Ancient Nullarbor cave could be opened up to tourists
A cave used by Aboriginal people 22,000 years ago would be opened up to small tour groups for the first time, if plans under State Government consideration are approved.
Start-up company Ancient Land Tours wants to run small group tours of Koonalda Cave in the Nullarbor Wilderness Protection Area, about 400km east of Ceduna, from October.
The State Government has begun consultation on the proposal for the landmark, which helped paint a picture of how long Aboriginal people have lived in Australia.
A Government report says archaeological research in the 1950s uncovered evidence suggesting the cave was used by people at least 22,000 years ago.
While we now know Aboriginal people have been in Australia for at least 60,000 years, at the time, their occupation was dated to around 8700 years ago.
If the project wins Government backing, Ancient Land Tours owner Steve Milner plans to employ about four staff, including Aboriginal elders, to share the cultural significance of the "extraordinary place", which has never been open to the public.
"As you go down through the cave ... you're descending through a layer of limestone which was laid down 15 million years ago and then you go down into a layer of limestone which was created over 40 million years ago and you get a sense of a passage through time," he said.
"There's a sense of grandeur. It has a majesty and feeling which is absolutely indescribable - you just get a sense of history and it's quite remarkable. It really is a place which is out of sight, out of mind."
Visitors would see natural flint in the cave's walls, which was used to make tools, along with stelae (standing stones), believed to have been positioned in the cave because of their likeness to animals.
The caves also feature markings and engravings, but those would be off-limits under the proposal.
Tours would traverse a 500m long section of the cave which was previously modified by pastoralists, who pumped water from a lake about 90m below ground level.
Mr Milner, who has been caving for more than 30 years, said he had been working with the Mirning people - the traditional landowners - who had been supportive of the project.
The company's four-wheel-drive tours would depart from Ceduna, with guests camping along the way. Ancient Land Tours also plans to run tours to the Head of Bight, Nullarbor and Wanna Manna Coastal Parks of the state's Far West.
"There isn't much in the way of tourism products out in the Far West and we're really hoping this project will stimulate growth in the region," Mr Milner said.
"This is an opportunity to ... work with our indigenous friends to do something absolutely amazing and really showcase the area. It's an incredible place full of iconic Australian animals."
Originally published as Ancient Nullarbor cave could be opened up to tourists