by Robert Brand
In 1987, the OTC Caving and Canyoning Club put on a trip to Kangaroo Island and the Nullabor Plains. Initially only John Oxley and myself and a group from Sydney University Speleological Society (SUSS) went on the Kangaroo Island trip and later John and I had arranged to meet Jeff Hinwood at noon on a certain day at the Police Station at Port Pirie in SA. There were no mobile phones back then and we had driven from Adelaide and arrive to the second at the police station to see Jeff pulling up as well. A magnificent start to the trip.
We visited Ceduna earth station and then on to the Nullabor spending 2 weeks exploring caves huge and small. I will leave stories about these caves for another time, but just thought I would give you a glimpse of the size of some of these wonders by showing you a photo – probably the best cave photo I have ever taken and it took 20 minutes to illuminate the cave. This section of the cave is 330m long, 30m high and 30m wide (1,000 ft x 100 ft x 100 ft). Because of the occasional flooding (see the brown on the wall), the floor has been made absolutely flat and level for much of the cave. You could fit a 10 story building inside this cave. The challenge is making the lighting even and adding something to scale the image.
The cave is named Abrakurrie Cave and its entrance is a huge hole in the plain. It is a steep easy descent that takes you well below the surface. At the bottom is a cave that you could not imagine right under the surface. The heat outside is replaced by cool air and almost enough room to play cricket or football. The eroded entrance shows why it floods. Normally the openings to holes on the Nullabor are sharp drops, but this has its own catchment are that in strong thunderstorms, funnels vast amounts of water into the cave.
The cave is so big that your lighting systems just illuminate the little bit of limestone in the focus. We had a good idea, but we could only see the cave in all its glory on our return from the trip and once the slides were processed. It was tough as back then I shot all images in 3D on slide film. You have to get your exposure right for slide film, so you have to do long exposures and get the light levels correct. To the right is a photo sourced from Flinders University Speleological Society Inc. It shows the cave, but with lots of light hot spots and headlamp trails. Those that took the photo would have been happy with the result. They had not met our team of perfectionists. We placed a single person in our image too. They are on the left. Three people with 4 flash guns walked through the cave at a fixed distance from the wall and a specific angle of flash and overlap. 20 minutes later, allowing for recharge of the flashes and the image was complete. The person only stood there for a single flash. This image got a lot of acclaim back in the day being 3D as well. – just like you were standing right in the cave.
Now that is how a team of OTC cavers take a photo – with technical precision. Let’s face it. If you are going on the trip of a lifetime, once, you had better make sure that you are taking home memories that you can be proud of.
Please remember that these are wild caves and the photo above did not have any lighting other than that provided by the cavers themselves.