Wellington Caves

The Wellington region was long inhabited by the 'Binjang mob' of the Wiradjuri people. While there is no direct evidence that they entered any of the caves at Wellington, there is indirect evidence that they were well aware of them. A picture painted by Augustus Earle around 1826 clearly shows Aboriginal people in front of a fire at the entrance to Cathedral Cave. This painting (nla.pic-an2818409-v)is labelled 'Mosman's Cave'but is clearly the entrance to Cathedral Cave and is the first written record of the caves.

  Wellington Caves - Cathedral Cave
Cathedral Cave
Wellington Caves - Phosphate Mine
Phosphate Mine

The first Europeans to explore the caves were probably associated with Lieutenant Percy Simpson's settlement (1823-1831), but the first written account was provided by explorer Hamilton Hume in 1828. Two years later George Rankin, a local magistrate, found fossil bones of both a diprotodon and a giant kangaroo in the caves. The diprotodon, which has been dated to the Pleistocene period was herbivorous and its teeth were well adapted to grazing.

Rankin returned later that year with Sir Thomas Mitchell and collected a huge variety of bones from the caves which appear to have acted as a natural trap for fauna. These remains became the subject of an address by Mitchell to the Geological Society of London in 1831. Since that time the cave has been a steady source of information about ancient geology and fauna, although collapses and other geological phenomena have splintered and scattered skeletons.

The caves were frequently vandalised during the nineteenth century until 1884, when they were declared a natural reserve. Organised tours of Cathedral Cave began about 1885 with the appointment of the first caretaker, James Sibbald. Gaden Cave was discovered in 1902 and developed in 1909. The Phosphate Mine was in production from 1914 to 1918 however only 6000 tons of rock with limited amounts of phosphate were removed. The mine passages, mostly backfilled and collapsed, lay dormant for almost 80 years until they were reconstructed and reopened for tours in 1996. Cathedral Cave, Garden Cave and the Phosphate Mine are shown as guided tours.