|In this Issue|
Letter from the Editor
Welcome to the October Bulletin, edition 6/2003.
This edition of the Bulletin has been published late this month, as I spent the early part of October on a "lighthouse trip", travelling from Nowra, 160km south of Sydney, down the southern NSW coast, and the far eastern Victorian coast, all the way back to Melbourne. We had about 10 lighthouses, plus a few extra beacons, "pseudo" lighthouses and other points of interest to see - what a holiday! A report on my holiday, plus many of the photos will be given in a later edition of the Bulletin.
This Bulletin contains a significant proportion of historical material. There are many people out there who are descendants of lighthouse keepers who have great stories to tell. All of our Australian lighthouses have significant histories behind them, and their history has an impact on modern efforts to preserve and protect them.
We begin this Bulletin continuing the story of The Golden Age of Australian Lighthouses. The story originally appeared in a booklet titled "The Commonwealth Lighthouse Service - Its Formation and Early Development", and in this issue, we read about the circumstances leading up that period of activity.
Two similar stories of hardship and death on lighthouse stations are described. Firstly, in Tasman is Murder, we report on an unsubstantiated tale of the lighthouse keeper at Tasman Island in the 1950's going mad with the isolation and transforming from a normal young man into a violent and drunken monster. His reign of terror and madness finally ends with two deaths.
The second story, Cut Off from the World in Bass Strait, unbelievably describes the bureaucratic callousness of the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service in the 1920's, when they marooned the wife of the head lighthouse keeper at Deal Island after her husband suddenly died, forcing her to stay on the island for many weeks after his death.
The next article is a reminiscence by David Williams, who grew up as a lighthouse keeper's son on northern Queensland lighthouses in the 1950's and 60's. His father was posted to a number of lights, including Cape Moreton, Double Island Point, Low Island & Dent Island.
We have been able to reprint a letter sent after WW2 to the parents of an airman killed when his plane crashed on Deal Island. Mr Roy Cowling, the father of one of the men killed, visited the island sometime after the accident, and wrote to the Grahams, to report on the state of the boy's graves and the plane itself.
We meet our next Lighthouses of Australia, Inc Committee Member - Pauline O'Brien, LoA Secretary. Pauline teaches at a primary school, and is working hard to instil an appreciation of lighthouses in her students, taking them on excursions, and building an awareness of the issues involved in lighthouse preservation. Pauline has also developed her own Lighthouses of Western Australia website.
Good news regarding the lighthouse tender MV Cape Don! A group called the "Saving the MV Cape Don Society" are working towards restoring the vessel to full operational status, and hope to use the boat to travel Australian waters on research and/or community assistance expeditions.
The ABC recently showed "A Big Country Revisited - Keepers Of The Light", a program describing how the era of manned lighthouses in Australia had come to an end, and how the changes had affected one particular lightkeeper. The program spliced together footage filmed in 1975, when John Cook was head lighthouse keeper on Maatsuyker Island, with modern footage, where he recalls the lifestyle long superseded by technology.
The Norah Head Lighthouse Centenary is coming up very soon. Celebrations have been in planning for several months, and will include an Air Force flyover, an antique car rally, a street parade, and school writing and art competitions. Ex-keepers are especially invited to participate in the festivities on 15 November 2003.
John Ibbotson's new book, Lighthouses of Australia: A Visitors Guide, has been released. John launched the book at an exhibition in early October, along with a new calendar, and framed original photographs from his first book, "Lighthouses of Australia - Images From the End of an Era".
Again, we have a number of letters from readers, mostly from people searching for relatives who were lighthouse keepers.
Enjoy reading this Bulletin, and if you are not a member of Lighthouses of Australia, and would like to be involved in preserving, promoting and protecting Australia's lighthouses, join now!
The Beginning of the Golden Age
Editor's Note: The Golden Age of Australian Lighthouses originally appeared in print in a booklet titled "The Commonwealth Lighthouse Service (CLS) - Its Formation and Early Development" by Michael B. Komesaroff, a Commonwealth Lighthouse Service (Victorian Region) lighthouse engineer. The article was re-printed in The Victorian Historical Journal, Vol 48 No 2 May 1977.
In the previous Lighthouses of Australia Bulletin (September, issue 5/2003), we published details of the actual construction and costs of the new lighthouses. In this issue, we read about the circumstances leading up that period of activity.
After 15 years of debate, the Commonwealth became responsible for the maintenance of lighthouses around Australia. The following table shows the composition of lights acquired from the states.
Section 13 of the Lighthouses Act provided for the collection of light dues from all overseas shipping. Details of the first Lighthouse dues were compiled by Bernhard Wallach prior to Joshua Ramsbotham assuming the position of Director, Commonwealth Lighthouse Service. In his calculations, Wallach, in accordance with Government policy, budgeted for a self-supporting service. On 15 December 1914 the Minister, Frank Tudor, announced the light due of 8d per net ton per quarter which would apply for all interstate and overseas ships on and after 1 April 1915.
Under Section 13 of the Act, light dues prescribed by the States in respect of ocean lights maintained by them were to cease. In two States only (Western Australia and Tasmania) were light dues collected as such. In the other states, the dues were amalgamated with port, tonnage, wharfage and other fees. In these cases, it was impossible to determine the proportion of the combined due which represented light dues and the State governments used this as an argument against reducing their rates.
The light due immediately provoked considerable opposition in Tasmania. Of prime concern were the fortnightly mail steamers en route from London to New Zealand, which called at Hobart for Hobart Marine Board rate. Fearing that the new light due would destroy the state's fruit trade with South America, the Tasmanians petitioned for a reduced levy.
After some pressure, the Commonwealth revised the light dues to provide for a reduced rate of 4d per ton for ships calling at only one port en route to a port outside Australia. All other ships were to pay 8d per ton per quarter. Provision was also made for a maximum charge of £75 and £150 in each case. This rate was to remain unchanged until January 1918 when it was increased to 9d per ton per quarter and 6d per ton per quarter for vessels calling at one port only. At this time, the maximum charges were abolished.
Under Section 84 of the Constitution, lightkeepers at the transferred lights came under the control of the Minister for Trade and Customs. Lightkeepers not retained in the Commonwealth Service were permitted to retire under prescribed conditions.
The difference in conditions of employment between the States and the Commonwealth Public Service prevented immediate transfer and re-employment. For example in South Australia, the retiring age for lightkeepers was 70 whereas all Commonwealth employees retired at 65. In these cases and where for disciplinary reasons some still were considered unsuitable, the individuals remained in State service. In all, 216 lightkeepers were transferred to the Commonwealth, with salaries ranging from £132 per annum for an assistant keeper to £210 for a Headkeeper Grade 1.
When considering the romance of lighthouses we often tend to forget the hardships endured by the lightkeeper. Whilst the lightkeeper of today enjoys the comfort of television and other modern conveniences, this has not always been the case. In 1915, the situation was very different. Without paid annual leave or travel assistance, lightkeepers remained at their isolated stations for years on end. Compulsory transfers to other stations were made at their own expense. Fresh food and other supplies arrived every three months on the local lighthouse steamer. If these ran out before the next steamer arrived, the lightkeepers and their families were forced to fend for themselves. Often this meant hunting local wildlife.
At the time of acquisition by the Commonwealth, much of the housing occupied by the lightkeepers was unfit for habitation. In most cases this was the result of neglect by the States, which, knowing that their lights were to be taken over by the Commonwealth, withheld necessary funds. As the transfer was deferred from year to year, the need for new and improved housing grew. Unfortunately, limited funds and the need for many new lights precluded any improvement in living conditions until after the War.
It is of interest to note that during the amendments to the Lighthouses Act (1915) it was suggested that, because of their strategic location, lighthouse keepers should come under the Department of Navy. Such a decision would have paved the way for a paramilitary service. Probably for this reason the suggestion did not gain wide acceptance, though many of the early keepers were ex-naval men who found employment on a lighthouse suitable "retirement".
Captain Brewis, [who had been commissioned by the Commonwealth Government in 1909 to report on the condition of the existing lights and recommend any additional ones] regarded the purchase of four lighthouse steamers as an important item in maintaining a lighthouse service. He saw the duties of these vessels as supplying the lighthouses with stores, periodic visits to unwatched lights, prevention of smuggling and general search and rescue work. The vessels he proposed were 500 tons gross, 200 feet in length with twin screw propellers capable of steaming 15 knots. To facilitate repairs to lighthouses he suggested each vessel be equipped with a small workshop.
In March 1914, tenders were circulated for the construction of up to three steamers for the Lighthouse Service. They were left open for six months so that Australian firms could determine the availability of overseas materials. In all, eight tenders were received. Only one was from an Australian firm. This offer from Poole and Steels of Sydney was for £50,000 per steamer. The onset of the war and consequent shortages of materials deferred any contractual arrangements.
As an interim measure, tenders were accepted in May 1914 for the supply and delivery of two ketches for lighthouse construction. The Alcairo (60 tons) was purchased, minus engine, from W. F. Casey of Hobart for £1,900; the Forbes Bros (70 tons) was purchased from W. Ward of Newcastle, for £2,900. In June 1914, a Skandia two cylinder 30 BHP engine costing £454 was purchase from Messrs Nelson and Robertson of Sydney. This engine was eventually delivered to Townsville where it was fitted to the Alcairo.
The transfer of lighthouses released the State lighthouse steamers from much of their work and in October 1915 the Premier of Victoria, Alexander Peacock, wrote to the Prime Minister asking if the Commonwealth would be interested in acquiring S.S. Lady Loch. Ramsbotham recommended against the offer because of the vessel's age. Wartime restrictions meant there was little prospect of obtaining a ship and the Victorian Government agreed to charter the Lady Loch for a two-year period. In July 1917, with the end of the charter period, the Commonwealth agreed to purchase the vessel for £9,050, less charter money of £2,100.
The South Australian lighthouse tender Governor Musgrave was chartered for £14 per day in 1915 and purchased for £5,800 in 1916. In 1924 the vessel was found to unseaworthy and was replaced by the S.S. Kyogle, a 707 ton, 115 H.P. steel hull vessel built in 1901. The Karuah was purchased from the Newcastle and Hunter River Steamship Company in 1916 for £17,000.
The inadequacy of lighthouse vessels seriously hindered the early work of the service. During 1919 and 1920, Ramsbotham urged the construction of two additional steamers. Yet by 1923 no action had been taken to remedy the situation and after the Eastern Shoal (S.A.) light has failed, Ramsbotham by-passed the Comptroller-General and presented his complaint directly to the Minister (Austin Chapman). It was not until 1926 that two new steamers were acquired.
Acknowledgements: The author wishes to thank Gail Higginbotham and wife, Sandra, for typing the manuscript. Mr Greg Jones drew a map that does not appear here. The author is also indebted to Dr Stephen Murray-Smith for much helpful advice. However, the author accepts responsibility for any errors that may be found.
Tasman is Murder
Editor's Note: We read stories about lighthouses and imagine the romance of it all. As we investigate and talk to the lightkeepers and their families, we realise how their lives were comprised of tedious daily duties and plain hard work that revolved around keeping the light burning and maintaining the lightstations. Occasionally, we are presented with tales that tell of underlying privations that reveal the harsh realities of life on the seaward edge of the civilized world.
This gripping drama begins on one of Australia's most remote and foreboding islands off the coast of Tasmania. The lighthouse stands on the barren, perpendicular cliffs of the windswept, storm ravaged lump of rock that is Tasman Island, at the south-eastern tip of the Tasman Peninsula. Sheer rock-faces drop 1000 feet to wave-battered rocks, and for the early occupants, the only way on or off this island was a hair-raising hoist between the sea and the shore.
The nearest civilization is the town of Port Arthur, the scene of Australia's bloodiest massacre in recent times and a place where the early colonial history of Australian settlement was forged in cruel isolation and hardship. Imagine the setting with wild storms buffeting the lighthouse on the coldest and darkest of nights... and a mad lighthouse keeper - morose and armed - threatening his de facto wife, their four children, and another man who is desperately striving to arrange their escape from the island fortress - the hopeless odds seemingly stacked against them.
In early 1950, Herbert James Yates and girlfriend Rita arrived at remote Tasman Island, stationed there to tend the light. The isolation quickly got to Yates and he was transformed from a normal young man into a drunken monster that constantly menaced and assaulted the young woman. There was no escape for his bruised and battered victim, her terror heightened by Yates' formidable arsenal of weapons, including slaughter knives and a marksman's rifle.
Over the years, Rita sought help from the occupants of the three other scattered dwellings on this god-forsaken island, but there was little they could do to contain the keeper's drinking habits and abusive nature. In the midst of this life of horror she had four children by Yates. (Did Rita give birth to all her children on the island?) The sole means of contacting the mainland was to raise the flags on the lighthouse mast and only Yates had access to this communication arm.
Finally, salvation came eight years into this captive existence - 30 year-old Bob Tregenza arrived on the island as assistant lighthouse keeper. Rita was attracted to the good-looking and caring Tregenza, which was not surprising, considering how she must have felt about her crazed partner. The two light keepers worked together reasonably well until the strange and twisted moods of Yates caused Tregenza to hide all the lighthouse knives and judiciously remove the bolt from the lighthouse rifle. Tregenza could hardly ignore the physical and mental abuse of Rita and his compassion for the young woman grew. Their mutual fear of Yates drew them closer together and ignited a dangerous love affair.
Yates' insane jealousy intensified and he became clearly homicidal. Rita's fear was now openly displayed and during a frenzy of rage in July 1959, Yates viciously attacked and half-throttled her, causing the assistant keeper to rush to her rescue and knock the head keeper unconscious.
In such a claustrophobic environment, the situation must have been explosive. Yates vowed to kill his estranged de-facto, forcing the lovers to desperately plan their escape. How the two lightkeepers managed to attend to their respective duties at this stage is unknown. Tregenza had been denied access to the pulleys to get the rescue flags aloft, but he actually climbed the treacherous mast and managed to signal the mainland. The lovers had to hide in the nooks and crannies of the island until the rescue boat arrived. They somehow eluded Yates and used the flying fox to get down to where the emergency boat took them aboard, taking them to mainland and leaving the demented Yates raging on the island.
They were married in Hobart the very next day, vowing eternal love to each other. It might have had a happy ending there. They fled Tasmania and went into hiding at bayside Mornington, in Victoria, determined to never see Yates again.
Meanwhile, Yates was under investigation, but he quit the lighthouse service and pursued the couple and his children to Victoria. Through various means, he traced them to their hideaway and confronted the terrified Rita at her home, threatening to kill them all, children included.
When confronted by the raging Yates, Rita confessed she had married Bob. Enraged by the disclosure, he swore to wreak vengeance. The couple and the four children quickly abandoned their home and moved to a house in Seaford, but that was not far enough away to be safe. They were housebound as they learned Yates was combing nearby Frankston in search of them. They sought police protection and the police said they could do nothing until Yates made his move.
Frustrated and angry at failing to find the couple, Yates attempted suicide by gassing himself at Mornington. Unfortunately, the police arrived in time to save him and his pursuit was renewed. Finally, he tracked them down to their hideaway and the final confrontation ensued - Yates had left his lodgings in Richmond after midnight, with four bottles of beer, a bottle of wine and a loaded rifle. Literally dressed to kill, he arrived at the Tregenzas' address sporting a dazzling white shirt and a red bow tie.
At 6 am, Rita was leaving home to get bread from the local bakery. Yates was waiting outside and brandishing a gun; the empty wine bottle lay on the ground nearby. He demanded to see Tregenza and waved the gun. She screamed and ran back into the house, with Yates following.
Responding to his wife's screams, Tregenza was scrambling from his bed as Yates burst in and aimed the rifle at him. Tregenza pulled a blanket over his head in a futile effort to shield himself, but Yates shot him through the head, killing him instantly. Then Yates walked outside and shot himself in the head, right in front of a horrified teenage girl. He died on the spot.
Tasman Island lighthouse was demanned in May 1977. This tale was submitted by Brian Hansen, a Melbourne journalist who is writing a soon-to-be published book, titled The Life Of Brian - Inside the News With an Aussie Journalist. The story was allegedly published in the Melbourne Truth newspaper, which has since closed down and the existence of any archival copy and photographs is unknown.
The editor asks readers to comment or assist with any information about this tragic tale. We welcome any photos of the protagonists that may exist, or verifiable knowledge of the service records of both lightkeepers.
Cut off from the world in Bass Strait
Editor's Note: The following account was first published in "Smith's Weekly" of 8 November 1924. Although it contained a diatribe that illustrated how the Federal Authorities inflicted a cruel blow on the wife of a dead lighthouse keeper, and marooned the poor woman with her dead husband, forcing her to superintend her husband's funeral, the "Federal Public Service Journal" re-printed the account 29 November 1924, on page 16.
It has been transcribed from a faded hard copy to this digital version, and with respect to the original author, some minor editing applied.
By H.O. BALFE.
Perched on the southern edge of the sea lane, its lighthouse is 1000 feet above sea level and through the fogs of Bass Strait, flashes a warning of the dangerous waters.
The story of these outposts of civilisation around the Australian coast has yet to be written. When it is told it will read like a Conrad romance. But the people whose destiny it is to keep alight the lanterns, are usually silent folk - as silent as the rocks upon which they live.
However, Mrs Hague has related a stark and tragic episode to Smith's Weekly. After spending 23 lonely years as a lighthouse keeper's wife, and while the eye of the light was peering into the gathering gloom, her keeper died, leaving her wondering at the strange decree of fate which has made her lonelier still. Her reason for seeking the services of this journal was, she says, "That public opinion may be stirred to demand that the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service Department should give a fairer deal to those whose lives are lived in such strange places."
Here is the story of the death of Thomas Hague, head lighthouse keeper at Deal Island, and his burial within the shadow of the tower.
A Grim Jest
For two days after his return he went about his duties as usual. On the second day, a fishing craft, the skipper of which was a life-long friend of Hague's, called at the island. They chatted until far into the evening, and as the visitor rose to go he uttered a grim jest: "Ah, well" he said, "I will say goodbye. We don't often meet and Lord knows when we will see one another again. I am the only one left of seven brothers and I may drop dead tonight."
Hague laughed, though usually he was a man who hated to talk about death. Then he capped his visitor's jest with the remark: "And perhaps I will be dead before you come this way again." Two days later, the grisly joke had been translated into fact.
The Keeper's Will
But Mrs Hague looked over his shoulder and saw he was making out a will. "Don't be silly," she said, snatching the paper away from him and putting it in a drawer. It was an action of dire consequences, for she had trouble attached to the full recovery of the estate.
Collapsed and Died
Then followed three weeks of a nightmare existence for the widow. Her companions on the island were her two little girls, young King, and Hooper, the assistant light keeper and his wife. The awful happening had so unnerved Hooper that he was incapable of giving much help. He is another whom fate had dealt with unkindly; while on the light at Macquarie Harbour years ago he saw the Kawatiri, a small coasting steamer on which his wife and child were travelling, dashed to pieces on the rocks at Hell's Gate, as the entrance to the harbour is known. He swears that, above the howling of the storm, he heard his wife calling to him for help as the vessel sank.
Returning to Deal with King, the fisherman decided to make sail at once for Welshpool, on the Victorian coast, in order to advise the Lighthouse authorities of what had happened. But Fate played a cruel trick when the wind swung around to the west and blew with such a force that the yawl could not set forth.
Wife's Terrible Ordeal
All this time, the wind had been blowing hard from the west and it was not until Sunday night that it moderated sufficiently for the fishing boat to leave the adjacent island and make for Welshpool early on Monday morning. The fisherman immediately got on to the telephone to inform the Lighthouse Service authorities in Melbourne.
If there is an explanation for this amazing delay, Mr Pratten as the Minister for Trade and Customs in charge of the Lighthouse Service should demand that it be given. Out of sight, out of mind seems to be the attitude of the Department towards its employees, for it does not even take the trouble to send a doctor around with the Lady Loch when she is paying her periodical visits to the lights, some of which do not have a vessel calling for three or four months.
During the period which elapsed between her husband's death and the arrival of the Lady Loch, Mrs Hague suffered an agony of the mind such as might well have deprived her of her reason.
It seemed as though Fate had all the cards stacked against her. Two steamers passed, but on each occasion heavy fog prevented signals from the island being seen. The poor woman could not understand why her message to the authorities had been disregarded, and as day by day she kept a fruitless vigil for the relief vessel her overstrung nerves and strain became more than she could stand.
"If help does not come tomorrow, I'll smash the light", she said to Hooper. The arrival of the Lady Loch spared her the necessity of carrying out that threat.
To the Last Farthing
The case demands firstly that there should be a thorough inquiry into the reason for the delay in sending help to this afflicted woman. Secondly, that she will be relieved of all claims upon her transfer to her present home; and thirdly, that she be relieved of the necessity of having the small sum of money left by her husband depleted by State and Federal Duties.
Williams family on northern Queensland Lighthouses
by David Llewellyn Williams
WW2 plane crash on Deal Island
Editor's Note: The following letter was forwarded to us from Tony Wark, whose great aunt and uncle were the Grahams. Their son was one of the airmen who died in the plane crash on Deal Island during WW2.
Feb. 19th 1944
Dear Mr Graham,
Having returned from my visit to Deal Island, I will try to tell, as well as I can, just how things are out there.
No doubt, you know that Deal Island is about sixty-four miles south and slightly east from Wilsons Promontory. It is quite a sizeable place, being roughly four miles square, and rising to a height of nearly one thousand feet. The landing jetty is in a beautiful little bay the mouth of which is protected by the neighbouring island of Erith. This bay is on the N.W. corner of the island and landing must be made by boat from the ship.
From the jetty, one has to walk some way along the beach in order to reach a winding track by which to climb to the top of the steep hill where the Head Keeper's house is situated. Here is also the radio plant. From this point, the ground falls away slightly, and there is a cart track crossing a patch of grassland, continuing up the hill for a short distance. From then on, the path enters thickly timbered country having dense undergrowth. The scrub is so thick in some places that it would be impossible to penetrate into it, but the whole place is very pretty and were it not so far away would be a wonderful holiday resort.
After much climbing, the lighthouse is reached. It is about three miles from the jetty and on the highest part of the island. On the way up, the second keeper's house is passed (Mr Munro). His place is a mile from the light and he has to climb up and down twice a day to attend to the turning on and turning off of the light. From the lighthouse to where the boys are resting is, at the moment, only a narrow and indistinct track, and it would be hard to find the way unless there was a guide to show where the path twisted and turned.
The four graves lie side by side in a little clearing nearly at the bottom of the hill on which the light stands and on the far side from the jetty. It is a pretty little spot in a valley running between two bays, and is within sound of the sea. The lightkeepers have done all that is possible to do in keeping the little plot in order, and I found everything in good condition. Looking from the way I came, the graves are in the following order, left to right:- Docherty, P. Hendrickson, R. Cowling, N. Graham. I am told that everything possible was done to see that the boys had a decent burial. They each had a separate service, and each was accorded Honors. The keepers assure us that they will care for the graves and have also undertaken to cut a wide footpath down the hill. The plane is still there. To give you some idea of the density of the scrub, I was within fifteen feet of the plane and could not see it. The plane is about ten yards away from the boys.
I do not know what the War Graves Commission intend to do about fixing up out there, and I think it may be as well to get into touch with them to find out their ideas. That being an isolated graveyard, it may be possible to get them to fix things up right away. Do you mind if I find out what they intend to do? If they do not intend to do something within a reasonable time, it may be desirable that we take over and do what we think fit ourselves. It would be fairly easy for us to send out the material, and I am sure that the keepers would be willing to assemble the covering for us. I had in mind that anything we did for one grave should be done for all, as otherwise Docherty's grave would perhaps be neglected as his people are so far away. I know that none of us would like that, as all the boys were pals together.
I hope I have been able to give you some idea that will help you to see more clearly in your mind how things are out there. I am glad I have been because I have been able to see for myself and am now more satisfied.
Having seen the position of the plane and from what Mr Munro has told me, I am satisfied that the boys flew into have a look at a ship which was really a wreck but could have been a vessel in hiding, and were caught in an air pocket in a valley between the two hills, and this was the cause of the accident. They were definitely rising again, but did not have enough height, and crashed into the side of the hill. Had they been only 30 feet higher, the accident would not have happened. As far as I can judge no blame was attached to any one person.
Mr Munro told me that a wreath was dropped on Armistice Day. We don't know by whose orders, but we thought it was a very fine gesture especially as far as we were concerned because it was our lad's birthday.
I would like to be able to see you some time, but with the train services as they are, it is fairly difficult to be sure of being where you would like to be at any given time.
I nearly forgot to mention that the people on Deal would like a photo of each of the boys. We must see what we can do to get one of Sgt Docherty from Scotland.
Mr Ford and Mr Munro were most helpful to me on my visit. In fact, the whole of the Lighthouse Department seemed anxious to do all they could in every way.
With kind regards to Mrs Graham and yourself,
LoA Committee member profile - Pauline O'Brien
I was born in 1953 and raised on a dairy farm in the Margaret River region in Western Australia, where the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse was a part of many childhood picnics, swimming lessons and showing overseas visitors around our beautiful coastal region.
My local Margaret River High School had a lighthouse emblem with the motto "Shine Forth". Within the grounds is a model of the Leeuwin Lighthouse built by the head cleaner, Mr J Todhunter. The lighthouse has been incorporated into the current school logo.
Coincidently, I have taught at four different primary schools that have a Lighthouse incorporated into their school emblem! I lived literally under the Geraldton Lighthouse for six months and have a deep emotional connection to the lights of Rottnest and Fremantle, which are visible to me as I leave early for work and when we go out at night....
My husband John has an interest in military history and so when we go on holiday trips, we find that military establishments are often situated close to lighthouses. A shared interest in local history has certainly made our travels around West Australia more interesting than just sightseeing. When visiting other places, it is always rewarding to speak to people who have a passionate interest in their own local history.
I currently work part time at Beaconsfield Primary School, teaching Visual Arts and co-ordinating our Information Technology Project, which involves the management of the system and helping teachers to incorporate the meaningful use of IT into their student's daily timetable. We introduce the students to a variety of software programs and show them how to create web pages, amongst other tasks.
I enjoy the continual challenge of the learning curve that is Information Technology. As my children become more independent and with more time, energy and enthusiasm to offer, I look forward to the opportunity to contribute further to Lighthouses of Australia Inc. As Secretary for the current committee, I am aware of being part of a strong and close-knit unit that is dedicated to the preservation of our lighthouse icons and the social history that is associated with them.
It was with Malcolm's encouragement that I took the step of putting up my own Lighthouses of Western Australia website. It will be updated with photos and details from our last three trips (South West, Great Southern and Batavia Coast) and I look forward to going away again.
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NOTES FROM PAULINE O'BRIEN'S SCHOOL DIARY
The lights situated on the rock breakwaters at the head of the Swan River and are called North Mole Head and South Mole Head, operating as guiding lights to the entrance of Fremantle Harbour, near Perth. As part of the local celebrations of the South Mole Light's 100th Anniversary in July this year, we took some of our young students to visit the "Beacons by the Sea Exhibition" and out to the end of the North Mole to view the South Mole Light up close.
This excursion provided knowledge and inspiration for the students to respond to a thematic project that we developed as part of the Harbour celebrations - to create a lighthouse of their own that could be later used by the Maritime Museum Education Staff.
The students learned that while the South Mole Light was made of cast iron panels brought out from England and built out on the Mole, they also learned that stone, brick, concrete and steel girders could also be used to build a tower. They also knew that "for a lighthouse to stand up against the wind and waves, its foundations must first be 'built down' before building the tower on top".
The challenge was for each student to create a model of the lighthouse using recycled materials. We encouraged the involvement of their family at home, but the student's ideas were to be incorporated into the design wherever possible. The simplistic view of a young child is precious - they didn't need to have a battery operated flashing light installed - a twist of coloured paper for a flashing light was just as good.
The purpose was not so much to build an identical scale-model, but to enjoy and learn. In the process of being involved, they discovered the existence of lighthouses, their importance to the safety of shipping, and that the South Mole Light had been flashing a welcome light continuously for 100 years.
I brought my love of lighthouses to school and shared my commitment with the kids - to promote, protect and conserve our lighthouses for the sake of history.
A Reminder to Parents
Saving MV Cape Don
My name is Chris Nicholls, and I am a member of the "Saving the MV Cape Don Society", a society whose purpose is to assist in accordance with best practice maritime heritage guidelines in the restoration, refurbishment and conservation of the historic Lighthouse Tender MV Cape Don as a part of the maritime history of Australia.
We note that in a recent letter to your newsletter from Frank Alliss entitled "Seeking assistance to save lighthouse tender Cape Don" (No 4/2003 - August 2003), Frank raised the issue of the plight of the MV Cape Don. You may be interested to know that his pleas have been answered and we are underway in the task to restore her to her former glory. If you and your readers would be interested, I would be happy to keep you informed of our progress.
I have attached a picture of the Cape Don as she is today.
Here is a potted history of the background to the MV Cape Don and the Society's intent:
MV Cape Don was built in 1963, one of a unique class of ships purpose-built to service navigational aids (including manned lighthouses) primarily around the West Australian coastline. As such, she was built as a mini-liner, with the lavish passenger accommodation necessary to carry technicians, relief lighthouse crews (sometimes whole families) and officials, sometimes for quite prolonged periods.
Cape Don was retired in the 1980s when Australian lighthouses were automated, and has had a fascinating history since then including as a prop in a major film (Low Tide). She was about to be refurbished as a small cruise ship for touring the Mediterranean when a downturn in world tourism two years ago caused the collapse of the company that owned her. She is now lying untended and deteriorating in Sydney Harbour at a remote wharf. We have decided that she deserves to be saved from the breakers and have formed a group called the 'Saving MV Cape Don Society'.
Our plan is to restore Cape Don to full operational status. It is intended that the vessel will be towed to Newcastle where she will be restored under expert supervision by volunteers, from apprentices and other work experience people under a scheme to help unemployed Newcastle youth.
When recommissioned, we hope that Cape Don might again explore the more remote ports and coastlines of Australia, in research and/or community assistance expeditions. Projects we have in mind include a voyage to the Gulf of Carpentaria to install water purification plants for remote settlements, and an expedition to Vanuatu to search for the lost Spanish settlement of New Jerusalem on the island of Espiritu Santo.
The Society’s efforts are being sponsored and assisted by the Australian Heritage Fleet - a like-minded organisation responsible for the restoration of the Lady Hopetoun and James Craig (amongst a fleet of other vessels) in Sydney.
For further information please contact:
A Big Country Revisited - Keepers Of The Light
On Tuesday 21 October 2003, at 8:00 pm, the ABC presented a program that explained that the era of manned lighthouses in Australia had come to an end, and we saw how the changes had affected one particular lightkeeper. Some lighthouses evoke deeply-held sentiments for reasons relatively few people understand - how do you describe the utter isolation on remote rocky outcrops, and the daily responsibility of maintaining a guiding light for mariners in some of the wildest waters of the world?
And how do you convince the powers-that-be that our historical lighthouses - these proud icons of our maritime heritage - are worth preserving in their original state for future generations?
John Cook was head lighthouse keeper at Maatsuyker, Australia's most southerly lighthouse. Perched on the edge of the Southern Ocean and framed by Tasmania's majestic southwest coast, wild gales and storms would often make access to this island impossible for months.
In 1975, A Big Country explored the lives of lighthouse keepers and their families on Tasmania's remote Maatsuyker and Tasman Islands. This way of life was passing, with lighthouses being shut down or automated.
Twenty-eight years on, A Big Country Revisited - Keepers of the Light finds the rigors of lighthouse keeping have taken a toll. Like Maatsuyker, John's purpose has been superseded by the new technologies and we see a man who is aging and tired, unable to revisit his beloved lightstation. Emotionally, John doesn't seem to have come to terms with the loss of his isolated former life.
The closest this ex-lightkeeper can get to a lighthouse now is to visit his last posting at Cape Bruny where he was caretaker after it was automated. We travel with John and one of his former colleagues, Tony Parsey, as they make a nostalgic visit after 10 years away.
Lighthouses of Australia Inc. received some letters that praised the ABC's story:
Robin Wendleman writes:
Armand Schepis thanked Malcolm Macdonald for having told him about the documentary being screened:
Christian Bell remarked what an excellent episode it was.
For those readers who also saw the program and enjoyed it, we suggest that you offer your compliments to ABC Feedback and a well-placed comment regarding the issue of lighthouse preservation.
If this story has touched you and you are not already a member of Lighthouses of Australia, we invite you to join now! Support the preservation, protection and promotion of historical Australian lighthouses, and recognise the irreplaceable contribution that the lightkeepers, and their families, the crew of the lighthouse ships, the service technicians, support staff and administrators have made to the maritime, architectural and cultural heritage that our children will inherit. Your financial support is important and necessary for this work to continue. Thankyou.
Norah Head Lighthouse Centenary
The Centenary of Norah Head lighthouse will be officially celebrated on 15 November 2003.
Planning has been underway for several months and a special centenary news section has been established on the Wyong Shire Council website.
Events being considered include an Air Force flyover, an antique car rally, a street parade, and school writing and art competitions. The centenary planning group has also put out a call for former Norah Head lighthouse keepers and their families who would like to be involved in the activities.
For more information, contact:
New book - Lighthouses of Australia: A Visitors Guide
John Ibbotson has produced another excellent book on Australian lighthouses, which serves as a travelling companion to those who are coasting around Australia. Clear and concise information in a robust and conveniently-sized publication, with the author's trademark high-quality images.
This is not a coffee table book; it is an ‘out and about’ book! It guides us to scenic lighthouses like Cape Bruny and Cape Du Couedic as well as other structures (e.g. Cape Jervis and Cleveland Point), which leave you guessing as to what motivated their design.
What inspires John Ibbotson? It requires an abundance of passion, a strong commitment, and an enormous amount of energy to produce such a book. Lovers of Australian lighthouses can now enjoy the long-awaited result of John's labour.
The Visitor's Guide contains:
The details for obtaining access to various lighthouses are very clear, and accommodation details included. There are seventeen lighthouses in Australia that currently provide regular accommodation in the old keepers' quarters. Some others have accommodation close-by but not in the keepers' cottages.
This book is a good companion for selected coastal trips and fits snugly into most glove boxes. The publication was fully produced within Australia.
On the very last page, John even whets our appetite with a photograph of a somewhat unusual lighthouse inclusive of a hint to a scheduled 2005 book on offshore lights!
The book was launched at an exhibition held at the Aspects Gallery in Blairgowrie on the Mornington Peninsula, south-east of Melbourne, over 3-19 October 2003.
Apart from launching the new book, John was also introducing his 2004 Lighthouses of Australia calendar, and exhibiting a number of lighthouse prints, all of them enlargements from his successful previous book Lighthouses of Australia - Images From the End of an Era.
John himself was present at the gallery on the 11th and 12th October, talking to the public and signing the copies of his latest book - hot off the press.
The thirty or so lighthouse prints are of spectacular quality and completely show their artistic aspect when enlarged and framed. The prints are available for sale from John at the contact address below.
The retail price of the book is $39.95 (inc. GST) but LoA members as well as buyers who are ordering the book based on hearing about it through LoA Inc will get a $5 discount - giving a price (including postage in Australia) of $35.00.
The new book can be purchased from the author by contacting John Ibbotson:
Reviews by Steve Merson, Denise Shultz & Marguerite Stephen
It is up to those of you who believe in the Preservation, Protection and Promotion of Australia's lighthouse heritage to throw your hat into the ring, whether it just be a financial member or direct involvement on the committee, web pages, the Bulletin or some other aspect that could enrich the site.
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New Pages & Links
New Pages for Australia:
New Links for Australia: Volunteer needed to help with links for Australia
New Links for World: Volunteer needed to help with links for World
Thanks to the following people for their help with this edition of the Bulletin:
Thanks to all the people who have put links to the site, and those who let LoA use their photos for thumbnails.
Past Bulletins: Past Monthly News, Preservation or Access Bulletins can be accessed from the Bulletin Index.
Contact Lighthouses of Australia Inc: Contact details for various queries to Lighthouses of Australia Inc (LoA Inc).
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