Peter Bell


Moondyne Cave, located in the South West of Western Australia and formed in the aeolian calcarenites, has long been noted for its abundance of cave decoration and relative ease of traverse. Vested under the control of the Augusta Margaret River Tourist Bureau and subject to the entry criteria of the Caves Access Committee (an independent body comprising members of both speleological groups and the Department of Conservation and Land Management), Moondyne has benefited from both cave security and restricted use for over 33 years.

With an upward trend developing in adventure caving within the region, it became apparent that the development of a resource that would not only provide an adventure caving experience but also allow the introduction of cave awareness was necessary. With this in mind Moondyne Cave was chosen and the project commenced in July of 1992 with the development of a preliminary management guide, this guide aimed at setting out viability of such a resource and the necessary format needed to develop it.

The Management Guide outlined basic cave data including environmental and geographical features of the cave as well as establishing a potential format for the adventure tour. The overall recommendation of this report clearly defined the need for protection of the cave as the top priority and the introduction of paying visitors be second. Adventure caving should not be detrimental to the resource. Systems of transporting visitors need to be developed. These should not be permanent fixtures but at the same time have minimal effect on the adventure experience. It was also indicated that it should be clearly known the type of visitor likely to use the resource, this has been shown to be beneficial to those who have visited tourist caves before and who wish to experience caving without making full commitments. For the first time in the history of cave development in the region we had a project where the value of the cave was seen not for short term tourist dollars but long term quality tourist educational experiences. Moondyne will aim for Quality not Quantity.

History and Description

Developed for tourist use, as a show cave in 1911 and known as "The Coronation Cave", Moondyne was one of 12 show caves in the region. Of these, only 4 are still open to the public. Within the cave there was considerable development of infrastructure for the transport of visitors and protection of decorations using traditional materials of local timbers (Karri and Jarrah) for stairways, galvanised piping for handrails, and barriers formed by chicken wire and steel cables. Electric lighting had not been introduced during its 48 years of operation. Lighting of the cave was achieved by candles, bush flares (dried fronds of blackboy), magnesium, kerosene and pressure lanterns. Many of these systems were responsible for considerable damage to the cave. With the discovery of the now famous Jewel cave and its subsequent development for tourism the closure of Moondyne was inevitable, with the last tour being conducted on the 26th December 1959.

Moondyne falls into the nomenclature of the Augusta region and is recorded as Au11. It is one of the smaller caves in this area being 270 metres in length with a maximum depth of 26 metres. It consists of basically three distinct levels forming 2 major chambers and the entrance chamber. The climate of the cave is as most in this region warm and humid, 16°C with 95% humidity. There appears to be little air movement within the cave with areas of high CO2 being common at stages throughout the year. The cave is horizontally developed with a strong influence in orientation from the underlying gneiss (late Proterozoic) jointing. Moondyne is rich in secondary cave deposits with an excellent representation of all major cave decorations. Cave graffiti is common in the cave and of historical interest. Although unacceptable by standards today this would provide a valuable feature in the Moondyne tour.

Development Recommendations

For Moondyne to operate successfully as a guided adventure tour, development within the cave is essential, the transport of visitors with minimal impact would need considerable thought. Rehabilitation and cave restoration are essential. Recommendations of the preliminary management guide have set this direction and are listed as follows:

  1. Removal of all existing infrastructure within the cave and objects relating to and alien to the cave environment.
  2. Removal of all cave graffiti with the exception of samples used for cave interpretation.
  3. Restoration and rehabilitation of cave decorations, cave floor and existing permanent pathways.
  4. Development of low impact stairs and platforms.
  5. Development of effective but low visual impact track marking.
  6. Development of long term monitoring techniques.
  7. Established reference section in cave with restoration and rehabilitation and limited access.
  8. Established guided adventure tour structure with strong emphasis on cave awareness, incorporating the use experienced cavers as guides.
  9. Establish a long term management plan.


Work began on Moondyne by the AMRTB in September 1992 with the removal of all existing timber pathways throughout the cave. This proved to be a labor intensive operation, taking a group of eleven cavers 3 days to complete.

Working with timber 82 years old and in a state of advanced breakdown, the work was slow, messy and challenging. The greatest of care was taken to prevent damage and spreading more decomposing timber within the cave. The timber was in such a state of decay as to being almost unrecognisable, depositing thick layers of deep red ooze over much of the cave decoration. This would be a challenge for later restoration.

With the removal of existing pathways Moondyne took on a completely new dimension revealing an even greater beauty and proving to be a little more difficult to get around. It was decided at this stage to restrict numbers working in the cave to no more than three and to close access to some areas until the installation of new walkways. This had the effect of dividing the cave into two separate areas, Snowflake and the upper levels. Work would develop to completion in Snowflake before moving on into the cave.

Restoration and Rehabilitation

In the early stages of development with half of the cave closed off, R&R techniques were developed . This took place in an area of the cave known as the Snowflake Chambers. This portion of the cave consists of three minor chambers, two large linked by a small crawl and a smaller complex extension that had never been part of the Moondyne tour. It is this section that would be used for a reference area and after restoration, would be closed to all visitors and cavers. The Snowflake chambers feature vast deposits of calcite rafts covering all areas of floor. Calcite decorations are less common in this area although there are some splendid examples. During early development permanent pathways were developed in this section, in some areas actually cutting through zones of flowstone. For this reason it was decided to control Snowflake with track marking rather than additional structures. The area had been subject to much wandering by, not only earlier visitors, but also cavers and much of the fine calcite rafting covering the cave floor was severely damaged. It was also evident that the use of magnesium as a form of lighting had been used in this part of the cave with much ash scattered among the floor. Graffiti was also common, much of which was illegible and would have to be removed.

Restoration in Snowflake was to witness the development of some extremely novel techniques. The first problem was to establish the integrity of floor deposition through calcite rafting. It was established that these deposits could be up to 100cm in depth and that, although the upper layers were completely destroyed, below a depth of several cms pristine flakes could be found. With the use of a small trowel and straw brooms it was possible to exchange layers and to mould the surface landscape with stunning results. The effect is an area of almost zero visitation. Magnesium, when burnt, apart from the toxic effects of gas and smoke, produces vast quantities of ash. This proved impossible to remove with brushes, brooms or water. However, the use of a household vacuum cleaner, equipped with wire filter, proved most successful removing most ash and leaving the cave intact as well as providing great amusement for those visiting the cave. Lead pencil graffiti was no doubt encouraged on early tours. Its removal was necessary, given the proposed structure of tours to Moondyne Cave. Much of this was removed with water and brush while more stubborn areas were removed by a 3% solution of hydrochloric acid applied by atomiser and neutralised with water.

By applying small amounts of this solution it was possible to selectively remove graffiti without effecting surrounding areas.

With the completion of restoration in Snowflake and the completion of walkways in the upper level, R&R commenced in the main section of the cave. This section of the cave is dominated by vast areas of flowstones and many large stalagmites and contained the greatest number of wooden platforms and stairs. With their gradual destruction, many visitors had traversed beyond traditional pathways and the breakdown of timbers had caused further contamination. The task of removing all secondary timber deposits, locating timber cut-offs and removing thousands of splinters left from rotting timber, was laborious. This required many hours of dedicated work by volunteers armed only with bucket and tweezers. This we achieved!

Damage to flowstones was severe and restoration and on this scale seemed an almost impossible job. Vast continuous quantities of water were needed. Pipes were carefully threaded through the cave and some 9000 litres of filtered ground water, close to the original source of the cave was pumped in. All cave decorations were hosed down and washed by hand. This work was completed in a day with the help of six cavers. The results were most successful and the appearance excellent!

Track Marking and Low Impact Transport

Track Marking:
The format of adventure caves prohibits the introduction of vast quantity of platforms and stairs found in show caves. These, in most cases, provide the ultimate protection to caves. Too many of these would detract from the experience and scar the natural beauty of Moondyne. Clearly a system needed to be developed that would protect the cave, transport and contain visitors but at the same time not be aggressive.

The concept of track marking is widely accepted in caving circles with many wild caves already having significant track markings. These markings can be varied, although consistency is being aimed for by caving organisations. Early attempts at this in Moondyne were based around a small plastic tag with arrows in reflecting tape attached. Placed on opposite sides of the track with arrows pointing in they proved to be quite successful in more expansive areas where visitors could sight them over distance. However, in the more contained areas of the cave they proved useless. Unlike cavers who tend to study the floor, cave visitors to Moondyne spend much of their time with eyes glued to the ceiling. To combat this, a system was set up clearly defining pathways and forming barriers to delicate areas using nylon fishing line with small reflector tabs attached. The fishing line is suspended above the ground in most cases about 40cm and supported by plastic tent pegs. By using an appropriate colour matching for these they are rendered almost invisible in the cave environment.

This system has achieved great success as a passive form of group control. The system has little effect on photography and above all is not intimidating to visitors.

Low Impact Transport
With increased traffic over cave floors and the removal of existing stairways, damage to the cave would be inevitable without suitable control.

Once again the consideration of the adventure theme prohibits mass installation of stairs and platforms. Moondyne has achieved low impact transport. These structures take up limited amounts of cave space. Placed low to the ground with a tread area of 400 by 300, and in some cases a single handrail, this form of structure provides a quick and simple system for transport that can easily be removed leaving little or no trace of its existence. The platforms become more simplified as progress is made through the cave, giving the impression of increased difficulty. Large spans are dealt with by the use of a single planks 300mm wide, coupled with a single hand rail of plastic coated steel cable, an exciting traverse but with adequate safety.

The Tour

Since inception, the concept of Moondyne has been to provide cave awareness through a theme of adventure caving. It is for this reason that all guides have been recruited for their experience in caving, either through caving clubs or from within the Bureau. It was felt that to operate a tour such as this, guides should be informed in caving practices to be able to relate a true sense of adventure through his/her own experience. A journey through Moondyne takes 2 hours and provides the necessary forum for an informative introduction to caves and their environment through practical demonstration. Visitors to Moondyne are provided with all equipment. This includes helmets, overalls and lead acid pit lamp.

All members of the group, including the guide, are issued with protective cotton gloves designed as souvenirs of their visit when commencing the tour. These gloves minimise the possible contact of hands with decorations as in most cases close proximity is inevitable. It is interesting to note that this feature, although providing an increased source of cotton fibers to the cave, has proved an excellent way to discourage touching of cave decorations. Practical demonstration has proved more successful than any verbal communication. All participants to Moondyne must fill in indemnity forms on payment of ticket.

Tour prices are $18 adult, $15 children with a minimum age of 13 and number limited to seven cavers.

Indemnity forms provide limited reduced liability but provide a wealth of information on which to profile visitors to the cave. Such information will be invaluable in the continued marketing of this resource. With well-informed guides who have adopted the cave as their own, visitors are informed through commentaries and actively encouraged to participate in self learning. There is no rigidly structured format within the tour and all guides are encouraged to format their own interpretation, assuring variety. They aim to assess the group early in the tour and adjust the learning process accordingly. This format requires a great deal of personal group involvement and is relatively easy to achieve with small groups. This format has also been tested in the normal tourist caves with a great deal of success, resulting in greater group participation and avoiding the "dull monologue".

It is our role to inform and educate. We strive to enlighten.

Through practical demonstration and maintaining a light hearted approach, Moondyne tours successfully introduce the uninitiated into such areas as cave morphology, chronology, biology, conservation and usage.


With Moondyne operating for six months, it has become apparent that there always existed the need for such a resource. Its success can only be judged with time. However indications show it to be long term and sustainable. All visitors have indicated the greatest pleasure in participating and this can be clearly seen in comments of the visitor books. To use a cliche "they are reborn", enlightened, have an increased self-esteem and a feeling of achievement. Above all they feel a strong need to preserve our underground wilderness. Based on these responses Moondyne must be judged as a success. Restoration and maintenance of this resource is ongoing, while monitoring is essential in maintaining its integrity. Some areas within the cave show increased wear. Solutions must be found immediately. Work will begin on a long-term management plan and recommendations will be implemented.

Moondyne clearly demonstrates the need for the development of a cave resource and information centre in the South West. It has highlighted the need for accurate and informed information on caves being readily accessible to all visitors.

Moondyne has ushered in a new approach to cave management.