The History of the Jenolan Caves

The Blue Mountains are one of Australia’s premiere tourist attractions. They harbour a fascinating amount of history and natural beauty, including plenty of aboriginal heritage and geological wonders.

The Jenolan Caves form an important part of the region. These limestone caves can be found in the heart of the Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve in the middle of the Central Tablelands region. As one of the most-visited set of limestone caves in the country, the Jenolan Caves proffer a fascinating and lengthy history that covers both Aboriginal legend and a fascinating geological timeline. Today, they remain the most ancient, open caves that have been discovered on the planet.

Within their ancient depths, you can spot marine fossils and calcite formations which are often pure white and incredibly surreal. Underground, the caves follow a network of tunnels and caverns that run alongside a subterranean section of the Jenolan River. Beneath ground level, there are around 40 kilometres of multi-level passages and more than 300 entrances along its route. Even today the many different cavities of the cave system are being explored and, for tourists, there is a small section that is lit up and open to the public to discover.

The Geological History of the Jenolan Caves

Scientists have determined, through the examination of the clay found in the caves, that the Jenolan subterranean system is around 340 million years old. This makes it the oldest known and dated open cave system in the world, and it is still being heavily researched today.

The caves themselves have been formed over millions of years due to erosion and the natural weathering from the Jenolan River and its natural surroundings.

The Indigenous Culture of the Jenolan Caves

Like many of the geographical wonders in the Blue Mountains and the rest of Australia, the Jenolan area has long formed an important part of the culture of the local Indigenous people, holding particular significance for the Gundungurra and Wiradjury people who originally referred the area as Binomil or Bin-oo-miur among other names.

There is a dreamtime story that belongs to the Gundungurra people that describes how the area came into existence; there was a tussle between two ancestral creator spirits, a giant eel known as Gurangatch and a large native cat known as Mirrigan. The caves still remain a significant part of Indigenous culture. In the past, the Gundungurra people travelled through the caves to the subterranean water where they bathed their sick because it was believed that the waters of the Jenolan River has curative powers.