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Fossils at Wellington Caves. Photo Gecko Photographics; Destination NSW

Model of Diprotodon whose bones were discovered in the caves in 1830
The Cathedral Cave, Gecko Photographics; Destination NSW
Fossils at Wellington Caves. Photo Gecko Photographics; Destination NSW

Wellington Caves and Phosphate Mine

Latitude -32.621422, Longitude 148.93826

Located in the Central West Region of NSW, nearest town Wellington

Source: Office of Environment & Heritage, National Parks and Wildlife service, Guide to New South Wales Karst and Caves.

Link to Detailed Map

This reserve has an important place in science history. In 1830, while exploring one of its caves, local resident George Ranken discovered the first fossil bones found in Australia. These bones were of extinct mammals related to living species and study of them influenced theories on how life developed.

The caves at Wellington have formed in a bed of north-south-trending limestone that, along with mudstones and other rocks, make up the Garra Formation, which originated 350-400 million years ago in the Devonian period.

Wellington's limestone beds and strata of the adjoining Garra Formation are internationally significant. Rich in Devonian marine fossils, these rocks provide a standard from which the age of other rocks can be compared or identified.

There are over 40 caves at the reserve. While many of these are relatively small-scale, others are more significant including Cathedral Cave, which is used for public exhibitions and was formed by the unusual process of water dissolving the rock upward to form a large domed chamber.

In addition to its more well-known caves, the reserve contains an extensive network of waterfilled caves. These include relatively complex formations and fossil bones indicating that they were flooded by a rising water table sometime after they were formed.

Phosphate was mined from a number of the caves between 1914 and 1918 and relics of this activity play a role in visitor education and interpretation programs.

The reserve's caves are one of the most significant sites for mammal fossils in the world and house the largest deposit of Pliocene-Pleistocene mammal fossils in Australia, ranging in age from 30,000 to 4 million years. Fossilised bones of extinct megafauna, such as the giant kangaroo, marsupial lion and seven-metre-long carnivorous goanna, have also been discovered in and around the caves.

The reserve's fossils have been highly significant in global science history, with studies commencing in 1830 and attracting the attention of some of the world's greatest palaeontologists and scientists. They included naturalist Charles Darwin who many believe confirmed his Theory of Evolution after viewing the ancient thylacine, kangaroo and wombat fossils from Wellington Caves while visiting Australia in the 1830s. Studies of the reserve's fossils continue today and a range of fossil deposits can be seen in a limited number of its caves.

Getting There

Wellington Caves are located in Central NSW, approximately 7 kilometres south of Wellington and 58 kilometres south-east of Dubbo. Access is by Caves Road which turns west off the Mitchell Highway. Guided tours of the caves and the phosphate mine are conducted daily. A surface tour (self guided) has been developed, providing visitors with an opportunity to view some of the area's diverse marine fossils.

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