About the cave
Growling Swallet is an extensive “dry” cave system in the Junee-Florentine karst area in southern Tasmania. The early parts of the cave are complex with multiple routes and leads off in different directions and at different levels. After some distance it straightens out into over a kilometre of mainline streamway passage. The cave temperature is around 8 degrees, a little colder than your average mainland cave.
I was down in Tassie over the Australia Day long weekend two weeks ago with a group of cavers from across Australia. There were a few different missions underway, including some that resulted in an impressive new connection between caves. Our focus was Growling Swallet and the sump at the end, Dreamtime. The water that flows through Growling Swallet has been dye traced through other caves in the area and eventually emerges at the Junee resurgence. I dived Junee in 2007, 2009 and 2010 and I hope to get back there in a couple of weeks with a vastly improved camera system and time for some great shots.
About the photo
The feature that I was most interested in in Growling was the waterfalls. In winter the cave becomes impassable to cavers from the sheer volume of water pounding through. Mid-summer the water levels were very low, but there was more than enough dropping over the ledges to drown out conversation and fill the cave with spray. The key was capturing the action. For cave photography I use strobe light, freezing the action and making the shutter speed irrelevant. To capture the speed and motion of the rushing water I took my very handy Archon video lights.
Having underwater gear that’s not just water resistant, but waterproof to immersion was very handy for this trip. For each waterfall set up I carefully placed the Archon video light to illuminate the falls while trying not to illuminate the rest of the shot. From there I backed off and established the strobe arrangement, then set up the tripod on a stable rock. The shot above is a two second exposure – long enough to smooth the water, and short enough for the cavers to stay still. In addition to the on camera flash, both cavers are holding well-hidden strobes to throw even light across the scene.
As for the second photo…not every part of the cave is scenic waterfalls and clean-washed rocks. This is Andreas working his way through a particularly nasty squeezy rift, half full of stinky mud. It’s hard work being a caver!