide uses all their training to ensure that the rest of the group still has an entertaining and fascinating tour.  All in a day’s work for a Jenolan Cave guide. 

Barry started at Jenolan Caves in his teens.  Now, 45 years later, he still loves working as a casual tour guide, while he and his wife Robyn also own the nearby Jenolan Cabins – self-contained holiday accommodation.

The 1.5 hour Lucas Cave tour takes you along 860 metres and 910 stair steps.  The path into the Lucas is steep, winding and narrow – a bit challenging for some, as seen.  But then, you finally arrive in the first of Jenolan’s two highest and widest caverns - the Cathedral Chamber. This chamber is 54 metres high and can hold large groups of visitors. It is so big that on Easter Sunday, a nondenominational Christian church service will be held in there, at 8:45am.  All are welcome, free of charge.

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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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