Elery Hamilton-Smith

Many years ago, a small group of friends agreed that they were running the risk of not being able to find good ways of spending their weekends. They had virtually walked every feasible bushwalking route within a reasonable distance of Adelaide, and were looking for something new. All were involved in the Scout Movement, and in particular, the Rovers. They all agreed that there seemed to be two interesting possibilities: caving or scuba-diving. By the following week, they had discovered both the location of what seemed to be the nearest cave and the price of scuba equipment. The latter made it easy to decide that caving sounded just right.img0022

So, within the week, they made their first visit to what is now known as Corra-Lynn Cave. The group by then included Graham Chinner, David Pegum (who had some caving experience in N.S.W.), the late Cecil Giles, David Taylor, Noel Mollet and Elery Hamilton-Smith. Both Noel and Elery are life members of the Association, and Elery has continued his interest in caves to the present day. Such was the enthusiasm generated by that first weekend visit that several of the group went back for seven consecutive weekends !

Three other things happened at this time. One was the first visit led to the discovery of a number of mammalian sub-fossils. A skull was brought back, shown to scientists at the South Australian Museum, and this was the beginning of a continuing relationship between cavers and researchers. The second was that a number of the group met with Captain J. Maitland Thomson and this led to the resolve that a Nullarbor Expedition must be put on the agenda. Thirdly, a rapidly growing number of other people, both from within Scouting and otherwise, became interested. So that although for some time trips were organised either informally, or through the Rover Movement, it eventually became clear that a new organisation had to be formed.

So in 1955, a meeting was held at Scout Headquarters, attended by a number of interested cavers and others, including both Norman Tindale of the South Australian Museum and Dr. P.S. Hossfeld of the Geology Department of Adelaide University. It was decided that the Cave Exploration Group (South Australia) should be established, and an interim committee was appointed with Elery Hamilton-Smith as foundation president. Tindale, in particular, argued at this time for the importance of proper recording. - "exploration without documentation is nothing but idle curiosity!" This was an important step for the group in establishing a commitment to proper record-keeping.


At the same time, preparations were already under way for the first Nullarbor expedition at Christmas 1955. Another important landmark came at Easter 1956. An expedition to Kelly Hill found itself severely hampered by dense regrowth following bushfire, and it was virtually impossible to determine the precise location of caves. Alan Hill, as trip leader, decided that a consecutive number would be marked on each cave as it was discovered and investigated. This proved valuable, so Hill later proposed and developed a scheme where every cave would be allocated a number consisting of a letter prefix to denote the area concerned and a consecutive number for each recorded cave. This was the beginning of what is now a well-established national system, since adopted by a number of other countries.

The group has continued to the present day with a strong commitment to not only real exploration but to detailed recording and mapping of caves, a close link with science, and a special interest in the remarkable features of the Nullarbor Plain. Some time later, a letter was received from the presidents of the two caving groups in Sydney, suggesting that an Australian Speleological Federation should be formed. The Adelaide group responded with an invitation to hold a foundation national conference in Adelaide at the end of 1956, with the additional lure of a major Nullarbor Expedition. This was accepted, and so 1956 passed rapidly with planning and organisation for both the conference and a Nullarbor expedition involving 62 cavers from throughout Australia. That expedition made a number of important discoveries, including the recognition of Aboriginal rock art and a workshop where tools had been produced from the chert boulders found in walls of the cave, both in Koonalda Cave. These two discoveries alone marked a major turning point in Australian archaeology and rock art studies.

First published in the CEGSA News Vol 43(1), Issue 169, February 1998