The winter in Bathurst is slowly giving way to spring. Tiny buds provide a light greening on the birch and maple trees. The sky is slightly brighter, warmer. While tiny bulbs apprehensively push their nose through the soft wet earth. I love spring. A sense of excitement was building at the Goldfields as we embarked on a new adventure – Abercrombie Caves. We went to investigate whether the caves would be a suitable location for a new cross curricular excursion site.
Travelling from Bathurst to Trunkey was like stepping back in time. We passed an old convict holding house, original 1800 homesteads and multiple ridges and gullies that witnessed numerous bushranger battles. Our guide for the day was Norm. He explored much of the area in his youth- “this was my backyard as a kid….I want to share it with kids who don’t have this.” And what an amazing backyard. During his youthful adventures Norm discovered lost worlds of gold mining where stampers, spades, trenches and mines have been left awaiting the return of their owners.
Caves Road drops into a deep gorge. The winding track meanders on the precipice of the Abercrombie Conservation Reserve, a slight glimpse of the cave region beckons us deeper down, down, down. Arriving at the base and visitors centre is breathtaking – kangaroos grazing, black cockatoos nibble the ancient pines and a lyrebirds call echoes down the creek bed. An intimate experience with no other visitors. This is a true untouched region free from the crowds I have experienced at Jenolan Caves.
We are lucky enough to see the Grove Creek near flooding. The past winter brought unprecedented amounts of snowfall leaving the eucalyptus forest trashed as if a dinosaur had trampled through the forest. Debris is piled high and the river is blocked by a number of fallen trees and excess branches. The power of the creek and the force of nature is made clear to us before we even set foot in the caves.
Norm takes up over a cable bridge – a stable, trusting bridge used back in the 1800’s to cross the creek during high waters. The Archway Cave is our destination. The historic gold miners dance floors was built in the Archway Cave in 1880. The acoustics are amazing! Norm stamps his foot and sound resonates for many seconds. This area is perfect for students of music interested in testing the acoustics of their instruments and filming their talents. I can imaging vocal students projecting their voice through the space, resurrecting the lives of those who danced here in the 1880’s.
As a teacher of geography, I was awe struck by the geological features clearly presented – stalactites and stalagmites, dry galleries, columns, flowstone, drip stones, drip curtain, shafts and marble. Aboveground we view sinkholes, bluffs and meandering creek lines. This active cave tells the story of cave formation perfectly. Crossing wire bridges and squeezing through slim passages adds to the feeling of being deep underground exploring the amazing secrets our earth has to offer.
Norm enriched the experience by sharing narratives of bushrangers hiding in the caves from troopers. Evidence from the past includes shackles found in the Bushrangers Cave, now on display in the visitors centre. Are the caves haunted??? Norm is the gatekeeper of these myths and legends.
A lyrebird greets us as we emerge from the cave. She is too busy scratching the floor and tending to her nest to be worried about us passing. Her tail is amazing – a true resemblance of a lyre. All of a sudden she notices our presence and proceeds closer and closer. About three meters from us she decides that we are not a threat and skips back across the creek to her scratching site. Seeing wildlife this close is a memorable experience and one I look forward to sharing with our students.
Our cross curricular options for this section of the guided tour can include:
- MUSIC: Music sessions for students who would like to experience the Gold Miners Dancefloor. This can be extended to a full day’s music program with one of our teachers. Students will be able to develop expressive skills in singing and playing instruments.
- SCIENCE: Investigation of local wildlife and their interaction with nature including bats, insects, lyrebirds, eagles, hawks, wombats, kangaroos and possums. Explore the area that has changed as a result of natural forces, investigate characteristics of soil and consider the impact of extreme weather. National Parks and Wildlife guides take us through the impact of snow, drought and fire. Different forms of data collection will be used for students to observe, measure and record their findings.
- GEOGRAPHY: Fossicking in the creek with the hope of discovering gold, garnets, zircons and sapphires. Explore types of natural vegetation and the significance of vegetation to the environment and to people, the importance of the environment to animals and the different views on protecting those animals and environments including the viewpoint of National Parks and Wildlife. The impact of floods and bushfires and how people respond and the connection of this space with local Indigenous people.
- HISTORY: Learn about the formation of bushranger gangs, how they thrived in this part of the world and the forgotten history of a major revolt which threatened the stability of the new colony. Learn the importance of narratives and their relationship to making conclusions about the past.
- MATHS: Measure cave formations, perimeter and area of the Gold Miners Dance Floor to validate historical accounts, interpret and read timetables containing time and money and using grid reference systems to describe locations and routes using landmarks and directional language.
- ART: Students can sit in different locations throughout the cave to paint, sketch and draw or capture scenes using digital technologies. Light and water play an important feature in this landscape providing different viewpoints and fascinating displays of light to be explored.