Written by Ron Doughton
In 1971-72 the first diving Nullarbor Caves Expedition took place with Phil Prust, Dave Warnes, Ian Lewis, Bob Lea, Bob Turnbull, and Ron and Denyse Doughton from Sydney. The divers were supported by dry cavers from CEGSA, WASG, Rover Scouts and others. A total party of about 60!, although not all were out on the Nullarbor at the same time. The 10 known caves with lakes were systematically dived and a total of 500 metres of underwater passages were found. These caves included Weebubbie Cave, Cocklebiddy Cave, Pannikin Plains Cave, Tommy Grahams Cave, Murra-El-Elevyn Cave and Mullamullang Cave.
Cave diving gear in those days was primitive:
- Buoyancy compensators consisted of neck bags inflated by puffing into a tube with a mouthpiece glued to it. Deflating it meant tipping upside down!
- Dave Warnes used a triple set of German ‘Gerzat’ tanks, Ron Doughton a double set of steel 72cf cylinders, while everyone else used single 72’s.
- A 40cf safety bottle was hung on the mainline as backup.
- Dave and Phil Prust used used home made reels and torches. Dave’s underwater spotlight was powered by a motorcycle battery in a perspex box and he was worried about arcing from the switch in the box as the battery gave off plenty of hydrogen!
- Many of the torches flooded regularly but the divers compensated for this by carrying at least two or three.
Some highlights from the trip aside from the cave explorations included:
- The discovery of the bacteria colonies in Weebubbie Cave’s Railway Tunnel.
- The discovery of an air blow near a cave which was blown up with gelignite to try to get into the cave behind!
- The big steel tripod that resided at Weebubbie Cave was used to lower gear into the doline but at one stage it collapsed over the cliff and it took half a day of hard work to retrieve and get it going again.
- Dr Mike Grey from the NSW Natural History Museum discovered a new species of blind cave spider.
- A rain storm was take as an opportunity to have a wash, but dissolved some of the scouts paper underwear.
- One of the scouts almost died from severe dehydration after three days as he had only bought a 32 pound bag of muesli as his food for the trip.
- Denyse Doughton was tracked down by two 4WD’s full of reporters while camped at Weebubbie Cave who believed she was the ‘Nullarbor Nymph’ – a young blonde half naked female who ran around with kangaroos! This myth was dreamed up by a worker at the Eucla roadhouse who had taken a few bogus photos of his girlfriend to start the media frenzy.
The expedition was recorded on 6cm x 6cm transparencies. Underwater shots were taken with a Hans Hass Rolleimarine using flashbulbs for lighting.
Photographer: Ron Doughton