Capricorn Caves

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Heading south

The Capricorn Caves are not far off the Bruce Highway just north of Rockhampton. We’d passed the sign many times but today we booked a tour and headed south from Mackay. Although the rain event we’d heard about was mainly further south of Hervey Bay, the clouds gathered up here, chucking down a passing shower or two on land that was probably pretty grateful.

We’d booked a tour for 1pm but found we made much better time than we’d expected, so we were able to join the 12 o’clock group.

Following the guide to the cave entrance

Capricorn Caves isn’t like any other cave system I’ve been to, where there are spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, and flow stone that looks like bacon, all reflected in cold, still water. It’s a wild cave, full of micro bats and floors made of guano (bat poo). For some years the guano was mined. The stuff is still metres thick, the droppings of millions of bats over thousands of years. Just imagine. This vast cave system was undisturbed for millennia although the local Darumbal people knew of it. Europeans first discovered them in 1881 and since then the micro bats that call these places home have had to contend with miners, then people building steps, then visitors. Even so, they’re here in their millions, a place where they can sleep and breed and live in relative peace. When we were there the bats were apparently agitated, zipping around in the air around us. Our guide wasn’t sure why, but there might have been a marauding python slithering around. He asked us not to use flash in the caves where there were many bats.

There’s a tendency to think these places are timeless but they suffer from natural changes (some people call it climate change) as much as anywhere else. Our guide showed us a couple of ferns growing out of the rock. The ferns can be found throughout Asia but this is the only place they grow in Australia. One pillar of the cave near the entrance is covered with dead roots. It used to be covered in living plants but the terrible fires of 2018 denuded the forest canopy in this area and let in the light. Rangers are doing their best to conserve the plant.

The rare fern Tectaria devexa

In many places long tree roots plunge down from the surface looking for moisture. Like most caves, these are limestone, which surprised me since we were well inland. But Australia is an ancient continent and these parts were underwater millions of years ago.”During the Devonian period about 390 million years ago eastern Queensland was covered by a warm shallow sea. Erupting lava gradually built up islands that provided a base for corals, sponges, and shellfish to grow. Their calcareous skeletons accumulated on the sea floors to form the sedimentary Mount Etna limestone. As the limestone emerged from the sea to become land, it was exposed to acidic rain and underground water flowing through cracks. These waters dissolved the calcite in limestone to form the caves. When the water became saturated with the dissolved calcite it redeposited the calcite as cave decorations.” [source]

The ranger made the point that when it rains outside it rains in here, too. The trees take advantage.

We walked over some bridges and down some steps and I couldn’t help but think about Goblin Town in The Hobbit – dark, rickety and not at all pretty.

We didn’t cross this one

We were taken to a part of the cave system called The Cathedral, a large space with high ceilings. A few rows of pews had been installed, underlining the resemblance to a church. Our guide asked to sit down, then he lit a couple of candelabrums and turned down the lights while he played a rendition of the song Hallelujah. I recorded a few seconds of it but Youtube told me the song was copyright. So just sing or hum yourself. The acoustics were amazing.

Then, so we could get a feel for what it was like for the first explorer who came down here with a candle, the guide turned off all the lights. The darkness was can’t-see-my-hand-in-front-of-my-face black.

We only did the short, 45 minute tour. There are others that take visitors to less accessible parts of the system. If I were thirty years younger I would have done one of those. Here are the offerings. But I’m not.

From the caves, we drove on to Rockhampton and visited their botanical garden. For a medium sized city, it’s quite impressive with trees and plants from all over the world. One particular tree caught my eye. It’s called a sausage tree ,Kigelia africana, which is native to Africa. In much the same way that Mackay is ‘sugar city’ and Hervey Bay is ‘whale city’, Rockhampton is ‘beef capital’. You’ll see statues of stud bulls all over the place. So, of course, my first thought when I saw this hanging fruit was a pair of testicles.

A pair of sausages.

Dinner that night was at the Rockhampton Leagues Club. But I told you about that in the previous post – chicken parmigiana done with avocado instead of tomato. Very nice.

We went home the next day, a little concerned about the flooding and the European war. Friends called to warn us to pick up some essentials like bread, milk, and veg before we reached town. Supply to Hervey Bay had been cut because the access roads were flooded. We already knew our house was fine. Not much of Hervey Bay floods from rain events – we don’t have a river. It needs a cyclone to stir the bay up enough to flood the streets near the sea and that didn’t happen. But a lot of people around Brisbane and now Sydney are not so fortunate. They’ll be in for one hell of a job as the water recedes. Once again, people are volunteering for the ‘mud army’, ready to go and help victims clean up the mess. It’s heart-warming to see.

And now we’re home and legendary wicket keeper, Rod Marsh, has died at 74. He was a favourite of mine in the World Series Cricket days of the seventies. Apart from his cricketing prowess, in 1983 Marsh is said to have broken Doug Walters’ 44-can beer-drinking record on a flight to London, with reports suggesting he was wheeled through customs on a baggage trolley. It was a different game in those days.

Just a day later we heard of the death of Shane Warne, legendary spin bowler. He also died of a heart attack, at only 52. Shane Warne was a brilliant bowler, playing a huge part in the dominance of the Australia test team in the nineties. Pete and I were in attendance at the Boxing Day test match at the MCG in 2006 when he took his 700th wicket.

Not bad, is it? Record-breaking floods, World War III, and the deaths of two much-loved sporting personality and it’s only a couple of days into March.

I wonder what else 2022 has waiting in the wings?

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