Delving into the worldwide or even Australian wide history of caving would take too long and isn’t really relevant to caving in Victoria. But I can give a brief overview of how things started in Victoria.
The Victorian Cave Exploration Society (VCES) was formed in 1957, and the Sub Aqua Speleological Society (SASS) was formed in 1958. Both had successes in the decades following including VCES finding Trog Dip and Scrubby Creek Cave, and SASS finding Dalley’s Sinkhole.
In 1967 the two groups joined forces to form the Victorian Speleological Association. This was not the only caving club in Victoria’s history. At some point (before I was involved in caving) there was a serious split in the VSA ranks, and a portion of the club left VSA and started up a new group called CCV – The Caving Club of Victoria.
The formation of the Caving Club of Victoria (CCV)
The CCV had a slightly younger and more active member base. It was not long until they started running a lot of recruiting and beginner trips, and by the 90’s CCV had become the more active of the two clubs, with generally younger members, and VSA whilst still caving became comparatively quiet.
At around that same time, a group of Buchan locals and a few of their Melbourne friends decided to split from both CCV and VSA and form their own club, which was, and remains, more of a friendship group than a structured club. This was the VLCT, Victorian Limestone Caving Team. It was important for them to have an official club so that they could be members of the Australian Speleological Federation who provide insurance for all caving activities in Australia, which is necessary when accessing Parks Victoria caves or permit caves in Tasmania. More about VLCT below.
The CCV reigned for a long time and did some amazing caving, with one member even manufacturing caving gear for a time, but slowly dwindled more and more towards the end of the nineties. By 2000 when I first contacted CCV, there was only 2 or 3 cavers left who were actively out there regularly. Due to lack of interest from the few remaining members I was more or less forced to join the committee. We made it through a full year, with only the 3 of us caving (with the odd other person here and there, but not regular). At the next AGM it was clear that the club was for all intents and purposes dead.
We held a meeting at a pub and invited all the old CCV members that been in it during the glory days and it was decided as a group to donate all the funds in the CCV account to the ASF. The club was then put into permanent hibernation. A tribute to CCV and an official statement of permanent closure was made at the ASF Conference in Sale in 2009, represented by Bruce Downs, Greg Leeder and myself.
The merging into the Victorian Speleological Association (VSA)
Suddenly I was forced to join the VSA, as did the other few active CCV cavers. The rest is history and as of the writing of this website the VSA is now one of the biggest and most active caving clubs in Australia, with trips happening almost every weekend, exploration of several new caves yielding virgin passage, expeditions to the Nullabor every year, vertical training and beginners trips, cave conservation activities and also normal recreational caving trips.
The VLCT have been responsible for the finding of dozens and dozens of new caves most notable including the breakthrough of Elk River which was a cave that had been sought for 40 years. When they followed a lead up above the stream in Elk River, and eventually popped out onto a ledge halfway down a very well-known pitch, it also became one of the only Buchan caves with two entrances. When the old guard who had been searching for the master stream for so long were told where the ledge was, their response was ‘oh we saw that and thought about it, but never got around to pushing it’.
The VLCT have worked really hard to find new caves and deserve a lot of credit for the patience and tenacity they’ve displayed. Digging for caves is hard, cramped, awkward and sometimes dangerous business, and they’ve done more of it than anyone I’ve ever met.
So that’s the basic history of Victoria’s caving clubs. Like in all clubs there have been fights, feuds, and bad blood, but the majority of the time things are calm enough. At the end of the day we all just want to go caving. If you hate all the clubs and other cavers, you do of course have the option of joining the ASF as an individual, so you can go on trips that require insurance but not needing to belong to a club. Although that would be a strange and lonely decision.