Jenolan Caves

Aboriginal use of Fire

smoking ceremonyNumbuk yabbun, are very important to Aboriginal culture. When entering or leaving country they hold a numbuk yabun. By burning the leaves of Boreen, specifically the acacia, they perform a cleansing ceremony. This burning also pays respect to country, the old people and the BurriniliingNumbuk is also part of general ceremonial purposes, both for nain and ngowal.

The darker coloration often seen in sections of Jenolan’s caves, close to natural entrances, is the result of smoke from bushfires over many thousands of years. Many of these fires may have been deliberately lit.

Aboriginal people made extensive use of canbee, but at a low level of burning, somewhat similar to the controlled burn offs of today.

Canbee was used to drive game towards hunters, to drive snakes away, to encourage rejuvenation or re-growth of grass, to attract kangaroos and wallabies and to clear a path through dense undergrowth.

Early European explorers noted how skilfully and frequently the Aboriginal people used fire. As late as the 1950’s in South Australia the Pintupi people burned in a jigsaw pattern of varying sizes. This avoided the wild fires, or bush fires that would devastate the landscape.

Daily camp fires were lit for cooking and warmth.

When Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson were traversing the ridges of the upper Blue Mountains, from Katoomba to Mount Victoria, they could see the camp fires of Aboriginal families in the valley below, moving ahead of them. Since these three explorers and their party made only one contact with the Gundungurra people, and that was accidental, it might be presumed that the fires Blaxland and his companions saw were signalling the Europeans’ presence.

The large open space at Jenolan, known as ‘The Old Sports Ground’ was once a traditional camp ground. The land might have been cleared by canbee. The sloping ground around it makes a natural bowl or amphitheatre with shelter from the wind. Here, clan groups would rest after their journey to the nadyung. Only those who needed to continue on the track down to the caves and the nadyung would do so.

There are approximately 2,500 Heritage sites associated with Gundungurra People in the Greater Blue Mountains area, as recorded by the National Parks and Wildlife service, with 30 in the Oberon area alone. Thirty-six different features are found across these sites, including scarred trees used as ngullamurri or route markers to make bark stretchers, ceremonial rings , stone arrangements, pulla or burial sites, rock art and cave painting, and the grooved stones mentioned earlier as evidence of tool making. Once again, many heritage sights are not at first apparent to the untrained eye. To the Gundungurra people, however these sites, and those that indicated the transition between tribal areas, are clear to see. 

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

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