Millions of years ago in Queensland an ocean covered the vast regions of the Outback plains. The Great Barrier Reef was inland by about a 500 klm and now these ancient reefs and silt beds lay buried beneath a hardened volcanic cap of a later epoch.
Common throughout the continent of Australia this volcanic cap of a later era has fractured and the seasonal flooding rains of the inland have seeped down through the limestone beds. The acid rain, present since the Dreamtime, has eaten away vast caverns beneath the timeless lands of Aus.
In places these limestone caverns have been pushed to the surface and lay exposed. The entrances breaking through sandstone rock and karst ridges. Such a place is the Chillagoe-Mungana Caves, 3 hours drive west of Cairns, up the escarpment and onto the plateau in what is known as the Outback.
I have written about the timeless caverns of the Dreamtime in a posting on Jenolan Caves behind Sydney, and in my books of The Dreaming Series. Most recently the new Series The Spirit Children, are tales of the caverns. The secret places and sacred lands which lay beneath our feet, largely unexplored.
The caverns of the underworld have always fascinated me and I love nothing more than for the opportunity to explore such places, as rare as these opportunities are. The ancient folk, our traditional tribes people of Australia, generally didn’t venture into these caverns. They were a spiritual people who feared and respected the spirits of the land and venturing into the Caverns of the Dreamtime was not something they did readily. However their legends and Lore are of the caverns, of the Oruncha, the Kadaitcha and of the spirit creatures of the Dreamtime can be found in storytelling. They are accounts within their Lore and storytelling about the Dreamtime creatures, those who live within the earth, in pools, caverns and geographic features of their Country and they are rich in wonder.
One of the few exceptions in the subterranean experience of the old tribal people is to be found in the healing pools of Jenolan Caves, stories and legend which I graze over in in the books of the Spirit Children series, in presenting to readers this Lore born of an ancient world. Introducing an understanding, which can be found in research, legend and tales.
There are currently two books in the series in publication. The companion book, Lands Edge, is the first book of the series. It is available at Amazon and the tale will introduce you to some of the secrets in Australia’s ancient Lore about the places hidden beneath our world. The 2nd book, ‘Through Other Eyes, will be released in October and it will take you deep into the legendary mysteries of the caverns. It is currently available for pre-order. These two books will complete your introduction into the caverns, bringing in their telling an understanding of Australian Aboriginal Lore and its complexities.
In the book, ‘Through Other Eyes’, you are drawn more into the world from where Kirri comes. She is a woman of the inland, a child of the caverns who is first introduced in ‘Lands Edge’ (Book 1) and discovering more of her world is a feature of these first two books. Her adventures with Tom, a young Kadiatcha, are a element of this series and the third book, still in its creation, is Kirri’s story.
This is what is drawing me into the caverns of the Dreamtime and the striking karst landscape of Chillagoe. It is a world found deep beneath the earth and our adventure there has been a fountain of experience.
There are several caverns or limestone caves open to the general public in Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park. It is a caves system in which there can be found 700+ caves. Three of these extensive caverns are open to the public and are offered as Ranger guided tours while others are self guided adventures into some of these many caves. This experience opens up a world of adventure, a path deep into an underground that rivals the well renown Jenolan Caves.
What is unique with these caverns is the raw and untrampled beauty. Open to the pubic only since 1967, they were first discovered and explored in the colonial era. The traditional tribes did not use the extensive caverns, but only the entrances for shelter and comfort in times of climatic hardship. The tribal people were a very spiritual people, and respected the caverns as a place of the world of the underground, one not of their world but a realm held to the Spirits of their Country. There are tribal art sites found around the karst landscape, but none found in the caverns.
It is hard to describe the majesty of the caverns, in things such as the ‘laundry shute’ where you can skid and climb down a natural shute still today often with hilarious results. What leaves you truly in wonder is not only the beautiful limestone formations in the rock but also the thick buttress of tree roots which have found their way deep into the caves. Those buttresses and roots which are as thick as a man, found many metres below the reach of sun. The grand chandelier is another wonder, dropping precariously from the high cavernous roof and the wondrous forms nature can carve into stone and fashion from water which is a part of this adventure deep beneath the earth.
A favourite though is the bats and wildlife which inhabit the caves, the engagingly grotesque little diadem bat which brings to mind the little spirit man, the Jongorrie of legend, who haunts the caves and forests of this land.
If your lucky your guide will point out the gnome of the caverns, as he emerges from the dust and dried earth of the floor where the little cave bird will nest, the one with the bat like sonar unique to his world and ours.
It is truly a wonderful adventure and if ever there is the opportunity to step down into these caves at Chigalloe… take it. You will not be disappointed.
Jan is an Australian Author and a Traveller.
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