Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Kutikina Cave

Kutikina Cave on the lower Franklin River - photo Mike Martyn

On Boxing Day 1982, with a group of friends, I left the Collingwood River Bridge on the Lyell Highway in Tasmania and rafted down to the Franklin River. For the next ten days we made our way down this wilderness river - through its great reaches and ravines, its gorges and islands, past wonderful waterfalls and rapids - to join the blockade to stop the damming of the Franklin for power that no one needed.

Along the lower reaches of the river, using written instructions which had been hard to obtain, we searched around the limestone cliffs and eventually found Kutikina Cave – which had only been discovered a short time before.

This cave was inhabited for a period of 9,000 years, commencing 20,000 years ago and concluding some 11,000 years ago.

It was a cave about twice the size of a suburban house, divided into two large chambers, with shafts of light from hidden openings high above.

There was a small area, about a metre square, which had been the subject of a preliminary dig, and was carefully lined with river stones to protect it. Flakes of stone - which I understood to be scraping tools or something of that kind - littered the floor of the cave.

In one corner near the main entrance had been the fireplace. The black of the smoke was still there.

At the back of the fire a fissure dropped down some way. It was filled with bones - bones which had been picked clean by families who lived there long before the times of the Old Testament. Bones of animals you would not find anywhere nearby today, some of which were long since extinct.

I stood there on a rainy morning, looking out into a world of tree ferns, and tried to imagine what it must have been like for those people.

As I stood there in awe, elected politicians, public servants and contractors were working to ensure that all this – which had only just been discovered – would be flooded and lost forever.

To those of us involved in the Franklin campaign, it seemed unthinkable that they should succeed. The whole area had just been inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Area.

From the cave we went back out to our rafts and continued down to the Gordon River - where we were immediately circled by a police launch.

It was a life-changing experience being involved in the Franklin campaign, and it is wonderful that the river flows free to the sea today.

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