Australian cave systems have long attracted tourists. Whether it is Jenolan, Buchan, Yarrangobilly, Mole Creek, or many others, their amazing formations strongly engage the human imagination and governments have invested significantly in tourist infrastructure at these places.
The Hoad family occupies a special place in caves history at Yarrangobilly.
Yarrangobilly Caves had been known by Aboriginal people for thousands of years. European settlers became aware of them when stockman John Bowman found a cave there in 1834. The NSW government during the late 1800s appointed staff: there was caretaker Mr Murray, followed by Harry Bradley (Murray's son-in-law).
Walter Hoad succeeded Bradley in 1904. Walter's son, Leo, took over in 1919 and did most of the developmental work in the cave system. '"He made a life work of it," said Leo's son, Bruce. Leo built paths and steps, carrying cement in on his shoulder. Rock had to be cut in candlelight.
Leo, like the Bradleys before him, developed the thermal pool. A local sawyer had discovered the pool and, suffering rheumatism, saw its health benefits. The Bradleys built a dressing shed and Leo later consolidated the pool's sides. The pool proved very popular, with early bathers enjoying its warm waters dressed in full bathing suits which were available for hire.
Leo Hoad conceived of the hydro-electricity system at the caves. These sorts of systems were in use at other government tourist centres like Jenolan and the Hotel Kosciusko. Bruce said Leo wanted to show the caves "to greater effect" and the hydro was his "pet idea". Electricity also overcame the discolouration caused by lamp and candle lighting.
Leo's sister Gertrude and her husband George Day Snr ran the accommodation at Yarrangobilly, Caves House, for decades. Caves House had been extended to double storey and was completed in about 1918 after wartime delays.
After seeing service in the Borneo campaign during World War II, Bruce Hoad returned home to Yarrangobilly. Leo by now was aged in his 70s and well beyond retirement age. So Bruce applied for the job of caves caretaker and got it, aged 23, becoming the third in the family to have the prized position.
He knew the place backwards anyway, having spent most of his life there. Bruce's duties included public relations, leading cave tours along with fellow guide Jack Dunn, maintenance of caves facilities and Caves House, operating the hydro plant, and maintaining roads and walking tracks. He also had responsibility for the thermal pool.
Despite high visitation levels thanks to Pioneer Bus tours, cave tours didn't really pay well but Caves House, run by Aunt Gertrude, did. Gertrude and her husband George Day Snr ran it for 36 years and their son Buster (Alan) Day and his wife Lillie ran it for a few more years. Joan Day drove the snow plough and helped cook and make up rooms, and the father and sons provided much of the food for the dining room. It was a remarkably successful family operation.
"Aunty Gert" employed chefs but could cook; she loved preserving fruit, including figs. Trout was on the menu, and the Day family slaughtered their own meat. George Day's vegetable garden provided a good range of veggies for the dining room.
Eighty to 90 guests might be in the dining room at peak times. Guests had to book for Caves House up to a year in advance. Fishing was for many more of an attraction than the caves. Some guests just sat on the veranda and "admired the view", according to Bruce. Others liked walks, or swimming in the thermal pool.
The Charlton family from Sydney (in the building business) drove down in a Rolls Royce and their son flew down in a Tiger Moth which he landed at Rules Point - after dropping a copy of the Sydney Morning Herald at the caves which was the signal for the chauffeur to drive up to Rules Point to pick him up!
Cave tours were run three times a day, including one at night. Souveniring of formations in the caves - something which impoverished many early caves - was strictly prohibited and wire netting was installed to protect cave features, especially in the Jersey and Jillebenan caves. Bruce felt strongly about the caves, as the area "became part of me ... it was home to me". He loved the fishing, riding and nearby snow skiing and it was "so easy and so natural". Bruce said Yarrangobilly "was like a fairyland village at night time" due to the lights. Bruce visited other cave systems in Australia and felt that Yarrangobilly compared very well and that some of the caves at Yarrangobilly had no equals elsewhere.
Bruce was pretty autonomous but he became increasingly frustrated with the Sydney-based government bureaucracy. His brother Colin ran a souvenir shop and kiosk under Caves House which was very successful and he wanted to expand but the department objected. Colin left about 1951-52, Leo and Alice left in 1952, and Bruce left the following year. Gert and George Day Snr left around the same time. It was a sad end to a remarkable family era.
In the 1960s, with the caves closed for a time, prisoners were employed to make improvements. In recent times, Caves House has been refurbished wonderfully by the NPWS and attracts many guests. Parks staff fought valiantly to protect the precinct during the early 2020 bushfires. Yarrangobilly remains a gem of Kosciuszko National Park.
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