The Fate of the Cliefden Caves

We love caves over here at Tasmanian Geographic, and while we appreciate the value of hydroelectricity and irrigation, we also believe that caves are some of the most important geographical treasures in Australia. Tasmania itself has had a productive political discussion – at a national scale- about the impacts of damming. That discussion is still remembered, and can be used to inform a debate about the fate of the Cliefden Caves in New South Wales.

To that end, we’re republishing material and contributed photos from the Save Cliefden Cave initiative to help them spread the word about their campaign.

You can learn about the latest developments, sign the petition, and stay in touch via


Australia’s caves are under threat!
Cliefden Caves are an amazing underground wonderland of cave systems unique to Australia, formed over millions of years. They have been a destination for cavers and scientists across the country for decades. The caves and nationally significant fossil sites will be flooded and lost forever if the NSW State government’s ill-advised proposal to build a dam on the Belubula River goes ahead.

The Cliefden Caves Geoheritage Site is unique, containing internationally significant Ordovician fossils, limestone caves, a warm spring, an important habitat for threatened bat species and historically significant sites, including the first discovered limestone in inland Australia. It is ranked in the top 15 most significant limestone cave system in Australia by scientific experts.

Cliefden Caves are located on the Belubula River in Central Western New South Wales, between the towns of Carcoar and Canowindra. The limestone at Cliefden was the first discovered in inland Australia, and is the location of internationally recognised Ordovician fossil sites.

The caves contain a wide variety of calcite formations which have been said to rival those at Jenolan Caves, these include rare blue calcite formations only seen in few locations across Australia. A warm spring is also located at Cliefden, being one of only three associated with caves in NSW. Thanks to the diligence and care of local landowners and cavers these unique caves remain in pristine condition with access restricted to scientific researchers and bona fide speleologists.

So what’s at stake?

  • ▶︎ Pristine caves and formations
  • ▶︎ The first limestone deposits discovered in inland Australia
  • ▶︎ Internationally recognised fossil sites
  • ▶︎ The best developed caves in Central Western NSW
  • ▶︎ Indigenous and early European settlement cultural sites
  • ▶︎ Important regional bat sites
  • ▶︎ Location of one of only three thermal springs associated with caves in NSW
  • ▶︎ An irreplaceable scientific resource

We can’t protect this national treasure alone and need your support, so please take the time to stay in touch and sign up to our campaign today. Your interest makes us stronger!


With over 100 recorded caves, Cliefden Caves is one of the most cavernous limestone areas in New South Wales. The caves at Cliefden have a network pattern guided by geological structure in the Ordovician limestone. While they are located close to the Belubula River, there is no evidence that streams or the river have ever flowed through the caves. The caves show evidence of solution by rising groundwater, possibly related to the adjacent thermal spring. The caves are extremely well decorated with the full range of cave formations, the quality of which have been likened to the nearby Jenolan Caves. The caves contain rare blue stalactites, stalagmites, helictites and columns, and unusual mineral and mud deposits which are an important record of past environments. All caves at Cliefden are locked and gated for their protection, however speleological and scientific work is allowed under strict conditions.

The Cliefden Caves Limestone was the first discovered in inland Australia, being recorded on 24 May, 1815 during the explorations of surveyor G. W. Evans, only 2 years after the crossing of the Blue Mountains. Reference was also made to it by Oxley in 1817. The first land grants were taken up by Rothery brothers in 1832. The barn at the Cliefden homestead sports bullet holes from when the Rothery family was held up by the infamous Ben Hall gang in the 1860s! Caves have been known for over a century and were recorded by Wilkinson in 1892 and Trickett in 1908. The limestone was extensively mapped by Carne and Jones in 1919.

The invertebrate fossils at Cliefden have long been recognized as iconic examples of Australia’s paleontological heritage. The fossils are over 450 million years old and are remains of ancient marine animals. At least 62 scientific papers have been published in a variety of international journals, documenting 191 genera and 263 species of fossils from these and other sites in the vicinity of Cliefden Caves; of these, 45 genera and 101 species are unique to the area threatened by flooding. Some of the many ancient marine species that are preserved at Cliefden include trilobites, brachiopods, bryozoa and stromatoporoids.

Thermal Spring
A thermal spring is located on the Belubula River near the caves. It is only one of three thermal springs associated with karst in NSW. Warm springs rising from Palaeozoic rock (as opposed to those from the Australian Basin) are rare in NSW with only three documented, all in karst areas. These are the Cliefden Warm Spring, the Wee Jasper warm spring and the warm spring at Yarrangobilly Caves.