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Monthly Bulletin
January/February 2005 - Vol 8 No. 1


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Group on the dunes at Kingston SE
Robert Mock (left) entertains guests on the sand dunes opposite his shack at Cape Jaffa
Photo: Steve Merson

SA trip – December 2004

by Steve Merson, Chief Editor, Lighthouses of Australia Inc.

Cape Jaffa Platform
The Cape Jaffa Platform, resplendent with cormorants and Australasian gannets
Photo: Steve Merson

The road to the lighthouse, any lighthouse, is long. The editorial team (Denise, Kristie and I) set off from Melbourne early, picked up Malcolm in Geelong and headed west for SA. First stop over the border was to see John Nicholson at the Family History Research Centre in Millicent. John showed us his working documents on the history of Penguin Island, some striking images of the tug Nyora were displayed, and we pored over other historical papers regarding SA lighthouses. John has done some fine research on the Cape Jaffa platform and written the story of the missing lightkeepers. He also publishes a newsletter for the Research Centre. We enjoyed his detailed commentary, a cup of tea and cakes, and then proceeded on.

Arriving in Kingston at 1800 hrs, we found Robert and Glenda Mock’s famous shack along the beachfront esplanade. Setting ourselves up on the sand dune overlooking the beach and Lacapede Bay to taste Robert’s white wine and some nibbles, we introduced ourselves to each other before the sun went down. Present were Marie and Frank Chester, Garry Searle, John Ibbotson, Rhonda and Dean Smith, Trevor Buckell, and ourselves.

The Cape Jaffa Lighthouse at Kingston SE
The Cape Jaffa lighthouse at Kingston S.E.
Photo: Steve Merson
Cape Jaffa memorial to lost seafarers and lighthouse keepers
Frank Chester, Malcolm Macdonald, Garry Searle, Denise Shultz & Kristie Eggleston
The memorial to lost seafarers and lighthouse keepers at Cape Jaffa
Photo: Steve Merson

Always a mixed bag, lighthouse enthusiasts have the broad view of seeing things as they have been, how they are now, and what’s desirable and possible in preserving heritage structures for future generations to appreciate. 

Returning to the back veranda of the shack, Robert, Glenda and their daughter Frances prepared a robust BBQ dinner with salads and a few more refreshing drinks. We exchanged stories, jokes and information until Robert ushered us into the living room for a slide show of the Cape Jaffa lighthouse platform. 

Photographed from all angles, with many close-ups, the platform and its current occupants - the Australasian gannets, showed up in graphic detail on the wall. Robert’s scholarly commentary, delivered in his considered and personable style, was terrific. By the end of the presentation, the visitors were more informed and keen to get an even closer look the following day.

We found our bunks and retired with salt air in our nostrils. Saturday dawned, still and fresh. The sea was calm. No wind. Robert launched his Haines Signature with 130hp outboard and boarded us all at the jetty landing at Cape Jaffa for the short run out to the platform, situated on Margaret Brock Reef, five miles off the coast.

The Cape Jaffa lens
The Cape Jaffa lighthouse lens and mantle
Photo: Steve Merson

The light was commissioned in 1872 and operated for just over 100 years. A new lighthouse was built on the mainland at Robe to replace it. The Cape Jaffa lighthouse was then dismantled from the platform and reassembled on the foreshore at Kingston in 1976, to be managed by the National Trust.

A bedroom full of antiques in the Cape Jaffa lighthouse
The Cape Jaffa lighthouse museum has been furnished with beautiful antiques
Photo: Steve Merson

Robert Mock and friends are lobbying to prevent the platform being dismantled, on the grounds that this heritage structure is still very much secure and safe, and that it provides refuge for a thriving community of Australasian gannets, and Pied and Black-faced cormorants.

The platform loomed impressive as we approached. Idling close, we were conscious of the mildly curious attention of hundreds of elegant birds that sat squatted on the guano covered timber deck and perched along the rusted railings. As soon as the motor stopped, their conversational squawks became audible. They did not seem to be too bothered by us intruders. What a turn-around…

Denise Shultz winds up the Cape Jaffa lighthouse mechanism
Denise & Joan Walker, Secretary of the Kingston branch of the National Trust
Denise winds up the mechanism in the Cape Jaffa tower
Photo: Steve Merson

As we took it all in, we considered the elements that show the passage of time… the geological origins of the reef system protruding from a sandy bottom; the remaining two pylons of the Lipson Beacon, erected in 1854 to warn mariners of the danger; and the massive skeleton of the platform – still standing after countless tempests. There is also a relatively new beacon of steel and concrete that carries an operational light. Together, the three man-made structures demonstrate different engineering solutions to the same problem – to provide navigational aids to assist seafarers in safe passage.

Returning ashore, we stood before the memorial on the foreshore at Cape Jaffa and paid homage to the seafarers, fishermen and lightkeepers who lost their lives at sea. John Nicholson was instrumental in having the memorial erected, and he wrote a book in 2002 to tell their stories and commemorate them (Cape Jaffa ISBN 0-9580676-0-0)

Port Adelaide lighthouse tower at sunset
The Port Adelaide lighthouse at sunset
Photo: Steve Merson

We drove back to Kingston where Robert had arranged for Joan Walker, Secretary of the Kingston branch of the National Trust, to conduct us through the Cape Jaffa lighthouse – a perfectly preserved example of a lighthouse where the keeper and his family lived in the actual lighthouse. A truly fascinating display of authentic domestic furnishings, decorations and clothing of the era, and wonder of wonders – a manual winding mechanism that still works to turn the prism.

The Port Adelaide lens
The magnificent Port Adelaide lens
Photo: Steve Merson

Proceeding on to Adelaide, we arrived at the Port Adelaide lighthouse at 1800 hrs on Saturday. Fritz Bonner and Garry Searle showed us through what is not, strictly speaking, a working lighthouse, but the mechanism operates perfectly under Fritz’s guiding and caring hand. And the light works too.

We met more enthusiasts here and over at the Birkenhead Hotel where we assembled for dinner on the patio to watch the light come on at dusk. SA stalwarts were Graham Arriola, Tim Hartley, Steve Goldy, Bob and Denise Battersby, Margaret and Jim Cooper, Dorothy Pyatt, Bob Duthie, Dave Ward, Robyn Burns, Rob, Sharon and Clara Lincoln, and Trevor, Marie and Frank drove up from Cape Jaffa (stirling effort) and of course the Melb visitors including John Ibbotson. Garry and Fritz came over to the pub once they had shut the light down. My apologies if I have excluded anyone’s name. It was dark by then.

The Port Adelaide lighthouse at dsuk
The Port Adelaide lighthouse lit up at sunset
Photo: Steve Merson
The Port Adelaide lighthouse lantern
The Port Adelaide lantern
Photo: Steve Merson

As visitors to the Limestone coast and Port Adelaide, we felt privileged to be welcomed as we were. It feels great to be associated with ordinary people making extra-ordinary efforts to pursue a cause that they feel strongly about - to preserve, protect and promote our significant historical maritime structures for the benefit of the human community. Also, hats off to those who are striking a blow for the natural world – recent disasters that nature has caused should remind us that if we lose our relevance to the planet, nature could remove us all. Evolution is all about remaining relevant to the environment, or to the circumstances around us.

Steve Merson
Chief Editor
Email Steve

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