The Tarragal Caves are a network of large limestone caves and rockshelters which overlook the Bridgewater Lakes near the towns of Tarragal and Cape Bridgewater, Victoria in the Charles La Trobe and are near Discovery Bay Coastal Park. The caves were identified as important Aboriginal camping places early in the historic period, and were excavated in the late 1970s by Harry Lourandos, revealing stratified deposits in the floor of 11,300 years old, along with shell midden deposits and earth ovens over 11,000 years old.
location in Australia
|Location||near the towns of Tarragal and Cape Bridgewater, Victoria|
One of the caves extends under ground for over 400 m (1,300 ft) and has a sinkhole opening to the surface so that there is a constant stream of air through the cave and rising up the hole. It is said that whenever Aborigines approached this, they would a piece of wood into the hole to "propitiate the demon supposed to reside within its profound and mysterious depths."
Colonial administrator Charles La Trobe visited the site in 1845 and 1846, and had some of his men lower a rope ladder over the cliff so he could explore the caves. He also provided a detailed description in 1846, noting that "...the ‘natives’ referred to it as ‘Lubras’ Cave’" and that they "...knew the caverns well and ...had a superstitious dread of them, stating that the caverns below were inhabited by headless lubras". LaTrobe noted that when they came to the point under the sink hole there was a large pile of timber, assumed to be the items thrown down by Aborigines over the ages. They then set fire to the pile lighting up the cave "... and displayed a magnificent vaulted chamber, bedecked with long glistening stalactites, and tenanted by vast numbers of bats, whose whirring, whizzing noise was probably that which the natives attributed to some supernatural being."
Pollen analysis of sediments in the cave has assisted in reconstructing the Pleistocene climate and environment of the region and understanding what resources were available to Aborigines.
- Lourandos, H. 1976 Aboriginal settlement and land use in south-western Victoria: a report on current field work. The Artefact l(4):174-93; Lourandos, H. 1983 Intensification: a Late Pleistocene-Holocene archaeological sequence from south-western Victoria. ArchaeoZogy in Oceania 18(2):81-94
- Ian D. Clark, 'The abode of malevolent spirits and creatures - Caves in Victorian Aboriginal social organization' Helictite, 40(1), 2007
- Chauncy in Smyth, R.B., 1878, The Aborigines of Victoria, with notes relating to the habits of the natives of other parts of Australia 2 Vols., Victorian Government Printer, Melbourne. Vol. 2:268-9
- Blake, L.B.J., 1975, Letters of Charles Joseph La Trobe, Government of Victoria, Victoriana Series No. 1. p 19
- Tarragal Caves overlooking the Bridgewater Lakes and Cape Bridgewater in the distance engraved by Thomas Ham, c. 1851, National Library of Australia nla.pic-an6016280
- Lesley Head, Pollen Analysis of Sediments from the Bridgewater Caves, Archaeological Site, Southwestern Victoria
- Josephine Flood, Archaeology of the Dreamtime, J. B. Publishing
- Phillip J. Habgood & Natilie R. Franklin, The revolution that didn't arrive: A review of Pleistocene Sahul, Journal of Human Evolution, 55, 2008