The Flightstar ultralight aircraft The current aircraft, Kitty Fox
Nicholas White has been leading a team of cave explorers on a yearly trip to the South Australian Nullarbor
Plain since 2005 and before that on the Western Australian portion of the Plain. The team, from the Victorian Speleological Association (VSA) also includes members from other Australian Speleological Federation (ASF) clubs. The team’s strategy is to find and document all caves and karst features such as dolines and rock holes in a 30 x 40 square kilometre area on each expedition. To do this, one member systematically flies a single seat ultralight plane and uses a GPS to locate features which are then found and documented by ground parties either on foot or on motor cycles.
All members play a critical role in the success of these expeditions with Nicholas leading and ensuring that the correct permits are obtained, Ken Boland flying his ultralight plane, a team to map and process data and another to organise catering and supplies. In total, this team has discovered and explored more than 2,500 new caves and karst features in the 18 years of these expeditions and in doing so also answered many questions about how the caves formed. A band of blowholes which are only a couple of metres deep with small extensions, mostly less than ten metres in length, relates to a former shoreline that existed about 6 million years ago. This band is about 70 to 100 km inland from the present coastline.
There is a section with very few caves 10 to 20 km south of the blowhole band and further south, nearer the coast, is a better known band of caves some of which are deep and water filled. Many of these caves, formed in a wet period of the Pliocene, contain important contents such as the bones of trapped animals or remnants from being used as carnivore dens. “What keeps bringing us back every year is the thrill of discovery. It’s giving us a better understanding of why and where the caves are. Each cave is different but it’s the cave contents that are of most interest whether this is animal bones, bird use of the caves or evidence of Aboriginal use” said Nicholas. Some of the caves display red ochre hand stencils, a clear indication that these provided Aboriginal shelter in the past.