Buchan Caves Reserve

Buchan Caves were traditionally an important meeting place for our people. The area connects to the high country and was a place of refuge during the seasonal migrations to and from the mountains, where our mob would go to chase the Bogong Moth and other food sources.

Although Gunaikurnai people did not traditionally venture very deep into the limestone caves, there is evidence going back more than 18 000 years of the important role they played in the lives of our old people, including burials in the caves and ceremonial rings all through the Buchan area.

Buchan Caves Reserve covers 295 hectares on the Buchan River at the township of Buchan (population approximately 150), 57 kilometres north of Lakes Entrance. Most of the reserve is covered by forest and woodland. Prior to the grant of Aboriginal Title the reserve was set aside for public purposes and the protection of natural features.

Some of the best cave formations in Victoria are found in the Buchan Caves (See Section 4.2). The caves are part of the Buchan–Murrindal cave system, a large outcrop of cave and karst-­‐forming limestones extending beyond the reserve boundary. This is one of the most extensive cave systems in Victoria, containing between four and five kilometres of stream passage cut at several levels and in some places widened into caverns by block collapse.

There is evidence of Gunaikurnai burials dating from the Pleistocene era in some cave entries in the area around Buchan, outside the reserve.

The reserve is also significant for its modern history and the development of cave tourism. It is one of East Gippsland’s major tourism attractions, attracting a large number of visitors from interstate and overseas.

Buchan Munji, the Buchan Caves area, was used by the Gunaikurnai as a place to camp and meet during seasonal migrations to and from the high country. Although the Gunaikurnai people did not venture far beyond the cave entrances (caves were places thought to be inhabited by wicked creatures such as the Nargun and the Nyols) the caves are of high spiritual significance, which has been maintained through traditional stories.

Archaeological evidence of Gunaikurnai use of the area remains in and around cave entrances, along the Spring Creek valley and in artefact scatters throughout the reserve. Four quarry sites and three artefact scatter sites have been recorded. Evidence in the broader Buchan region indicates the important role of caves to Gunaikurnai going back thousands of years, including burials inside caves and ceremonial rings.

Gunaikurnai oral history holds that Frank Moon’s party, which made the first documented exploration of the caves, was guided by local Gunaikurnai people, who were not acknowledged. Today the caves remain important to Gunaikurnai as a meeting place with spiritual significance that holds important stories to be shared with young people.

There are other culturally important cave sites in the vicinity that are not within the reserve. Cloggs Cave, located on private land about four kilometres south-­‐east of Buchan Caves Reserve, was used as a shelter, and contains highly important Gunaikurnai archaeological deposits.

The roof of the rock shelter outside this cave is heavily blackened, evidently from campfires. Some of the artwork is extremely rare, particularly the drawings done in animal fat (GLaWAC 2015). The cave has an undisturbed cultural sequence recently dated to around 30 000 years, with bone and stone tools being uncovered in excavations. It is closed to the public.

The Fairy–Royal–Federal–Dukes cave system within the reserve is approximately one kilometre long and contains spectacular stalactite and stalagmite formations, pillars, shawls, rim pools, cave sediments and a permanent flowing stream (Rosengren and McRae-­‐Williams 1981). It is part of a large outcrop of cave and karst-­‐forming limestones known as the Buchan–Murrindal cave system, which extends beyond the reserve. This is one of the most extensive cave systems in Victoria, containing between four and five kilometres of stream passage, cut at several levels and widened in places into caverns by block collapse.

The limestone rock at Buchan was laid down about 380 million years ago under shallow seas that covered much of East Gippsland. Vertical joint lines across the layers of limestone allowed water to seep through the rock, dissolving the limestone to form the caves. Water dripping from the ceiling of the caves and then evaporating, deposited calcite, forming stalactites and stalagmites. There are numerous fossils in the limestone.

Bats inhabit some caves in the reserve. They are known to use caves in the area for overwintering and roosting, but recent survey and monitoring data is limited. Cave invertebrates were surveyed in the 1980s (Yen and Milledge 1990), but there is no current data on their presence and condition.

The Buchan Caves Reserve is on the Country of the Krauatungalung clan. The Gunaikurnai Whole of Country Plan (GLaWAC 2015) sets out the following management priorities for the reserve:
• establishing cultural business and training enterprises around tourism and education
• ensuring that all non-­Gunaikurnai people working in the Buchan Caves area undertake cultural awareness training
• taking a more active role in the administration of visitation and receiving commensurate income from camping and other fees.

While recognising these priorities, this plan sets out actions that are consistent with and limited to the terms of the 2010 Recognition and Settlement Agreement. Parks Victoria operates well-­‐developed tour and accommodation booking systems and cave guiding services, and also sells food and merchandise.

The main changes that will take place as part of joint management of the reserve will be:
• the establishment of Buchan Caves as a primary training and development location for Gunaikurnai people to acquire and build skills in tourism, hospitality, and commercial business operations; and
• the development of new programs and activities for visitors that are built on Gunaikurnai cultural heritage themes, as part of ongoing improvements to the visitor services and experiences in the reserve.
The partner agencies will explore how the revenue from these operations can be applied within the overall resourcing of joint management.

Click here to read the full Joint Management Plan for Buchan Caves Reserve