Jenolan Caves: The complete guide

Published by Critical Concepts Pty Ltd, Brisbane, 2013, 268 pp, images, diagrams, endpapers.

Book Review by ANDY SPATE | Mark Hallinan has produced a wonderful guide to the Jenolan Caves.


This book ranks with Beneath the Surface: A natural history of Australian caves (Brian Finlayson and Elery Hamilton-Smith, 2003, (eds.), University of New South Wales Press) as one of the two “best” books on Australian caves.

Jenolan Caves wins hands down on a tourism-orientated rather than scientific approach. Each has its place. However, the science in Hallinan’s book is remarkably well done.

This profusely illustrated guide to the world-famous Jenolan Caves is a remarkable book on many fronts. Conceived as a project to fill a “gap-year” it clearly grew into a much grander concept.

Its 268 pages includes early 20th century coloured maps of the Jenolan Caves (by Oliver Trickett, 1925, front endpaper) and the Blue Mountains (Oliver Trickett, 1909, rear endpaper); seven major chapters; several appendices, about 130 comprehensive endnotes and a fine index.

The latter often seems to be lacking in many modern books. The book is unashamedly a guidebook rather than a scientific treatise. However, the scientific aspects are described and illustrated in simple terms with excellent diagrams.

When I say profusely illustrated I mean it! At almost every page has an excellent photograph, map, diagram or other illustration either on it – or opposite. Many are in colour except, of course, historical black and whites – of which there are many. It is printed in China on very high quality paper.

The chapters are:

Chapter 1. Introducing Jenolan Caves
Chapter 2. Hidden in the Mountains
Chapter 3. Caves – Rock, Water and Time
Chapter 4. Cave Formations – Speleothems
Chapter 5. Experiencing the Caves over Time
Chapter 6. The Show Caves of Jenolan
Chapter 7. The Jenolan Surrounds.

The chapter contents are self-explanatory except perhaps for Chapters 2, 5 and 7. Chapter 2 deals with matters of geography (location, access, geology, climate, vegetation, etc.). Chapter 5 encompasses man’s involvement from 45,000 years ago through to 1788 and beyond to 2010. Chapter 7 looks and the extinct megafauna, plant communities, vertebrates and invertebrates found at Jenolan.

The appendices cover the Gundungurra dreamtime story, cave chemistry and dating of Jenolan Caves – an eclectic collection! There are suggestions for further reading and both a prologue and a postscript.

As can be seen Mark Hallinan’s book covers the entire Jenolan scene. It is the most comprehensive book on any Australian cave system yet published but is largely confined to the show caves with only a few lines devoted to a few of the “wild” caves that are used for adventure tours.

This may well be a deliberate approach. The discussions on geology and the development of speleothems are more than adequate but there are only a few pages on the development on the cave system — perhaps because it is too complex and there has been no real synthesis of this for Jenolan as yet.

I have three minor quibbles. Firstly, the book gives the impression that there are “nursery” (maternity) caves for the Eastern bent-wing bat (Miniopterus schreibersii oceanensis) at Jenolan. If one or more are at Jenolan they have not yet been identified. One cave in the southern limestone maybe a so-called “staging cave” utilised by bats en route to a maternity cave; a cave off the Devils Coach house may be another. My second quibble is that of the strange capitalisations in Appendix 2: Cave Chemistry, for example “… Water, Carbon Dioxide and solid Calcium Carbonate.” Thirdly, there could well have been mention of the various forest bats as well as the two cave-dependent species.

These personal nitpickings aside, the book is to be thoroughly recommended to those interested in Jenolan Caves – and, indeed, to the wider community interested in caves and other natural phenomena in Australia and elsewhere. In addition, it will be of interest to those interested in matters historical ranging from 45,000 years ago to the present.

It is available in a remarkable variety of formats ranging from the handsome hard-covered version (RRP $64.95) to a CD (RRP $24.95) and as an ebook from Amazon, Apple and Google!

There is also a 36 page souvenir picture book of the most stunning sights of caves: Jenolan Caves — The Best of the Best (RRP $19.95). They are available from Critical Concepts Press, PO Box 8166, Woolloongabba, QLD 4102; selected bookshops, at Jenolan, obviously, via email, and on the web site.