At the Nullarbor Roadhouse, that sits roughly midway between Ceduna and Eucla on the Eyre Highway, you can turn north and take a dry-weather dirt track for about 10k’s to the Murra-wi-jinie caves. These are some of the caves of the great limestone karst that is the Nullarbor, or the Oondiri Plain, to use the traditional name of our English pre-history. They are a true wonder of the infamously straight, thousand kilometre Highway. Wild caves which few enough people even known about.
The Oondiri is the traditional pre-historic name given to the immense treeless plain that rises above the oceans of the Great Australian Bight, and stretches back into endless plains of Lilliput. These many limestone caves, many of which are the only water resource across the Oondiri, are a little appreciated wonder of this vast landscape devoid of surface water.
I love the run across the Nullarbor, and at each opportunity I carefully plan our trip. The trip is getting longer and longer btw, as we take the opportunity on each crossing to visit at least one of the many wondrous caves of what is the worlds largest limestone karst… The Oondiri Plain.
This trip around, our choice was the Murrawinjinie Caves named for the ancient Aboriginal hand stencils that can be found in the caves. On our last tour we visited the Koonalda caves, and before that the Abakurrie cave of Mundrabilla and so on. The Murra-wi-jinie caves though held a special appeal as I knew here we could find evidence of ancient tribal use, bones, feathers and ageless artefacts that spoke of the use of the caves throughout our prehistory. Australia’s caves of the Oondiri are mostly wild; meaning that they are largely open to public access and unmonitored if not un-protected. The National Parks has mostly taken responsibility for the known caves and are building protectorate bodies to help manage these remote caves, and not before time. Protecting our natural wonders is not only something that we all need to do, but it is the natural occupation of those who live in our more remote regions. People making their homes and building their lives in the wilderness and remote regions provide a valuable resource that Australia needs to harness, train
I love visiting caves, above all things. It isn’t that I am a caver in the true sense of the word. Actually I am fortunate to be even able to clamber down into the caves, though ‘The Man’ usually helps, as age and the need for care consume most of my hesitant fears these days… but there are some caves that I can clamber into and too many that I simply can’t. Documenting what I find in photography and recount is one of my joys and so we spent two days camped up on the edge of the vast hollowed out caverns of some of those more accessible of the Oondiri caves.
We found the hand stencils that we knew were there… the bones and the feathers also, as the caves are now used by the birds, snakes and other wildlife of the Oondiri Plain. They are simply what they have always been, an invaluable life giving reserve of the vast Oondiri. This isn’t a barren place, if you think it is then you need to sit quietly in the dawn and hear the world wake up with the sun, or better still, watch for the wildlife of the Oondiri hunting at night. The Oondiri holds the largest, stable population of wombats anywhere in the world and their burrows are here about in the hundreds, in any given spot. The wombat moves and hunts through the night here though, so your unlikely to see them out here in the hot midday sun.
At dawn you can often hear the dingo’s howl to the rising sun, calling to each other so that they know where their pack members are, and where it is they will settle for the heat of the day. And the birds… such a beautiful sound as they twitter through the dawn and dusk. The caves are their places of nest, the only shelter in the vast plain and watching them come and go is a revelation. There are owls, kites, and swallows amongst the vast population and even the majestic wedge tailed eagle will often circle the skies looking for the wildlife (including small pups on civilised leads) and roadkill that has venture into the daylight, or that struck down by the dark of night. You should always slow down if you see an eagle feeding on roadkill as they are majestic creatures and for all their majesty and weight, they cant take off from the ground easily. Too many of these rare and beautiful creatures meet the same fate as their prey because of their cumbersome attempts to escape the path of an on-coming vehicle.
Man has not used the Oondiri caves for many years for anything other than exploring. But the ancient hand stencils high on the walls speak of another time when tribal man walked vast distances, often barely within reach of the life-giving oceans, often on a hunt or intent on ceremony. Despite being a long stretch from the abundant waters of the Great Southern Ocean there exists these ancient stencils, the mark of man… but more amazingly there is also the mark of women and children who also ventured into these amazing caves in the middle of nowhere, to shelter.
In Europe, the America’s and other places across the world we would not have access to these wild caves. They would be guarded, protected and many closed to visitors due to their antiquity and rarity, but here in Aus’ it is only for safety that many caves are closed off, or accessible only by guided tour. Places such as the Jenolan Caves in NSW and Narracorte in SA. There are others such as at Cockerbiddy caves, which have such a reputation for claiming life, and have been recently closed for many years. One of the longest cave system known on the continent, and with relative ease of access, it’s reputation is worthy of a movie. “Sanctum” is based on the true account of the dangers of Cockabiddy Cave and well watching if you plan on going caving out on the Oondiri Plains.
Jan is a Traveller and an Author. You can find out more about her books on travel on the page dedicated to Oldies at Large, where you will also find a list of her blog postings in topic.
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Other tales by Jan Hawkins:
A Novel & Series by author Jan Hawkins – An ancient story… A bold adventure into a new world, a world you are most familiar with. This is the story of the Shaman from the oldest culture in the world. Discover how the world of ancient creatures, different beliefs and secret things influence your own. The Dreaming Series and The Spirit Children are tales from very different worlds that touch your own.
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