Cave facts ‘sink in’

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Lechelle Earl, owner/editor

Cave facts ‘sink in’

Some little-known facts about the Tantanoola Caves Complex were brought to light by the guest speaker at the latest monthly meeting in Millicent of the South East Family History Group.

Mount Gambier geologist Ian Lewis shared his rich knowledge of the region’s many sinkholes and caves for 75 minutes.

He gave special emphasis on the remarkable caves at Tantanoola which have recently been nominated by the South Australian Heritage Council for inclusion on the SA Heritage Register.

The guest speaker spent his first five years at the now-demolished Penola Forest Headquarters as his father was a professional forester with the then Woods and Forests Department.

The Lewis family then moved to Mount Gambier and lived in close proximity to the lakes.

At the age of 14, Mr Lewis experienced a life-defining moment which set him on his career path to become a geologist.

He joined his Scout pack leader and his fellow scouts on trip to explore six of the caves of the South East region.

Among them were the cave at the Pub Paddock near Mount Burr along with the nearby Gran Gran caves.

Not only did this ignite a passion for cave exploration, Mr Lewis was also keen to explore caves below water.

Rigorous training followed and he was one the founders of the Cave Exploration Group of South Australia in the 1970s.

This group was established in response to five separate incidents of drownings in the space of four years by ill-prepared divers in the sink holes of the South East.

“There was an incident where eight divers took part in a dive and only four survived,” Mr Lewis said.

“This was sadly a world record for a single dive.

“There was talk in government circles of closing all public access to these sinkholes but this was overcome by the formation of this specialised group.”

Over the years, he has personally trained 500 cave divers and has published numerous scientific papers.

He is about to present a thesis which he expects will earn him a Doctorate of Philosophy.

Much of his talk was devoted to the Tantanoola Cave Complex which comprises the well-known “tourist cave” and also the less well-known Lake Cave.

The “tourist cave” has attracted thousands of callers ever since it was discovered by local teenager Boyce Lane in 1930.

Access is restricted to the nearby Lake Cave and it requires visitors to crawl on their stomachs for a considerable distance.

They are rewarded when the narrow access passage opens up to a large chamber with a pool of clear water.

Mr Lewis also has a special interest in the nearby quarry where the prized pink dolomite building stone has been mined since colonial times.

The pink dolomite is featured in many public and private buildings across the region.

He has asked SEFHG members to keep a look-out for historical information about the pink dolomite quarry and has promised to address another monthly meeting about other caves and sink holes of the region.

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