Yarrangobilly Caveman Retires

16 May 1952 Cootamundra Herald

Leo Hoad Loved His Work

At first glance Leo James Hoad bears little resemblance to the caveman of old.

Of medium height and thick set he wears nothing more primitive than an old pair of dungarees, a polo-neck sweater and a beret.

Instead of a club he carries a torch and there is no hair either on his chin or on his head.

But Hoad has spent a great proportion of his life in subterranean caves and is something of an expert on stone ages.

Working in his garden, sitting down to a cup of tea, or talking about the weather he is an ordinary enough man of 70.

Some hundreds of feet underground carefully picking his way between stalactites and stalagmites, his personality changes.

He is an important figure - a leading authority on caves, explorer, expert geologist and an encyclopaedia of natural history.

Hoad retired last year as care-taker and chief guide of Yarrangobilly Caves tucked away in the snow country between Tumut and Kiandra.

All he had to show for 50 years in the caves was an Imperial Service Medal, the only order ever awarded to a public servant, a small pension and several old uniforms.

As a representative of a past generation, Hoad is not one of those who insist that the present generation is going to the dogs.

His only complaint is that modern youth seems no longer able to appreciate fully the wonders of nature.

He is mildly shocked by people who tell him that caves are like circuses and adopt a see-one-see-the-lot attitude. Caves, he tells such people, are like women.

They all have the same basic structure, but Hoad's advice is that they are all different.

To most people the job of guiding an apparently endless procession of sightseers through the same caves, giving the same directions and keeping up the same line of patter indefinitely would seem to have no future.

Far from getting into a rut, Hoad has found that years of tramping though the caves, showing visitors as much of nature's wonders as is possible from behind high wire barricades, has only made him more enthusiastic.

Since his association with Yarrangobllly caves began, Hoad ran a one-man campaign to publicise their virtues.

He defended their attractions against those of Jenolan at any time.

Yarrangobilly caves, he says, have all the attractions of most other caves, and a few more besides.

Together the five caves - Glory, Jersey, Castle, Harry Wood, and Jillabenean - offer every attraction known to cave lovers, from coral flowers, intricate and delicate rock formations like shawls and pillars to the impressive massiveness of caverns hundreds of feet high.

Hoad used to point out a tall, slim, stalagmite which he claimed is the biggest in Australia, a rock formation which he would describe as of unparalleled beauty.

With typical enthusiasm he finally tracked down the meaning of Yarrangobilly.

After considerable research he decided it was a corruption of the aboriginal jarrangobilly, meaning shifting.

Hoad's professional pride centres around the Jillabenan cave which he discovered - accidentally, he admits - in 1910.

In those days before his marriage, Hoad used to go exploring every Sun-day. One day he pushed his staff down a likely spot and discovered where the cave disappeared into a deep hole. It took eight weeks rock chopping to make the cave accessible.

The discovery was duly reported and the NSW Government recognised the existence of the cave by giving it a name.

Unfortunately an official whose knowledge of the aboriginal language was little enough to be dangerous, suggested that it be called Jillabenan, a pretty and phonetic name. To the aborigines, it has a somewhat bawdy second meaning.

With years of practice behind him, Hoad handled the lights with the air of a magician producing something unexpected from a hat.

There is something of the artist in the way he al-ways chose the right light to give the best effect.

Back in 1920 an Englishman, Lord Suffolk, visited the caves and impressed Hoad with the possibility of lighting the caves and supplied the necessary knowledge.

On his instructions Hoad installed on electric plant, and lighted all the caves over a period of years. With one helper, he worked five and a half months to install the 400 lamps in the Jersey cave, some of them in places high enough to scare even a mountaineer.

With a certain amount of pride Hoad likes to talk of the days before electricity when, he showed tourists through through the caves with the aid of a magnesium lamp and a ration of candles.

Now Hoad's son, Bruce, has succeeded him as caretaker, but recently when the lights failed Hoad had to be called in at 2 a.m. to restore order.

Around Yarrangobilly Hoad is nicknamed; "The Encyclopaedia."

Local residents say he can remember whom he has shown through the caves on a certain date, what year it was, where they came from and their reaction to the caves.

Also he can supply at a moments notice any little detail of local history, most of it from personal experience.

The Hoad family was one of the first two in the district. In 1891 his, father took the family the 60 miles from Tumut and took over grandfather Hoad's farm at Yarrangobilly.

Hoad, then a boy of nine, can remember the rough trip along mountainous bush tracks in a horse and dray and the primitive life in the bush.

The four Hoad children got their formal education from a governess they shared with the Campbells, the only other family within miles.


The children of the two families and the governess would meet at a half-way point between the farms.

The more important part of Hoad's education was practical.

Instruction in looking after sheep on his father's property and trapping animals in his spare time.

A course in mining at the tough school of Kiandra in the gold-rush days completed his education.

At Kianda, where skiing as a sport gained popularity, Hoad showed the beginning of a business instinct.

When he was 10 he made his first pair of skis out of palings.

A Norwegian friend of his father's taught him the art of making skis and he became a pioneer of ski-making in Australia, supplying miners with skis at 10/ a pair.

Hoad himself has been on skis most of his life.

He didnít miss a year of the snow from his 1oth to his 5oth birthday and used to go hunting and rounding up wild horses on skis.

In 1904 Hoad's father was ap -pointed caretaker at Yarrangobilly by tender from 170 applicants.

His chief recommendations were a large family and his engineering knowledge.

Develop-ing the caves became a family affair.

When skilled labor was needed to make tracks and steps in the caves, Hoad was a natural for the position.

Since then Hoad has been responsible for the opening and development of all the caves, most of it single-handed.

Preparing one cave for visitors Hoad and a helper worked solidly for nine months. All excavation work was done by hand with heavy picks.

Hoad worked eight hours a day for £2/2/ a week. His exploring activities gave Hoad more than a sufficient knowledge to take over as a guide in 1911 at 11/6 a day.

A few years later he was sent to Jenolan caves for eight months to assist with improvements and found that Jenolan could offer at least one attraction that Yarrangobilly lacked.

So he married her and took her back to Yarrangobilly when he became care-taker in 1919. The Hoads have been there ever since.

With complete imperturbability they have lived through six changes in the control of the caves.

With the part he has played in its history, Hoad still has a very personal interest in Yarrangobilly.

He is happy to see the caves remain in the family so to speak. With Bruce as care-taker and their other son Colin running the kiosk, the Hoads still have a substantial hold on the area.

Hoad's main ambition is still to see the countless caves yet unexplored developed. Having achieved retirement for the second time he retired first in 1946 and was asked to resume - Hoad expects to be happy doing nothing like most men his age.

With acknowledgement to "People" magazine.