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of this modest special interest (and non-"barrel") Uni society
came largely from the University Societies' "O"-day stall,
advertisements, roving "mole" and fully dressed cavers behind
the stall to get attention, offering information sheets and freely
plying chocolate inducements. Numbers were later augmented by newcomers
joining trips advertised in the "Daily Bull" during the year.
From incomplete figures, the annual memberships numbered 26
(for only latter part of) 1996, 48 for 1997, 28 in 1998, 55 in 1999, 34
in 2000, 39 in 2001, and over 20 (40?) in 2002, totalling well over 200
all members were new members with no caving experience, in keeping with the introductory nature of
the society's main activities. Membership included evenly balanced gender
distribution, and a diversity of foreign backgrounds including countries
from Americas, Scandinavia,
Introductory trips under Hobart offered by the Society were taken up by the majority of members (at least 130 over in excess of 17 trips, as under-estimated from incomplete records - probably more like 170 over 25 trips). This is a gentle evening (2-4 hrs) introduction to being underground, overcoming any phobias, getting used to using helmet & lights and safely moving about in otherwise dark places, plus the bonus of an insight into Hobart's hidden history along the entire underground length of the Rivulet. Interpretation from leaders also included some aspects of hydrology, fauna and cave decoration. Additional side trips included visiting some of the stormwater drains. Comparable tours covering less than 20% of our itinerary are offered by the Hobart City Council for $15/head. The value provided by the society directly to members on these trips would amount to some $50/head.
Caving trips. The Society offered safe introductory caving experiences in the form of full day trips to Ida Bay, Hastings, Junee-Florentine, Mt Wellington, Tasman Peninsula, and day-weekend trips to Mole Creek. Each day included some distance return drive, usually ending on rough muddy roads, up to an hours walk each way to the cave/s, some 3-5 hours underground, and refreshment stops. In the caves, more intensive leadership guiding and interpretation was provided to offer rewarding, ethical and safe experiences to members with minimal impact to the caves. Members expressing interest in more advanced or intense caving experiences (for example, vertical caving) were referred to regular caving clubs in their home area. Introductory wild caving tours offered commercially giving comparable experiences to ours are priced at well over $100. The value provided by the Society to members would easily match or exceed this figure. At least 93 members went caving over 21 trips, from incomplete records; it was probably more like 120 members over 25 trips.
Leadership: For all trips the Society provided safe and experienced leader/guide/s, each equipped with education, training and leadership skills. Trips for dependent groups of inexperienced members included leaders providing services such as: safe and ethical practices such as keeping to well-known, safe, minimum-impact routes, avoiding damage to delicate parts of caves, preventing and managing injury, hypothermia etc., monitoring participants progress and enjoyment, teaching basic caving skills, maintaining member lighting, providing additional powerful lighting to facilitate group progress, highlighting features and floodlighting chambers; providing backups like spare lights, batteries and bulbs, first aid, water, chocolate, and toilet and rubbish collection facilities for use when required. We promoted awareness of the delicate underground ecological environment, ecology, formations and deposits, and their interrelations with the surface landscape processes. Discussion and interest in all cave aspects was invited and encouraged. Post-trip services include cleaning, maintaining, repairing and replacing equipment, and cleaning vehicles inside and out. These services were provided by leaders for free. Most direct expenses were met by the Society. Education, training and leadership skills had in all cases been provided by the Mole Creek Caving Club. It is difficult to estimate the monetary value of the leadership provided, but comparable leader courses available for canoeing or rafting range from the high hundreds to thousands of dollars for each leader. On top of the leadership skills base are additional first aid training, educational expertise, ecological understanding, lengthy and diverse caving experience and so on.
Social activities provided by the Society included trip planning meetings, BBQ-AGM's, slide viewing nights, visits to the Cadbury factory, t-shirt printing, and liberal provision of chocolate to members on all occasions including caving, Under Hobart and "O"-day activities. The Society produced and distributed a single Newsletter for members, subsequently reprinted to accompany introductory information sheets.
Value to members delivered by the Moles Society was outstanding by any measure. Caving and other activities including research, mentioned below, have taken place at all times through the year, though tended to be more concentrated during term time in the 1st semester for obvious reasons. Social and caving activities of the Society were normally offered and provided entirely free of cost to members. However, members were encouraged to put in for running expense in shared vehicles to the vehicle owners for trips beyond Hobart. Where leaders bore the costs of transport, the Society sometimes gave a token reimbursement (around 80% petrol costs only - modest indeed when one considers the true costs to vehicle owners - most authorities calculate running costs as actually around 400% of petrol costs). The trips under Hobart and to caves represented $17000-$20000 in value over 5 years to members, and there were other direct benefits to members in social activities. Additionally the Society undertook research and conservation work in the public interest. All this was achieved with budgets totalling less than 10% of this delivered value, coming from membership fees and union rebates for running costs.
Research: The Society promoted and fostered research projects. This included some Reconnaissance trips to various areas, more recently to Mt Weld and Styx karsts for research, and visiting various other known cave locations including coastal sea-caves, assessing their suitability potential as future Society caving activity venues. Society members participated in scientific photomonitoring of platypus scat decay was undertaken at a Mole Creek cave. Two 3rd-year Uni Plant Science Dept research projects into karst vegetation were identified, promoted and undertaken at two Mole Creek cave entrance locations. Historical research relating to underground Hobart Rivulet was also undertaken. The instilling of the conservation message to members through interpretation and practical experiences can only lead to not only improving their awareness, but a spreading of the messages into the wider community.
The Society supported the University, fostering the Plant Science projects mentioned above. The Society also supported the Tasmanian University Conservatorium of Music in loaning helmets & lights for the performances of their "The Way We Live Now - Berlin Requiem" production. The Society hosted a visiting geology lecturer from Tallinn University on 2 trips, which he subsequently reported in an article published in the Estonian geographic magazine. The Society distributed a National Union for Students' environmental awareness publication "ecotopia". We promoted the Society and Tasmanian University Union in several interviews for radio ABC-936-7ZR and The Mercury newspaper.
Conservation: Over the years, the Society has provided written submissions and other letters of support for land management in favour of karst and cave conservation on a number of occasions. The most recent one was a lengthy submission to the Minister for Primary Industries, Water and Environment regarding the draft management plan for the recently declared Mole Creek Karst National Park, in 2001.
Thanks go to the Mole Creek Caving Club (MCCC), which has supported/fostered the Society in many ways. It would be no exaggeration to say that the Society would never have formed were it not for the existence and support of MCCC and its members. Furthermore, the entire pool of cave leadership, karst expertise, education, training and experience that the Society has enjoyed from inception came free of cost from MCCC. This alone totals thousands of dollars' value to the benefit of the Society and it's members. MCCC has also fostered cave visit arrangements, research projects, and offered local knowledge and camping and ran some combined trips. The basis for detailed and technical knowledge of issues for Society's conservation and karst management submissions and promotion came from MCCC, backed in turn by its ties to the Australian Speleological Federation, the Australasian Cave and Karst Management Association and The Environment Association.