Jenolan Caves Part 1 – Aboriginal History

Jenolan NSW Front

This week, with the holidays rapidly approaching, it seemed the ideal time to share a series of beautiful images of Jenolan Caves. The cave complex at Jenolan is an iconic tourist attraction in NSW, and has a fascinating history, which The Past Present will explore over the coming weeks.

Although today Jenolan Caves is an iconic tourist attraction, for many thousands of years the series of caves was known to and extremely important to Australia’s Aboriginal Peoples. The Jenolan Caves area itself is in the traditional lands of the Burra Burra people, who are one of the clans belonging to the Gundugurra Nation, though they have been used much more widely.

According to Dreamtime stories, the Jenolan area was created when Gurangatch (who was part eel and part fish) battled with Mirragan (a native quoll). Mirragan chased Gurangatch, carving out rivers and caves during the fight. Eventually, Gurangatch settled at Jenolan Caves, resting and healing his wounds by licking them. Aboriginal people believe you can still see his blood on the rock walls as you leave the grand arch. Gurangatch’s peaceful thoughts have become part of the landscape, and Jenolan is a peaceful, restorative place according to Aboriginal culture, especially for women, who are represented by flowing water.

The waters themselves are in fact seen as nadyung, or healing waters, and for thousands of years Aboriginal people from many different nations came to bathe in these waters. Sometimes their journey to the caves took days, and sick people were often carried to the underground waters, deep in the caves, from long distances. Indeed, the Aboriginal people were very familiar with these caves, long before Europeans colonised Australia.

View From Bushranger Hill Near Newport

Bushrangers ranger

This week, the Past Present decided it was time to share this amazing image of a hill in Newport which is known as Bushrangers Hill. Such an evocative name surely has a fascinating story to match and research reveals this is indeed the case.

Bushrangers Hill may suggest the hill was named because of bushrangers, but this isn’t the whole story. The hill is actually most closely associated with an Aboriginal police tracker known as Bowen. Bowen was the son of the famous Aboriginal Bungaree. He was a very successful police tracker and also customs officer. In fact so successful was Bowen that the Sydney Herald even reported about him, and the information he had provided which led to the capture of thee dangerous bushrangers. Bowen left his job as a police tracker for a time to sail to the Californian gold fields, but he returned and resumed work with the police, again helping to apprehend bushrangers, including two convicts who had escaped and were bushranging on the Northern Beaches.

Of course, being a tracker, Bowen made many enemies. According to many, in 1853 he was encamped at what is now Bushranger Hill and sitting by the warmth and light of his fire. The hill was used by several bushrangers and four happened upon his camp where one, known as Casey, murdered Bowen. John Farrell, who was a farmer at Newport and friend of Bowen discovered his body and had it taken to St Lawrence Presbyterian Church for burial. This is perhaps the reason for the name of the hill. Others however say that Bowen shot Casey and that Farrell did not find Bowen’s body or indeed know who was responsible for his death. According to this story, Bowen died closer to Sydney, though there is no record of how he died.