There are three ASF (Australian Speleological Federation) registered caving clubs in Victoria.
These are the VSA (Victorian Speleological Association), VLCT (Victorian Limestone Caving Team), and the Victorian Scout Caving Team. There is also the Australasian Cave and Karst Management Association (ACKMA) but they are not a club – it is an Australasian organisation focussed on cave and karst management, but obviously it has members who are also cavers.
The VSA has been running since 1967 and is the bigger public club of all. The VSA is actually one of the largest caving clubs in Australia in terms of number of members. It is an active club and there are trips regularly. The club meets on the first Wednesday of the month in the Melbourne CBD at 8pm, at St. Francis’ Church on Elizabeth Street. For more information on the VSA look at their website at http://www.caving.org.au. NOTE: Whilst the author is a VSA member, Under-Victoria is not officially affiliated with the VSA.
The VSA conduct expeditions to remote parts of Australia, safety training, surveying and mapping trips, and of course purely recreational caving. There are numerous interstate caving trips especially to Tasmania which is the Mecca of Australian caving. Interestingly Mole Creek in Tasmania is closer as the crow flies than Buchan is. It’s just that damn water in the way!
The VLCT are a smaller club with members based in both Melbourne and locals in Buchan. However, don’t let the size fool you. The VLCT have opened up many of Buchan’s best caves and have a wealth of local knowledge, as well as access to a lot of caves VSA does not, due again to having members that are Buchan locals. The VLCT have their own caving cottage called Limestone Lodge, for hungry and thirsty cavers at the end of a big day underground.
Up until about 2004 there was a third group, the Caving Club of Victoria (CCV) which during the nineties was VERY active. However, numbers dwindled post 2000 and it was formally put into permanent hibernation at the ASF conference in 2009.
It is also worth at this point mentioning Rimstone and Homeleigh Lodge. Rimstone is a co-operative formed in 1973 to purchase ‘Homeleigh’. Homeleigh is a hostel style accommodation in the township of Buchan. It is large, and was actually the original Buchan Pub, many years ago. It can accommodate 60 or 70 people at capacity, has a full kitchen, comfy dining and lounge areas, and a toilet block with great hot water (so good after caving!) and multiple showers. Go to www.rimstone.org.au for more information. Rimstone and VSA aren’t technically linked, but naturally most of the Rimstone members are VSA members too. Homeleigh is the heart and soul of caving in Buchan, and I consider it my second home. Many individuals keep accessing Homeleigh long after they give up caving – especially given its proximity to Lakes Entrance and the Snowy River.
Victorian Scout Caving Team
The Scouts make regular trips to Buchan and these trips are often assisted by VSA members. Likewise, the defence forces and cadets also do regular caving trips, but are not affiliated with ASF as they have their own insurance and their own codes of conduct, which are the roles of the ASF.
University Clubs – Potentially your best bet if you are at Uni?
The other important source of cavers are the university outdoor clubs. RMIT, Latrobe, Melbourne and Monash all have outdoor clubs that go to Buchan and other places at least once a year. Many cavers that approach the VSA are individuals who have done a few trips with their university and then graduated but wanting to keep caving. Some of the past behaviour of uni trips has been suspect but in general they seem to be ran well. Like the defence forces, the universities also have their own insurance and standards so are not ASF members. The uni clubs usually have good gear funded by the recreation unions, and hold massive trips with 30 or 40 people. They always camp though instead of using Homeleigh. My first trip was with RMIT and the leader was actually the son of a long-term VSA member. That particular leader scared the hell out of me, putting us in some situations which in retrospect were a bit sketchy, but I came back for more.
Finally ACKMA. This is a quote from their website:
- To develop improved standards in the management and interpretation of cave and karst heritage in the Australasian Region.
- To enhance liaison between agencies and those interested in cave & karst management.
- To encourage and support scientific research which many further the improvement of standards in cave and karst management.
- To formulate and promote policies and initiatives in cave and karst management.
- To do any other things which are conducive or incidental to the attainment of the above.
For those of you reading who are not Victorian don’t despair. Every state has caves and caving clubs. It is only through these clubs you will get training, experience, friends and access to caves. Caving is as much a social activity and being part of a club is a great way to meet people.
Other clubs I have done trips with or come across and can personally recommend are:
NUCC – The Australian National University Caving Club (Based in Canberra – they have very organised SRT training regularly)
CSS – Canberra Speleological Society
SSS – Sydney Speleological Society (Lots of trips to Jenolan)
SUSS – Sydney University Speleological Society (Also lots of trips to Jenolan)
MCCC – Mole Creek Caving Club (Tasmania, a small club but tied closely to VSA through friendship links)
STC – Southern Tasmanian Caverneers (arguably the ‘hardest’ cavers in Australia due to the difficulty of the caves down there, and also one of the most active clubs with lots of young fit and prolific cavers. Much exploration and mapping goes on especially in Exit Cave, Ida Bay, which has been re-surveyed in recent years). Also great stuff in Junee Florentine.
WASG – Western Australian Speleological Group
FUSSI – Flinders University Speleological Society Incorporated
CEGSA – Cave Exploration Group South Australia (The Nullarbor specialists)
HCG – Highland Caving Group (NSW)
So, my advice is if you are interested in caving, join your local club. A google search will reveal more clubs than I have listed. The above clubs are only the ones I have been involved with in some way. You won’t regret it!