This is another story of the type of adventures that can be had by any ‘ordinary’ person who makes an effort to get out and do something different rather than sit and mope around at home. I have entitled it ‘The Lake Cave Saga’ as it did seem at times that the 'adventure' would be never-ending to myself and my companions during the incident.
Again there is no heroism nor derring-do on my part, just the simple thrill of being in the right place at the right time with the right people, and getting a glimpse of what other people do as a job or calling - in this case the coal miners of many years ago!
As I’d wandered over the hills and down into caves, it had become a part of the norm for my friends and myself to see the Rescue Groups of both those pastimes going about their business, and we were always grateful to know that those dedicated men and women were standing by to help in the case of an emergency. But, on the particular weekends of this story I’d discover the work of another branch of dedicated 'rescuers'. They were men who had risked their own lives for the sake of saving a valuable cave from flooding and being spoiled - the Collie (W. Australia) coal miners.
The picture above was not taken in Lake Cave, but is an example of the cave-chambers that can be found down in the south-west of Western Australia. Due to the fact that us serious cavers could just wander into Lake Cave whenever it was open to the public (and at night by appointment if desired), I didn't bother to take any pics there except in the tunnel as a record for the incident written about below. To see a pic of Lake Cave, go to My Favourite Links and check out some of the excellent W. Australian caving sites.
Here is the story.
John and Margaret Yates, long time managers of the Lake Cave kiosk, and guides for Lake and Mammoth Caves, in the south-west of Western Australia, had retired and other managers had come and gone. If I remember rightly, Kevin Toye and his family took over for a while, followed by John Vernon and his family, and then Brian Staite and his family. As one of the cavers who quite regularly led parties on sporting trips into the more wild caves of the Leeuwin/Naturaliste Ridge, I was lucky to have gained the friendship of all these people. This story concerns the time when Brian and Liz Staite, and their son, Mark, were managing these very valuable assets to West Australian tourism.
The ‘lake’ in Lake Cave is not a lake in the true sense, it is really the widening of an underground stream that flows through the chamber. The flow is hardly noticeable and anyone who isn’t 'in the know' would think that the water is static.
On the 30th April 1983, I arrived at the Lake Cave kiosk and, as usual was made to feel very welcome by Brian, Liz, and Mark. During the evening, Brian asked me if I would have a look at the drainage system of Lake Cave as the lake had risen about 75 cm in the previous couple of weeks. Brian, Mark and I went down into the cave and, after having a look, I agreed that there was obviously a blockage somewhere. I suggested that we get something long to push up the 23 cm diameter concrete pipe that served as a drain to keep the lake at its natural level.
This pipe was laid on the floor of a tunnel, that had been built down-stream from the lake and just out of view from the tourists. The tunnel was man-made and shored up with timber. About 4 mtrs from the entrance, the tunnel had been blocked by a large roof fall and I felt that this may have crushed the concrete pipe, but we had to be sure before digging down to clear the suspected blockage.
Lying along the side of the chamber, and also hidden from the tourists, was a 10 mtrs length of 4 cm diameter black polythene pipe and I recall idly thinking that John Yates would have left it there in preparation for such an eventuality. I thought a lot of John. Brian, Mark and I pushed the black pipe into the drainage pipe and it slid up fairly easily for the whole ten metres. It seemed that there was no blockage at that point after all.
We next decided to go into a chamber on the west side of the Lake Cave doline (crater) where the drainage stream re-appears before vanishing again on its underground journey to the ocean at Conto Spring. All cave features on the Leeuwin/Naturaliste limestone Ridge have a number, this chamber is numbered WI 32 (WI for Witchcliffe, the nearest ‘town’). For safety, WI 32 is usually entered by abseiling into, and then prusiking (or Jumaring) out of. Soon the three of us had rigged up the ropes and abseiled down into the chamber. The stream appeared to be flowing quite freely, although I must admit that I didn’t know how it would look with or without a blockage! I laid down in the water and crawled up-stream as far as I could, until a rock fall in front barred my progress, and there was still no sign of the drainage pipe outlet.
It was very late by that time so I made arrangements with Brian to return the following weekend if there was no improvement in the water level of the lake.
While driving down to Lake Cave on the evening of 7th May 1983, I called in at John Yates’ home to ask for his advice as to what should be done to help save the cave from eventually flooding, and was surprised when he told me that he 'wasn’t interested', and that we would have to 'sort it out ourselves'. At that moment, I felt that I had lost what I had previously considered to be a good friend! Determined not to be beaten and lose such a beautiful showpiece, I went on down to Lake Cave.
This time I decided to try and dig over the collapsed tunnel roof to see if the tunnel still continued, hopefully finding the problem further on. With Brian and Mark backing me up I dug up through the collapsed roof and entered a small chamber, caused by the displaced limestone from the rock fall. On my left I could see a wall of boards and I had wondered why they were there.
The boards were fairly rotten and, after carefully removing one, I saw, in the light of my headlamp, that there was an empty space behind where the board had been. There was just enough room to squeeze my head through the gap so, I took my helmet off, unclipped my headlamp and, using the headlamp as a hand torch, I stuck my head into the gap. I discovered that I was looking into a man-made shaft and I could see daylight filtering down through gaps between lengths of planking that covered the top of it. Later, up on the floor of the doline, I would find that a bench seat was placed over the top of these planks, probably as a bit of camouflage but a welcome resting place for those that were not used to deep tourist caves. The timber shorings up the sides of the shaft were very rotten and dangerous looking and I withdrew my head and hand very gently.
Choosing a spot on the far right hand side of the small chamber, where I hoped to relocate the continuation of the tunnel, I began digging down into the rubble from the collapsed roof. I guessed that I was about 1.5 mtrs above the roof of the tunnel if it was still intact, but I still dug very carefully, just in case the whole lot collapsed again and took me with it. I was hardly daring to breath, and I was using all the skills learned from the many ‘digs’ I’d done in caves whilst exploring. If I tell the truth, wild horses wouldn’t have dragged me to that dig for I recognised what a dangerous position I was in. Only the thought of having that beautiful lake chamber ruined by the rising waters had spurred me on.
For an hour or so I slowly removed lumps of limestone and scooped the small stones and sand out of the ever-deepening hole. But in the end it was so deep that the whole trunk of my body was tipped upside down into it as I struggled to reach down even further and clear a way through. I could only use one hand for dragging rubble out as I needed the other hand to push myself back out of the hole and, although I was alternating hands each time, my arms became very tired. I felt that I should be getting close to the tunnel roof and that, if I accidentally slid down into the tunnel head first, I could be hurt. I needed some strength in my arms to keep control, so that I’d be able to back out from what I knew would be a crumbling hole and lower myself back down feet first into the tunnel. It was time for a rest to rebuild that strength, I retreated back to the lake chamber where Brian and Mark were anxiously waiting. Soon we were back up in the kiosk and being spoilt by Liz as she made us each a meal and kept the welcome cups of tea flowing.
It was then decided that Brian would follow me into the small chamber and help remove the rubble that I passed back up to him as I continued on with the dig. Mark would stay in the lake chamber ready to go for help if anything went wrong. We collected all the electrical extension-leads that we could find so that Brian and I could take a lead lamp in with us for better lighting.
Shortly after we had put this new plan into operation and I was again head-first into the dig, there was a slight rumbling sound below me and I instinctively pushed my elbows out and forced my back against the side of the hole so that I wouldn’t fall head first downwards. When the dust had cleared, my headlamp light shone down into the continuation of the tunnel and I was surprised to see that the floor wasn’t all that far below my head. My unease was tempered slightly by our small triumph of at least finding the tunnel again. Excitedly I called the news back up to Brian who passed it back on to Mark. It was a bit of encouragement and a boost to our morale. Very slowly and very carefully I slid on down towards the tunnel, moving the remaining rubble to either side as I progressed. Finally I could force my head back and twist it around enough to take a look along the tunnel’s length. What I saw quickly brought my uneasy feelings back with a vengeance.
I found that the floor of the tunnel was about 1 mtr higher than it was back in the main chamber. It was still the same width of about 1 mtr but there was only about half a metre of height left between the floor and the roof in places. I realised that the tunnel had been driven through the loose limestone first, then the drainage pipe had been laid on the main floor and loose rubble had been put back into the tunnel, roughly a metre deep, to protect the pipe from future rock falls. I recall being very impressed with the workings and wondering to myself who had originally built the tunnel. Nevertheless, even though it was a small feat of engineering and had obviously been hard and dangerous work, time had caused a few changes since the tunnel had been constructed.
The depth of my dig down into the tunnel was my full body length. Even though Brian was in attendance about 2 mtrs above, I knew that if anything happened along that tunnel there would be little chance of anybody getting me out without many hours of expert and very dangerous work. And if there was a major roof fall both Brian and I were aware that he could be caught in it as well. The whole area was that unsafe! But Brian stuck to his post, Mark was ready to go for help, and I slid very gingerly head-first into the tunnel proper.
Immediately I could see that all of the supporting timbers were extremely rotten, and there was another spot, about 3 mtrs up ahead, where the roof had caved in. I began to regret my decision to help but Brian and Liz had been very good to me and I didn’t want to let them down. I forced myself to concentrate on the construction of the tunnel while I lay there on my stomach and gained some courage.
The roof was supported by vertical props spaced at about 1 mtr intervals along each wall. These supported horizontal cross-members, which in turn supported thick boards (planks) running in line with the tunnel and forming the roof. The boards had obviously been fitted to hold the loose rock, that was up above the tunnel, in place. Again I could only marvel at the courage and skill of the persons who had originally laboured on the project. Finally, with my own courage and racing heart having returned to normal, I crawled onwards.
I reached the next cave-in and used extreme caution as I began to clear a way through, removing the rubble rock by rock, stone by stone and hearing my heart thumping like mad as I lay there deep underground and probably cut off from any help. Although I knew that Brian and Mark would almost give up their own lives in an effort to try and save me if a disaster occurred, I also knew that if the roof collapsed above me at that point, there would definitely be no chance of getting me out from such a serious situation in such a dangerous place.
Over the months that I had known Brian, Liz and Mark, they had often listened with interest to stories that I had related about some of the many adventures I had experienced in my life up until that time. Brian had also suggested that I should write a book, based on those experiences. During the happy evenings that I spent at the Lake Cave kiosk with this good family, I hadn’t worried about such things as ‘bragging’ about the wonderful and adventurous life that I had led. We talked about the great things we’d done but I never thought that anybody would be interested enough to read of my life and adventures.
That was until I lay in that tunnel and had realised what an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation I’d placed myself into. I remember thinking to myself as I dug away at that third roof collapse that Brian was right, I had led a wonderful and varied life and I had so many stories to relate. Who would know of the fantastic life I had lived if the roof caved in on me? I worked with even more caution and promised myself that, if I got out of that tunnel safely, I would make every effort to record some of the unique stories that I had to tell. But in the meanwhile there was a job to be done.
Soon I had cleared a space in the third roof fall that was just large enough to fit through and I squeezed on into the continuation of the tunnel. Once inside this next section I saw that there was another tunnel going off at right angle to the left. The roof of this side tunnel had collapsed and it was completely blocked by large boulders and rubble. I continued crawling on along the main tunnel, feeling more and more alone with each move. After about another 12 mtrs my way was blocked by a massive rock fall and I could see that there was no hope at all for further progress. With a feeling of disappointment at not having solved the problem I made my way back along the tunnel. It was just as well that Brian was stationed at the top of the second dig for, even though I stood to my full outstretched height, I could not get a purchase to pull myself safely out of the hole without causing the sides to fall in on me and Brian had to help haul me out.
After a clean up and supper we discussed the situation. It was agreed that, as the polythene pipe had slid down the drainage pipe so easily, there didn't seem to be any problems in the first 10 mtrs of the system. The area below my first and second digs was up above that part of the pipe so the blockage hadn’t been caused by that rock fall. The rock fall in the tunnel, scene of my third dig, was definitely not heavy enough to have caused the covering of protecting rubble to crush the pipe. That left the last and worst looking rock fall at the end of the tunnel as a suspect. I set off home to Collie promising to return the following weekend if things hadn’t improved. I recall that, as I drove home that night, I had wondered how long it had been since anyone else had been along the tunnel, and I promised myself that I would find out a bit more about it.
During the following week I did some research into the history of Lake Cave using information gathered from Brian, the Margaret River Tourist Bureau and the West Australian Speleological Group (W.A.S.G.). I was hoping to discover something that would give me a clue as to who had originally constructed the tunnel, whether it had blocked up at any time since, and what had been the cause and remedy. With valuable assistance from Brian, Keith Tritton of the Margaret River Tourist Bureau, and historical notes sent to me from the W.A.S.G. library, I was able to put together the following facts.
Fanny Bussel is said to have originally shown the doline to John Brockman, whom she later married. John showed it to Tim Connolly who, with some friends, went back and explored the doline after climbing down a karri tree that was growing up from the floor near the edge. They eventually found the chamber with the lake in it and it was decided to open it up as a show cave.
Tim Connolly took on the job of guiding people through the cave, alternating with Mammoth Cave which had also been opened as a show cave. All went well for many years until the 11th of May 1924 when, after unusually heavy rains the night before, Tim went down into Lake Cave and found that the lake had risen by 1.2 mtrs overnight and that a large rockfall was now damming up the stream that drained the lake and kept it at its natural level. It was realised that the run-off from the heavy rain had poured over the edge of the doline causing the rock fall and flooding.
A mining engineer was consulted and it was decided to use the help of miners from Collie in an effort to try and clear a way through the rock fall so that the water could flow freely once more.
The miners began by sinking a shaft (the shaft under the bench seat) 6 mtrs west from the entrance to the lake chamber, and close up to the wall of the doline. They were hoping to discover where the drainage stream went and clear the blockage back into the lake chamber. Unfortunately they struck water at the same level as was in the flooded lake chamber, so that idea was abandoned.
Next, they drove a tunnel out towards the middle of the doline to try and find enough fall to get the drainage water around the rock fall and back to the stream outlet. They managed to lower the flooding by 18 cm, but the workings were so dangerous that this too was abandoned as too unsafe and not permanent enough.
Finally after doing a dye test to find out where the water from the lake actually did go, it was decided to drive a tunnel north-west from the bottom of the shaft to meet up with the main wall of the doline and follow this around until they met up with the drainage stream again in the outlet chamber (WI 32).
This was done under terrible conditions. T. Blatchford, Assistant State Mining Engineer at the time, described the tunnelling as “By no means an easy or inexpensive undertaking. The ground was often cavernous, and at best was a mixture of wet sand and loose limestone boulders. Close timbering was essential throughout.”
Before the miners reached the outlet of the stream the water in the lake fell sufficiently enough for them to dig back into the main chamber and lay the drainage pipe along the tunnel floor which they then covered with rubble as protection against being crushed by future rock falls. The lake water returned to its natural level. The lake has only flooded once since then. That was in 1965, but it quickly settled down again.
But back to our problem. I had appealed to W.A.S.G. for volunteers to come and help us save the cave from further flooding. Alan Ronk and Matthew Hearne, two W.A.S.G. members at the time, and very experienced cavers, had offered their valuable services. I was very happy to have them in our team as the three of us had often explored caves together, and we got on well with each other.
On 13th May 1983, we gathered at the kiosk for another try. I had decided that, owing to the bad rock fall at the end of the tunnel, we would have another go at digging back up the stream from WI 32 in the hope of locating the lower end of the drainage pipe. If we could find the end of the pipe we planned to use the polythene pipe from that direction to try and discover whether the last rock fall in the tunnel could have crushed the drainage pipe down that end. We had no idea how big the rock fall might be nor how far it might be from the lower end of the pipe, but I thought that if we could somehow get through and find the blockage we might be lucky enough to be able to clear it using our combined strengths and caving knowledge. It seemed the only option open to us by then.
While Liz waited anxiously up in the kiosk (I think she had the worst job - knowing that both her husband and youngest son were grovelling about in those dangerous areas) the five of us set off down into the doline. Mark waited at the entrance into WI 32 ready to go for help if needed, Brian came into WI 32 as far as the stream ready to give immediate help from there, and Alan, Matthew and I crawled off up the stream to my last high point. The idea was that I would dig out the rocks and rubble and pass it all back to Alan who would in turn pass it all back to Matthew. It was the only way we could work in the confined space of that stream bed.
In this manner I was able to clear a way through the rock fall that had barred my way on the first attempt in this area. We were then faced with an enormous flat-bottomed slab of rock that was only about 25 cm above the stream and about 2 mtrs long, with no way of getting around either side. The water was shallow as it ran over the bed of sand at this point but we couldn’t squeeze along under the rock and I had to dig a channel out as I moved forwards. Coughing and spluttering as the water splashed into our faces, we dug and pushed the sand behind us as we squeezed our way through the deeper water of the channel we made under the great rock. At last we were clear and found ourselves in a very tiny chamber where we lay for a minute or two as our breaths returned to normal. After another 3 mtrs of digging on from the tiny chamber, our way was finally blocked by a second great rock. There was no way to get on through and we had to retreat again.
Tired, wet, and hungry, we crawled back to Brian and we all made our way up to the kiosk. It was 1 o’clock in the morning but Liz had waited up and we were soon showered, fed, and settled down for the rest of the night.
As soon as the last tourists had left the cave the next afternoon (Sunday, 14th May) we all headed back down to continue our work. My new plan was for me to crawl up to the end of the tunnel again, dig down to the pipe at that point and knock a small hole into the top of it. If I could manage to do that then the others were to feed the polythene pipe down to me, I would drag it along the tunnel and push it through the hole and on down the pipe under the last rock fall towards where we had been digging the night before. Again, we were only trying to pin-point the blockage so that we could decide on the best course of action to get the drainage system working again.
This time I dragged the lead-lamp along with me as my friends fed the extension-cables from the lake chamber through the first dig and down into the second dig. I also took along a club-hammer (gimpy), a small chisel, and an entrenching tool. If I had thought that my last crawl along that tunnel was bad enough, it was worse this second time as I struggled to take these extra bits along with me. The plugs in the extension-cables caught up a couple of times and I had to crawl back and release them, but finally I was at the spot with good lighting and ready to get on with it.
Being blessed with a wonderful memory, I haven’t forgotten how I felt during that second trip along the tunnel. Although I was a bit more familiar with it by then, I still felt very remote and I was still being very careful and hardly daring to breath. I gently dug down through the rubble, piling it back along the side of the tunnel so that I wouldn’t cut off my retreat, and uncovered the concrete pipe. The first blow of the hammer hitting the chisel reverberated so loudly along the pipe that I nearly died with fright, I felt sure that just the sound would bring the whole tunnel down on me. But all seemed well as I stopped and looked up at those rotten timbers in the roof just above me so I carried on. Working carefully so as not to cause any further cracks nor damage than was necessary, I gradually chipped out a 7cm diameter plug in the top of the exposed pipe. It was hard work lying head first into that hole, supporting my weight with my elbows and trying to use the hammer and chisel at the same time, and occasionally I had to back out and rest. But at last the plug of concrete that I’d chiselled out was loose and I was able to lift it out and look down into the pipe. What I saw through that hole filled me with absolute amazement.
After all our hard work and hours of digging, the danger, and the fears of what would happen to the chamber if we failed to find out what was causing the rising water level, I’d found the answer. It was there, literally right under my nose. Until that moment, our main suspect, as to the cause of the blockage, had gradually been pin-pointed to the last tunnel collapse just ahead of my present position. I had expected the water to flood up through the hole that I'd chipped in the top of the pipe, due to the back-pressure from the flooded lake. But, as I peered down at what was our last resort after 3 weekend’s of trial and error, I could see that the water was just over half way up the sides of the pipe - and thick white/green weeds were waving slowly from side to side in a surprisingly sluggish flow.
Immediately I’d realised what must have obviously happened. Silt had washed down along the bottom of the pipe from the lake, the weeds had grown up from the silt, and the whole lot had threatened to choke the drainage system. Brian, Mark, and I had been able to easily push the polythene pipe down the drain because it must have slid along the top of the silt in amongst the weeds.
Using a lump of wood from a broken part of the roof, I covered the hole in the pipe, then replaced all the rubble that I’d dug out above it. Although I was now sure that we had found the problem, I left the lead lamp at the end of the tunnel ‘just in case’ but brought the entrenching tool, hammer, and chisel out with me. Brian and Alan helped me up out of the second dig and the three of us made our way back through the first dig to Mark and Matthew who had been waiting, in case of an emergency, in the lake chamber. I didn’t immediately say anything about my discovery as I didn’t want to raise any false hopes. But my friends could see, by the big grin on my face, that we had obviously had a major breakthrough.
I suggested that we push the polythene pipe up the drainage pipe again, but this time we’d use a modification. At my request, Mark ran up to the kiosk and returned with some tools and a metal coat hanger. We cut the coat hanger into roughly 120 cm lengths, drilled some staggered holes in the end of the polythene pipe, and forced the lengths of wire through the holes, so that we had a kind of bottle brush at the end of the polythene pipe. With this new tool we were ready to have another go in our battle to try and find the blockage.
The difference was noticeable almost straight away. Our modified polythene pipe had barely started to go up the drainage pipe when we began to feel some kind of obstruction. I made the suggestion that we should try twisting the polythene pipe and then withdraw it from the drainage pipe.
In all fairness to my four friends, it should be said that I still hadn’t mentioned my discovery of the weeds in the drainage pipe, so they were still pretty much in the dark and that was why I was directing the operations. I was still trying not to raise any false hopes as we had worked together too long and hard for any more set-backs, and I still wasn’t sure that this latest action would cure the problem.
My companions did as I had suggested and sure enough, as the end of the polythene pipe came back into view, there were lumps of black dirt and white/green weeds caught up in the wire ‘bristles’. Now there was no hiding the fact that we could be close to solving the problem. Amid great excitement, we again rammed the polythene pipe up the drainage pipe, twisted and pulled it out, and once more there was dirt and weeds caught up in the wire bristles. The water became clouded with black mud and bits of weed, we had to find the pipe entrance by feel. But It certainly seemed that the end of our quest was in sight and a little thing like that wasn’t going to worry us.
Five times we rammed the polythene pipe up the drainage pipe and pulled out lumps of dirt and weeds. Then, as we pulled the polythene pipe out for the fifth time, there was a sucking noise below us and a whirlpool appeared on the surface of the lake at the entrance to the drainage pipe where we had just withdrawn the last lot of dirt and weeds from. At that moment we knew our work was at an end. I’m sure that Liz, who was again left waiting anxiously up at the kiosk, must have heard the happy cheers of relief now that we had triumphed.
The main work was done and there was only the tidying up to do. The five of us laboured on with our long ‘bottle brush’ until we had dragged as much dirt and weeds out of the drainage pipe as was possible against the, by then, racing current. The lead lamp was still at the end of the tunnel and I knew that I would have to go down again and get it. Being an avid photographer, I was very keen to get some pictures of the tunnel as a record of this incident and I asked if any of my friends would be willing to go down with me to act as models and give some perspective to the size of the tunnel. Alan volunteered and, with Brian and Matthew standing by at the top of the second dig, the two of us wormed our way down the hole.
I could see, right from the start, that Alan wasn’t happy with the situation that he’d placed himself into. His fearful looks at the roof and confined space showed that. I had looked around in a similar manner on first entering the tunnel and I knew how he was feeling. But it made me giggle to see his face and imagine what mine must have looked like on the first trip. Although I was still being just as careful I was becoming used to the area and, of course, knew what to expect, Alan didn’t. Nevertheless, he grinned back at me when I told him why I was laughing and crawled along behind me as I took the pictures until I reached the lead lamp.
It was just possible to lay on one’s side, curl up in a ball, and turn around in the tunnel to face the other way. I don’t know how but, while I was turning around after retrieving the lead lamp, Alan had turned and was already almost back at the bottom of the second dig. I called to him that I wanted to get a picture of somebody climbing up out of that hole and suggested that we pass my camera up to Matthew before Alan was dragged out of the dig by Brian. Alan waited while I caught him up and the picture was taken. Of course, Alan wasn’t that scared (he was also a good rock climber), he just recognised that there was really no point in lingering about needlessly in the old tunnel. We all retreated back to the lake chamber where Mark was still patiently standing-by ‘just in case’.
The water level of the lake had already dropped noticeably and it hadn’t been before time as it was only about 5 cm below the tourist's path when we finally discovered the problem. We were all extremely satisfied with the results of our efforts and Liz served up an extra special meal for us all that night.
But, while driving home, I pondered back on all the work done by Brian, Mark, Liz, and I, and then Matthew and Alan, just to discover such a simple solution to the problem. As an ‘experienced W.A. caver’, I was quietly annoyed with myself for not recognising what was causing the blockage, and exposing all of us to so much potential danger.
Then I would be told later that the problem of weeds blocking the drainage system had been a regular occurrence over the years, and that all our work and danger could have been avoided with help and advice from one person. But, that person hadn’t been ‘interested’. I felt a bit better after that - at least we had all made the effort, not for glory or fame, but for our love of Western Australia, even if we didn’t know what was causing the problem, or what we were doing.
I never went down the tunnel again. In fact, I don’t go to that caving area very often now. Things have changed so drastically there, the wild and wonderful atmosphere has gone, to be replaced by commercialism, and the truly ‘good old days’ have passed on by. I had suggested that a more modern drainage system should be put in as the old one was in such a bad state of repair and I believe that this has now been done.
In recognition for our work and as a thankyou, the Margaret River Tourist Bureau awarded Alan and Matthew each with a $50 cheque and I received a $100 cheque.
Just over two years later, 12th September `85, I wrote an article on the above story for 'The Collie Mail' newspaper as an item of interest for the modern miners. But I was also hoping that someone might know who had been involved in the tunnel construction and if there were any surviving relatives who might like some photos of the work. The article was published in the ‘Out ‘n’ About with John Ambrose’ section, under the heading ‘Miners Saved Cave’ but I never heard any more on the subject.
Having been down and seen the area where those miners constructed the original tunnel, I can only wonder at the sheer courage and determination of those men for undertaking such a job, even if it was all in a day’s work. It was a terrifying place and I still shudder when I recall the incident. I can say that it was one of the worst holes in which I’ve been in thirty-odd years of caving.
As our lives and interests have changed, Brian, Liz, and Mark, Alan, Matthew, and myself have all moved on, although I still occasionally hear a snippet of news as to how each of them are getting along. But, thanks to having those wonderful friends, and being in the right place at the right time, I have that memorable experience to recall. The slides, gained through the patience of my companions and now a few of the thousands in my slide collection, tell the whole story of how we all worked together and finally won the ‘battle of the weeds’.
My five friends and I had surely shared an adventure that must be fairly unique in Western Australia.
I have kept the promise that I made to myself as I lay in that tunnel for the first time and dug through the third collapse. I am now writing about some of the many adventures that I’ve shared with my friends, not necessarily only for myself but also for others in the future. I feel that so much is lost as generations pass on, the lost identities of the miners in this story is a good example. We all have stories to tell, each and everyone of us has had an experience that someone else will want to relate to, or read of. So I’m writing my stories and this has been one of them.
And it all happened to me because I didn’t want to sit at home and mope about.
Don’t waste your precious life on following the paths to drugs, crime, boredom, frustration, and useless exploits - be determined, get out, meet good people, and have some real-life & worthwhile adventures of your own to remember - even if they are only simple adventures like mine!
Next story - Adventuring in Lorries.
Back to top of page.