The Cultural Significance of Jenolan Caves
For many people, the caves of Jenolan are just caves, but for a lot of people, the caves have a far greater meaning. When people talk of the cultural significance of the caves, what is meant is what significance do the caves hold within our culture.
The reality is that the caves mean different things to different cultures. The earliest culture that records exist for are the Aboriginal people. For these people, the caves were part of the living landscape. Whilst there is little evidence to show the aboriginal people used the caves for shelter, they do figure in one Dreamtime account of the formation of the land, this being the account of Gurrangatch and Mirrigan. The caves would most definitely have been a landmark that you could use to describe where other areas were.
It was not until the European settlers stumbled upon the caves that their significance as a recreational site emerged. The caves represented an area of great mystery and excitement, drawing millions of people to them from the time of their discovery. Not only was this a tourist attraction but it formed an important part of society. From the earliest days it was considered an ideal place for "matchmaking". The early trips to the caves involved journeys lasting at least three days away from home. Young men and women travelled together and it was seen as a good opportunity for them to get to know each other and form relationships. Of course, a shaparone would ensure that for the duration of the trip things remained solely on a friendly basis.
During the 1940's and 1950's Jenolan became a significant destination for honeymooning couples and for many people Jenolan holds a special place as being their the destination of their first big date.
These days there is an attitude that when a tour is taken through the caves, visitors should be educated about caves. For other cultures though, caves have been used as places of worship or as playgrounds where formations are carelessly destroyed. Other cultures may find it curious looking at the people at Jenolan who see great value in preserving what amounts to nothing more than a bunch of rocks. At Jenolan it is considered important that we preserve the caves for future generations to appreciate. It is also important that current visitors get to see the caves to understand how delicate they are and hence understand why many other caves are not open to the public. If every cave that is known were opened to the public pristine caves would soon be destroyed.
Jenolan Caves means different things to different people and it is worth considering, both before and after your visit, what the caves mean to you.