Sunken treasure: 'Significant' Cliefden Caves to be flooded by Needles Gap Dam

ALL THAT GLITTERS: The Murder Cave at Cliefden Caves along the Belubula River won’t survive after one flood speleologists say. 
Photo ROBERT KERSHAW

ALL THAT GLITTERS: The Murder Cave at Cliefden Caves along the Belubula River won’t survive after one flood speleologists say. Photo ROBERT KERSHAW

ONE of the region’s best kept secrets is about to be destroyed when people have only just discovered its existence. 

The Cliefden Caves at Needles Gap along the Belubula River took millions of years to create and it would take moments to inundate if the proposal to build a 90,000 megalitre dam gets the green light. 

The caves remained hidden for so long because they existed on private property where access was limited.

Orange Speleological Society vice president Denis Marsh said the caves were “highly significant” because they had Aboriginal cultural value and were the site of the first Ordovician limestone discovery in NSW in 1815. 

The area is listed on the Register of the National Estate but is not protected under national or state environment law.

“The National Parks and Wildlife Service have assessed the caves and rate them as quite significant cultural and heritage value but they haven’t sought to put a protection order on them because of the access,” he said. 

The caves were more extensive than Wellington Caves but not as deep as Jenolan Caves, but the scientific value was priceless, he said. 

The caves contains 32 species of fossil corals and scientifically significant fossils such as trilobites, brachiopods, bryozoa, echinoderms and graptolites.

“It’s like a library of the earth,” he said. 

Member for Orange Andrew Gee said he knew of the significant value of the caves when his government announced it would fund the dam on Friday but he believed there may be ways to have the dam and preserve the caves.

A feasibility study into the project was funded as part of Tuesday’s state budget. 

“I’m no expert but there may be ways to preserve the caves, but we need to really concentrate on consultation and concerns will have to be addressed in a constructive way,” he said.

Mr Marsh could not imagine a situation where the dam could be built and the caves would be saved.

“Once they flood once they’ll be ruined from all the settling silt,” he said. 

Member for Calare John Cobb had lobbied for the dam earlier this year as a response to a looming jobs crisis.

He was sent a series of questions about whether he knew of the existence of the caves and whether he thought the economic benefit of the dam outweighed the cultural and scientific value of the caves, but he declined to be interviewed. 

Instead he sent a statement. 

“Any development for the good of people will always have some environmental concerns attached to it, and I’m sure the feasibility and scoping study will address this. This is an enormously positive project for the region.”

nicole.kuter@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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