MY VISIT TO THE NARACOORTE CAVES CONSERVATION PARK -
In late 1996, during my first journey to Australia, I visited the famous
Naracoorte Caves. If you have not yet read the section
of this site which discusses the great significance of these caves to our
understanding of Australia's Pleistocene vertebrates, then please do so
to become better familiarized with this background information. The
following is a condensed account of my trip to the caves.
in New South Wales:
While my native continent of North America contains countless natural wonders
of its own, it seems it has always been the natural history of Australia
that has most fascinated me. A journey to Australia was something
that I had been looking forward to since my youth, and in October of 1996,
this finally became a reality.
hilltop view in rural New South Wales.
It was early spring in Australia, and though the sun was bright, the weather
in New South Wales was still rather cool, especially at night. After
arriving in Sydney, the first item on my itinerary was a visit to the Australian
Museum. Several days later, I went west by train into rural NSW,
to meet a fellow naturalist who prepares palaeontological exhibits for
museums and various other natural history venues. I had arrived rather
late in the day, and the next morning, I had a look around the local area
- a landscape of hills interspersed with pastoral land and orchards.
Though obviously altered long ago by the removal of much of the original
vegetation, there remained an abundance of old Eucalyptus trees.
Around the the hilltops were scattered many ancient, lichen-covered boulders,
some of which were the size of a small house. Swamp wallabies (Wallabia
bicolor) could often be seen moving amongst them.
scattered with large boulders.
After a several-day tour of some of the fossil exhibits he had organized
at various locations in NSW, my colleague suggested that we make a road
trip west via the Great
Ocean Road, and possibly even go far enough to see one of Australia's
most important Pleistocene fossil sites, The Naracoorte Caves. I
was still feeling a bit overwhelmed by all that I had seen in Australia
in just my first week in the country, and when the possibility of a trip
to Naracoorte presented, it added a whole new dimension to my journey.
Having a keen interest in Pleistocene mammals, especially those of Australia,
the Victoria Fossil Cave of Naracoorte had long been on my mind as a place
I knew I must visit someday. I had been aware of the existence
of this cave since 1979, when I saw British naturalist David
Attenborough in the cave's fossil chamber in his landmark television
series "Life on Earth". At that time, the cave had not yet
been widened for palaeontological excavation, and it took an hour and a
half of crawling through a narrow passage to reach the chamber.