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Lex Bastian (W A S S )

From Mike Wilson

Tony Jarratts double.                                                                                

BB542-24When I visited Western Australia in 2000 I had the good fortune to meet a quiet Australian caver called Lex Bastian ,sadly I did not manage to spend a great deal of time with him, and even more unfortunate was the fact that I ran out of time before I could go caving with him. Having said that, he is a fascinating man who has spent the last 50 years caving in Western Australia  mostly in the Yanchep and Margaret River areas.

His family emigrated to Australia 130 years ago from Cornwall. He said it was a big group decision, so I guess the whole family came over en mass and settled in WA. As far as I know there are no relatives in Great Britain. He now lives to the North of Perth in a town called Beldon. There was a gap in his caving activities when he spent 8 years in Canberra during the 1970s, he didn’t tell me what he was doing there!

In the 1950s Lex, his mate Ross and a guy called Lloyd Robinson were the mainstay of caving in WA. He used to travel to the caves on a pushbike (shades of Norbert Casteret in France ) The majority of caves in the Yanchep region have been discovered by Lex,  there are approximately 400 to date. The inventory was started in 1988, and the original list contained approximately 100 caves, all numbered. To quote Lex, ‘it would be impossible to name every cave discovered’ (all of the caves open to tourists are named) .A 1967 Ford Falcon station wagon became the mainstay of transport for Lex during his travels, by all accounts a very reliable vehicle, this enabled him to travel to the South more often and practise his Aussie method of cave discovery, (it differs from Tony Jarratts theory of cave trees in the middle of a Yorkshire Moor)  this is called the Hairy Leg method, whereby you wear shorts and walk around the bush waiting for a draught on the thigh, according to Lex it is extremely effective !!! The other method is to wait for bush fires, ”quite common“ and go and look for the holes, this sounds like a good technique on the Yorkshire moors !  Their underground cooking methods involved a compound called “Scroggle,” a typical Lex type recipe, you mix cocoa, raisins, nuts, and cooking chocolate. This concoction is then heated over a carbide lamp, I intend to try this recipe some time. Naturally, they also drank cheap wine and told tall stories ,nothing changes!!.                                                                                

  Geoff  Robinson, a fellow caver was renowned for kicking at dangerous Aussie snakes whilst wearing sandals, not to be  recommended!!! Lex and Lloyd met up and found Easter cave in 1958, the entrance being a dug tunnel, what a stunning find that must have been,!!!!!! It still rates as one of the best decorated caves in Australia, I have had the privilege of entering this cave and it is literally wall to wall formations! While I was talking to Lex one evening he drew a little map of the entrance section of this cave and while I did not realise the significance at the time, it shows a small left turn and a shawl formation with writing on it, “Jamey Donovan-Jesse Ward 1884”, this indicates that the cave had been visited and then possibly forgotten, luckily.!

The Western Australia Speleo Society was formed by Naturists (not to be confused with naturalists) in the 1960s. The aim was to educate and promote awareness of the natural world to the public, some of the cavers were honorary fauna wardens of the Margaret River area, including the Naturaliste National Park, this involved wearing a little badge, and writing a quarterly report listing people warned, animals seen and approximate location. This does not equate with their tales of throwing boomerangs across the road to see if it would miss the traffic and return!! Hut 1 burned down in one of the frequent bush fires, so hut 2 was born. A band practice hut from Freemantle was donated to the club, so the lads went down to Freo and literally cut it up with a chainsaw, then transported it down to Margaret River in 1971. They hot-wired a nearby front loader and pulled up some spare railway sleepers from the local sawmill, these formed the outer base for the hut, water from a local cave was used for cement mixing (a slow process), there are some photos showing the builders Ian Martin, Alex Jar, Bob Crowe, and Ric Orissa. There were two ends to the hut; boys and girls. I have it on good authority that this situation lasted about 1 hour!! there was never any water supply or sanitation, and this situation still applies in hut 3, year 2000.  Hut 2 burnt down in another bush fire in the1980s,”       I WONDER IF IT HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH LEX BASTIANS BURNING BUSH THEORIES”, but  the new metal structure hut 3 still stands, a trifle noisy at night when the local fauna decide to run up and down the roof with hobnail boots on!! WASS are at the present trying to negotiate a new site for the hut,  just outside the National Park, which will make their tenancy in the area more stable (and not subject to the tricky park regulations). I wish them well in their endeavours, and hope that the new venture includes water and sanitation. If they require any help I will be happy to go over for a month or two and lend a hand!!                    

Some of the problems with the water table dropping in the region have been attributed by Lex Bastian, to be caused by the fact that there is no annual bush burns, apparently the ridges used to burn every summer (an aborigine method to clear the bush), but colonisation has now opened the forests for cattle allowing higher vegetation growth, this draws more underground water thus lowering the water table!!! This has had the permanent effect of opening up more routes underground, but also some of the gour pools are drying out and may never be beautiful again. It is quite apparent where the original water table level was by just observing the staining of the formations at the now new floor level; the difference is substantial !!



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