‘Can’t be destroyed’: Heritage listing for caves puts a stopper in dam proposal

The spectacular Cliefden Caves in central west NSW have been granted state heritage listing, almost certainly sparing them from a dam proposed for the region.


The caves, located on private land about 60 kilometres south-west of Bathurst, are known for their Ordovician-era fossils dating back about 460 million years, said Graham Quint, director of advocacy for the NSW division of the National Trust of Australia. The listing covers about 1550 hectares.

Wednesday’s formal gazetting of the karst cave network on the state’s register means it has “the highest level of protection you can have in NSW – it can’t be destroyed”, Mr Quint said.

“The caves contain fossils which are recognised not only in NSW but internationally,” Gabrielle Upton, the environment minister, said. “It’s great to be able to acknowledge the caves’ significance with NSW heritage status.”

The Coalition government has been examining options for a dam in the area, with one proposed for the Cranky Rock area over the Belubula River nearby.

A spokesman for WaterNSW said it was “currently evaluating potential solutions aimed at improving water security in that region of central west NSW”.

“The environment and the significance of the caves have always been important considerations in any analysis of potential water security infrastructure options,” he said.

“It’s just a really silly area to build a dam,” Mr Quint said. “No one knows where the limestone ends up – so it’s probably not a good place to put [one].”

According to the government, the network includes more than 100 recorded caves, almost as many karst features, a rare thermal spring, and is home to 15 confirmed species of microbats.

“The fossils include the world’s oldest known in-situ brachiopod shell beds, some of the earliest-known rugose corals in the geological record, and [in the overlying Malongulli Formation] one of the most diverse deep-water sponge faunas ever recorded,” the Office of Environment and Heritage states. “Many genera and species of fossils are unique to the area.”

Harry Burkitt, secretary of the Save Cliefden Caves Association, described the listing on the NSW Heritage Register as “fantastic news” that would protect the natural treasure for future generations.”The community has been pushing for a heritage listing on the caves since the nomination was made by the National Trust in 2014, and we congratulate the minister and Heritage Council on their decision,” he said.

Nationals Party members in the region are likely to be less happy, after its state conference in May called for more dam construction in the state.

“Without dams, and conserving water, we have no future,” the Blayney Chronicle reported Max Swift of the Nationals party’s Forbes branch as saying in May. “So for God’s sake get on with it. Who cares about ‘this frog’ or ‘that bat’ and all this sort of rubbish that goes on.”

According to the National Trust, George Evans was the first European to find the caves in 1815, just two years after the first Blue Mountains crossings by colonial explorers.

A well-preserved skeleton of an aboriginal man, who apparently died by falling into a cave, has been dated at more than 7000 years old.

The networks also served as a hideout for bushrangers, including Ben Hall, who raided the Cliefden property in 1863.

“According to the locals at the time, Hall used these caves as a refuge from pursuing police, and knew one so well that ‘he ducked into it and emerged on the other side of the river, leaving the pursuing constables far behind!,'” the National Trust said.

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