We caught with woman behind our caving trip in Tasmania. Deb tells us about the cave systems in Mole Creek, about her volunteering efforts against logging and for the promotion of Aboriginal rights.
Hi Debs. Thanks for talking with us.
So I believe you were out caving this weekend?
Yes, I was, it was wonderful thank you. I went on an expedition out to a remote caving area in the rainforest in North-West Tasmania. We are systematically exploring and documenting the caving systems there.
Sounds great. So what first attracted you to caving?
Well, it’s hard to say because I’ve been caving for around 40 years or so. There are a few things I like about caving. Firstly, It is a mental challenge. You’ve got to work out how to protect yourself, the caves and the others in the group. We do the best we can to protect the caves as to leave as little an impact as possible.
Caving is my life, and I love introducing people to wild caves through my business, Wild Cave Tours.
Most caving clubs aren’t set up to take guests anywhere other than the popular, tourist caves. Therefore, it’s Wild Cave Tours’ experiences that take guests to the wilder, more secluded caves.
And so you how do you ensure that you don’t damage the caves?
Well firstly you have to have a license, so all caves are approved and selected by the Karst Conservation specialist in Parks and Wildlife. We have a huge responsibility not to leave any trace when we explore these delicate areas.
We are always doing our very best to positively contribute to the caves in this area.
It’s easy to not notice if you lean against a wall or leave a handprint, so it’s my job to ensure my guests are mindful of the impact they may have. In general, caving goes hand in hand with environmental conservation efforts.
Can you tell me a little bit about the ecosystem in Mole Creek?
We run our tours in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area. From our base at Mole Creek, we drive out on a dirt road into the peaceful quiet. From there, we’re immersed in nature. The Tasmania Wilderness World Heritage site has 7 of the 10 criteria needed for an area to be considered a world heritage site.
In terms of wildlife, you may see blind-shrimps, spiders and cave harvestmen. Cave harvestmen are highly specialised spider-like animals that have evolved in karst cave systems. Instead of pincers, they have evolved mandibles that they use to scrape through the sediments in the caves. They are a very old species, almost like a living fossil.
Outside the cave, there is a very interesting habitat interface between lowland and highland, and between grassland and forest. The species count is therefore extremely high, and you may well see wedge-tailed eagles, blue-winged parrots and Tasmanian Thornbills. In fact, I have counted 32 different species of bird in this area.
The density of the ecosystem is one of the reasons why this area is so interesting.
I’m interested to hear that the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage site has 7 of the 10 criteria for a world heritage listing. What are these criteria?
Well, the criteria consist of both natural and cultural significance.
An important historical element of the area is the colonial presence you might find. These include traces of colonial cave tourism and colonial farming. In fact, the guests will be staying in a colonial guest house.
Tasmania feels like a glimpse into the past. This intensifies when you come out to the cave reserve with me.
You wont get any coverage, forget it. You may as well leave your phone at home and completely disconnect when you get here.
That’s great. And how do you help with the conservation of this World Heritage site?
Working for the protection of this place has been a huge part of my life’s work.
Importantly, conservation tenure has been achieved where previously it was state forest subject to logging. That this place was granted World Heritage status in 2013 is largely down to my caving clubs conservation efforts. The documentation of the landscape, done by our caving club, was instrumental in achieving this status.
Without the work of my caving club, and without the political lobbying that has been involved, this progress could not have happened.
Fantastic. And I understand that this area has cultural significance for the aboriginal people as well?
Well, that’s a really large part of my tour. The area around here is an aboriginal homeland and has great significance as a result of that.
An important link between caving and Aboriginal culture is that these caves were used for various purposes by both genders. Aboriginal women once maintained food plants in the cool, moist environment of the caves. The caves were also sometimes used as birthing places, and as a place to shelter from the rain. Men used these caves as a place to sharpen their spears and rest after hunting.
Understanding the spiritual importance of the surrounding areas is also very important. I acknowledge the ‘mountain spirit’, and the elders of the past, present and future. The mountain spirit is called ‘Niara Kooparoona’. The mountains themselves are the mountains of the spirit.
People are recovering and using their spiritual and ritual places again. People are coming to the caves, coming to the forests and the alpine meadows.
Aboriginal culture and the landscape (country) it was formed by, cannot be separated.
That’s fascinating. I’m interested that you promote respect for elders of the past, present and future. How does the aboriginal concept of time differ from ours?
The journal, Nature, recently published a study which shows that Aboriginal people arrived in Australia approximately 50,000 years ago. In a summary of the paper, there is a quote from an Aboriginal, who said “We told you we’d been here forever.” A measurement of time in the past is nonsensical in aboriginal culture.
It’s all based on their idea of ‘Dreamtime’. A common misconception is that the ‘Dreamtime’ is some kind of historical period, but this is incorrect. Aboriginals regard any time outside of the present as being ‘Dreamtime.’ Or another example of the ‘Dreamtime’ is telling someone something that they have no experience of, it is a form of Dreamtime, or ‘a dreaming’.
Aboriginal culture teaches us that the most important time is right now, and thought of any other time is a ‘dreaming’.
I think that there must be something in the Aboriginal way of thinking.
They have managed to look after the land for 50,000 years, and we’ve screwed up a hell of a lot in only 200 years.
I’d also like to say this. The fact that this area meets 7 of 10 world heritage listing criteria is a bland fact. It’s only when you get out here, that you start to get a certain feeling from the land.
Tasmania is a little green island on the bottom of the planet, with a strongly polarised community. There is still a small portion of the population that don’t want to stop until every tree is cut down. We are still fighting a political battle. We have conservative governments come in that want to rescind national parks for logging.
So I will close with this. I remain active in physical and political conservation.
By continuing to run these tours, people who come are helping in a very material way to sustain my income, so I can keep this battle going.
We have to look after our natural places, and there aren’t many of us doing it. We need all the help we can get.
Thanks for speaking with us Deb.
It was lovely speaking to you too.