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JENOLAN CAVES. AUSTRALIAN WONDERLAND by Samuel Cook, 1889
JENOLAN CAVES. AUSTRALIAN WONDERLAND by Samuel Cook, 1889
This book is the first thorough account of the Jenolan Caves in NSW, Australia. You can download a copy of it here.
This is chapter 6 (The Nettle Cave) which was one of the few caves which early visitors could enter. Later discoveries of more spectacular caves caused it to be taken out of use as a show cave, but today it is available again as a self guided tour.
See also the slide show which is composed of all the plates from this book.
You may be able to set your reader to read this passage aloud.
CHAPTER VI. THE NETTLE CAVE.
THE Nettle Cave is for the most part a place of twilight. If visitors are incautious in approaching it they will soon come to the conclusion that it has been properly named, for all around are fine clumps of herbaceous weeds with sharp tubular hairs upon vesicles filled with irritating fluid. The sting of a nettle and the sting of an adder resemble each other, but are yet dissimilar. The adder strikes his tubular fang into his prey, but the nettle victim impinges upon the tubular hair which communicates with the acrid vesicle.
The Nettle Cave is reached by climbing 170 feet to the left of The Grand Arch, and if in the ascent the visitor be invited to smell a plant with alternate leaves and racemes of not very conspicuous flowers, it would be well for him to decline with thanks. There are some rough cut steps leading to this cave, and on one side is a galvanised wire rope supported by iron stanchions let into the rocks, which makes the ascent tolerably safe. The road runs between two bluff rocks, which for a considerable distance rise almost perpendicularly, and then curve so as to form a segment of a circle some 150 feet overhead. The cave is barred from wall to wall by a light iron gate sufficient to prevent improper intrusion, not ponderous enough for a penal establishment, but sufficiently pronounced to suggest Richard Lovelace's lines " Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage ; Minds innocent and quiet take That for an hermitage." Descending some of the rough stones and winding along a footpath, the tourist descends into a chamber below a magnificent series of rocks covered with beautiful " formation " from the dripping roofs above. This is called " The Willows," because of the resemblance it bears to the graceful and beautiful appearance of the Salix babylonica, on which in the olden time captive Israelites hung their harps and "wept when they remembered Zion." The entrance to this cave is circuitous.
First there are some rocky steps to be climbed, and then the road winds through avenues of " willow " formation up to the summit. From this point about 60 or 70 feet down is a funnel-shaped declivity resembling the mouth of an extinct volcano. In some respects it is like the " Blow Hole " at Kiama (a natural fountain, inland, fed by ocean waves which force their way through a water-worn tunnel). Undoubtedly that also is one of the wonders of the world, but some time since it was utilised by the local corporation as a receptacle for dead horses and defunct cattle ! From this declivity in the Nettle Cave the visitor naturally shrinks, being dubious as to where his remains would be found if he were to make an uncertain step. In his timorous progress, however, his attention is soon arrested by some splendid stalagmites to the left of the hellish-looking vacuity. One of the most noble is about four feet in diameter at the base, and from 12 to 14 feet high, covered with curiously-shaped ornamentation, and having minute stalactites projecting from the sides. All about it are nodules of delicate fretwork, as lovely as the coral of the ancient sea out of which this mountain was made millions of years ago. On the apex is a gracefully-tapered cone ; and hard by is a small stalagmite covered with prickles as sharply defined as those of the echinus.
All around are limestone pictures of surpassing loveliness. There is not much variety of colour, but the formation is infinite in its variety. It is intended to have the hideous and perilous-looking volcanic funnel previously mentioned guarded by wirework, which is necessary to ensure the complete safety of sightseers. If an unfortunate wight were to trip, he might fall a distance of about 70 feet, and be shot without ceremony into the Devil's Coach-house. One remarkable stalagmite in the vicinity of this infernal shaft is shaped like a hat, and another is like a gigantic mushroom. The floor of the cave is thin, and when stamped upon vibrates in imitation of an earthquake wave. Stalactites in rich profusion depend from the roof, and here and there are clumps of bats, clinging together like little swarms of bees. The stalactites are tipped with drops of lime-water clear as crystal at the lowest point, and becoming gradually opaque. It is also noticeable that while the drops at the ends of the stalactites appear to be perfectly still globular bodies, their molecules seem to be in perpetual motion. The opaque part of the drops thickens until it resembles sperm, and then the gradation is almost imperceptible until it unites with the solid formation.
All around are curiously-shaped drives, one of which has been explored until it communicates with the Imperial Cave. It is not an inviting entry, for it is low and narrow, and has sharp stalactites on the roof. The floor is covered with very fine dust, about the eighth of an inch thick, which, however, seems not to rise, and when struck with a hammer the sound is like a blow struck upon a carpet, and the dull thud reverberates in the caverns below. From the end of the cave, looking towards the mouth, the appearance is particularly wild. The stalagmites in front resemble prisoners in some castle keep, and the part of the cave farther on, upon which the light falls, near to the barred entrance, makes the interior shade seem more gloomy. There is one remarkable pillar about 10 feet in diameter from the floor to the roof of the cave ; and seeing that it is about 30 feet in height, and has been made by the constant dripping of lime-water, visitors may speculate as to its age, and statisticians may estimate the number of drips required for its creation. Along the sides of the cave are beautiful pillars. Some are like trunks of trees, gnarled and knotted, and some like elaborately-carved columns. There are grottoes and alcoves, and terraces formed by runs of water; Gothic arches and Etruscan columns, carvings of most cunning elaboration, and stalactites more noticeable for their massiveness than for their grace. There are narrow chasms descending into blackness, through which future discoveries may be made. On the water-formed terraces are numerous stalagmites resembling congewoi and other zoophytes. It seems as though Nature had fashioned the cave after a kaleidoscopic view of the most remarkable objects in marine and vegetable life. At the end of this section the roof rises, and is pierced by an inverted pinnacle. The walls are composed of masses of stalactite formation, imperfectly developed by reason of pressure. Near at hand liquid substances have fallen, and petrified so rapidly as to resemble streaks of lava which had suddenly cooled and formed cords and ligaments like grand muscles and tendons.
The eastern end of the cave runs into the Devil's Coach-house, about 120 feet above the coach-house floor. The opening is very beautiful, being ornamented with columns and pinnacles, and the view from this point to the interior of the cave is unexampled. Scores of breaches in the roof and sides can be seen leading to other marvellous places there being cave upon cave and innumerable changes of formation upon the ground. In rocky basins the debris is largely composed of minute bones. The "remains " may be taken up by handfuls. The teeth of bats and native cats the vertebrae of marsupials and snakes the wingbones of birds, and other fragments of the animal world are mixed together in a mammoth charnel-house, whose grandeur could hardly be surpassed by the most costly and artistically designed mausoleum. The Ball Room, an upper storey of the Nettle Cave is reached by mounting twenty-nine steps cut into the rock. Near the eastern entrance are two stalactitic figures fashioned like vultures about to engage in combat. All around the little plateau of Terpsichore are huge stalagmites, resembling domes, crowded together and pressing into one another. Some are set off with stalactites; others are honeycombed. Thence the direction is still upwards, and the ascent is made by means of about 50 wooden steps, with a guard rail on each side. The formations are striking and graceful. Pointing upward is a gauntleted hand and forearm of a warrior of the olden time. There are representations of bewigged legal luminaries and bearded sages like Old Father Christmas or Santa Claus. Some of the columns which support the archway have tier upon tier of stalactites, drooping so as to counterfeit water flowing from a fountain, alternating with stalactite formation like boughs of weeping willow. One prominent stalagmite is like the back of a newly-shorn sheep, with shear-marks in the wool. On the western side is a figure like that of an orator in the act of exhortation. The forehead is bald, long white locks are flowing on to the shoulders, one arm is upraised, and the pose gives an idea of earnestness and force. In front, just below the bust, is a reading desk of stone, the outer edge of which is fringed with stalactites.
From this place are steps leading to the arch. They are safe and convenient. Underneath them is still to be seen the wire ladder formerly used to pass from the Nettle Cave to the Arch Cave, and it is easy to understand the trepidation of nervous visitors when they were swaying about on it in mid-air over the dark abyss below. After resting for a moment in the midst of a stalagmitic grotto, the visitor ascends some stone steps towards the Grand Arch, proceeds through a beautiful cavern with Norman and Doric pillars, composed almost entirely of stalagmites, and enters the Arch Caves, which were so called because at that time they were accessible only through the Carlotta Arch. They are now, as previously described, approached through the Nettle Cave by means of the wooden staircase, which was built about three years ago.