Miles Pierce


The aim of this paper is to outline the background and organisation of the ASF; to review some of its achievements of relevance to ACKMA; to look at a number of recent programs initiatives and future concerns and to address the benefits of joint cooperation.

The Australian Speleological Federation is, as its name implies, a national federation of caving and speleological clubs and societies throughout Australia. The ASF was formed in 1956 at an inaugural conference hosted by the Cave Exploration Group of South Australia (CEGSA). The founding member clubs, about twelve in number, saw mutual advantage in having a collective organisation to promote areas of common interest and provide a national voice for Australian Speleology.


The aims of the federation as embodied in its constitution are:


In 1983 the ASF incorporated under the ACT Associations Incorporation Ordinance list. Corporate members are clubs and societies whose primary activity is caving and speleology. Corporate members are also required to subscribe to the Federation's aims and constitution. There are currently twenty-seven corporate member clubs and societies from all Australian states and territories.

Individual members are defined as the members of corporate member societies. Other interested persons may apply for individual membership. This latter provision was created particularly to accommodate people with a strong interest or involvement in Australian caves and karst but for professional or other reasons were not members of a corporate member society. This class of membership is used by some members of ACKMA. The category of Associates provides for organisations who have an interest or involvement in caves and karst but where it is not their primary activity. Prospective member clubs may also join initially as Associates.


As a federation of autonomous clubs and societies, the ASF is fundamentally different from national bodies such as the National Speleological Society (NSS) in the USA or the New Zealand Speleological Society (NZSS). The functional organisation of the ASF is depicted in Figure 1. Government of the Federation's activities is by the Council made up of councillors from the corporate member clubs and societies. The number of councillors from each organisation is determined by the number of full members who pay an annual capitation fee to the ASF. The Council meets annually.

Operation of the Federation is by a nine member executive who has the power to act on behalf of the council in carrying out the business of the Federation in line with its stated aims. Within New South Wales and more recently South Australia, a State Speleo Council operates under the auspices of the ASF to coordinate and deal with issues and policies within the state confines. Most of the ongoing work of the Federation is performed by Commissions and Committees. The former are normally long term activities whereas the committees carry out shorter term assignments and are then disbanded. In the following paragraphs the work of some of these is outlined.

Documentation Commission:

The Documentation Commission derives from the former Speleo Handbook commission which in 1968 published the first systematic catalogue of Australian caves. The Speleo Handbook listed and provided brief descriptions of some 1700 caves throughout Australia. Spurred by the success of this venture the convenor, Peter Matthews, embarked on a second edition with the dual aim of establishing a computer data base of Australian caves and karst. This epic project spanned some 15 years and saw the ultimate publication of the Australian Karst Index in 1985. The Karst Index contains data on more than 6500 caves and karst features derived from the computerised karst database. It also includes extensive reference listings, a map list and a gazetteer of cave names together with information on ASF documentation standards, cave and karst terminology, cave naming guidelines, cave numbering and survey and mapping practices.

A primary envisaged use of the Karst Index, as indicated in its foreword, was to facilitate the planning and management of Australia's cave and karst heritage. The Karst Index is still in print and copies can be obtained by contacting the Federation. The computerised cave and karst data base which produced the Karst Index listings is an ongoing inventory.

Work is currently in hand to transfer the data to a PC platform so that individual states can more readily access and update the information and produce selective listings or publications. A further task is the development of data use agreements for access to the cave and karst data by non-member individuals and organisations. The Federation is a world leader in the area of systematic cave and karst documentation. The ASF's Documentation Commission Convenor - and editor of the Karst Index - is currently also the Chairman of the International Union of Speleology Informatics Commission.

Cave Safety commission:

The promotion of safe caving practices is the role of the Cave Safety Commission. This includes the promulgation of safety information and caving practice guidelines. The Commission also gathers data on caving accidents and by dissemination of the information, seeks to make others wiser and hopefully aware of similar incidents. Liaison is maintained with safety officers in individual clubs.

Caves & Karst Management Commission:

The Caves and Karst Management Commission is the progenitor of ACKMA. In 1973 the ASF convened the first Australian Conference on Cave Tourism and Management, held at Jenolan. The ASF through this commission continued to organise and co-host biennial Cave Tourism and Management Conferences until the formation of ACKMA in 1988. The Federation is proud of its pivotal role in the formation of ACKMA and continues to be keenly interested and committed to the aims of responsible utilisation and management of the karst heritage. This is an ongoing charter for the Caves and Karst Management Commission and provides an avenue for permanent liaison and co-operation between the two bodies.

Conservation Commission:

The preservation of caves and karst is the foremost aim of the Federation. Its Conservation Commission is charged with this task of monitoring conservation issues and assisting individual societies or state groups with conservation action. The Federation is also able to bring a national perspective and imperative to local conservation issues and can facilitate marshaling of specialists and other resources to contribute to a campaign. Notable cave and karst preservation conflicts in which the Federation has played an important part include Bungonia (NSW), Mt Etna (Qld), Marble Hill / Exit Cave (Tas), Yessibah (NSW) and the recent Jenolan Development Plan. In view of the workload and geographic spread, this commission has a number of convenors with briefs for particular states or regions.

International Relations Commission:

The International Relations Commission maintains contact with kindred bodies in other countries and facilities making overseas contacts for Australian Speleologists visiting foreign lands. The ASF is an active member of the International Union of Speleology (UIS). As well as participation in the four yearly Conferences, individuals within the Federation are involved in some of the UIS's specialist Commissions. Most notable as mentioned previously, is the chairmanship of the UIS Informatics Commission by the ASF's Documentation Commission convenor, Peter Matthews. The Federation is looking towards hosting of the 2001 UIS conference in Australia and will be pursuing its bid at the forthcoming UIS Conference in China in August.

Newsletter Commission:

Australian Caver, the newsletter of the Federations published four times a year. Its aim is to inform readers across a broad range of cave and karst issues ranging from recreational caving, techniques and equipment, to speleological subjects and management matters. Club news and items on the activities of individual societies are regular features together with information on ASF initiatives and actions.


Over the years numerous ASF Committees have grappled with many diverse tasks at the behest of Council. Some of these have developed specific policies and guidelines including the Federations Code of Ethics, Conservation Policy, Nomenclature Guidelines, cave survey standards, etc. These committees are convened periodically to review and update guideline documents.


Since the inaugural conference in Adelaide in 1956 the ASF has held biennial conferences at which cavers and speleologists from Australia and further afield can meet, share experiences and hear papers on subjects ranging across the full spectrum of interests. Following the precedent set by CEGSA in 1956, successive conferences are hosted and organised by individual member clubs or groups of clubs. The conferences typically include formal presentation of papers and workshop sessions together with both organised and informal socialising. The 'Speleo Sports' has become a popular event for cavers to test their skills over a simulated cave obstacle course. Pre - and post - conference trips to local caves and karst areas are also offered.

Recent initiatives:

A joint ASF and ACKMA working group was set up in January '92 to look at concepts of caver accreditation. This evolved to a proposal to set up a caving leadership training scheme which was endorsed at the 19th biennial conference in Launceston in January this year. As a result, a National Caving Standards Commission has been set up to develop a national leadership training schemes under the auspices of the Federation. A two year target has been set during which the program structure and content is expected to be developed and piloted.

The Federation is keen to have on going involvement and advice from ACKMA in the creation and operation of the scheme. The recognition of the inevitable impacts of caving on the cave and karst environment has seen the formation of a Minimal Impact Caving working group within the Conservation Commission. This initiative aims to explore ways of minimising caver's impacts on the caves they visit; to develop appropriate guidelines for minimal impact caving and encourage the necessary mind set amongst cavers at large. Another project, floated at the Launceston council meeting in January, is aimed at the publication of a book on Australian Caves and Karst Studies in honor of the late Joe Jennings. Investigation of the feasibility of this project is being headed up by Elery Hamilton-Smith on behalf of the Federation. An issue of concern to the Federation and many ACKMA members is the large number of individuals who are visiting wild caves but are not members of any recognised caving club. Many of these people have little knowledge of or concern for the sensitive underground environment and are often inexperienced and inadequately equipped. The ASF encourages its member clubs to try to contact and influence the behavior of these cave visitors and further efforts are in hand to assist in the process.


Within the context of Australian caves and karst, many of the aims and concerns of the Federation and ACKMA members are contiguous. Both bodies have a common interest in the preservation of the karst heritage.

The interest of the Federation in cave management which led to the eventual formation of ACKMA is an ongoing concern of ASF. Both ACKMA and ASF have an interest in raising and maintaining the competence and safety of caving leaders. As indicated earlier, representatives from both bodies contributed to the caver accreditation working group and ongoing input of ACKMA will be welcomed in development of the ASF National Caving Leadership Training Scheme. Another area where ASF and ACKMA can usefully work closer together is in the formation of Australian cave and karst management plans. In this way the ASF can provide early comment, assistance and advice as the plans are being developed, rather than having only a reactive role after the plan is circulated for public comment. Consideration can also be given to ASF and ACKMA acting as possible joint consultants on cave and karst management issues both within and outside Australia. The joint sponsoring of appropriate seminars or 'gabfests' is yet another opportunity where the pooling of the resources of both organisations may well be advantageous. Although ACKMA has an Australasian base where as ASF is confined to Australia, with NZSS as its New Zealand counterpart, much can be gained by cooperation and on going liaison. In some matters, the differing emphasis and focus of ACKMA compared with the caving and speleological orientation of the ASF may result in different stances being adopted. Even so, a preparedness to consult and understand each other's views and to act in the common interest of preservation of the karst heritage is a most desirable outcome.

The ASF looks forward to a continuing and effective cooperation and interaction with ACKMA.


At the ACKMA General Meeting in Rockhampton the concept of closer cooperation between ACKMA and ASF was endorsed and a position of ASF Liaison officer was created. Ernst Holland will be the first incumbent and will liaise with the ASF's Cave and Karst Management Commission, currently convened by John Dunkley.