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Lighthouses of Queensland

State Indexes > QLD > Low Isles Lighthouse

The Low Isles Lighthouse

The Low Isles tower was constructed on a timber frame with a galvanised sheath in the typical Queensland fashion, however it was the first to have porthole windows.

The Low Isle Ligthouse amongst the tropical vegetation [Photograph: Tina Alderson]
The Low Isle Lighthouse amongst the tropical vegetation
Photograph: Tina Alderson


LOCATION: Lat. 16º 23' S, Long. 145º 34' E (map)
OPERATOR: Australian Maritime Safety Authority
CONSTRUCTION: Timber Frame with Galvanised Sheeting
CHARACTER: Flashing White 0.02 in 10 secs
LIGHT SOURCE: 120v 1,000w Tungsten Halogen Lamp
INTENSITY: 21,000 cd
ELEVATION: 28 metres to weather vane
RANGE: 16 nm
HEIGHT: 26 metres to weather vane
CUSTODIAN: Queensland Parks & Wildlife

The island the tower is on is now controled by Queensland Parks & Wildlife [Photograph: Tina Alderson]
The island the tower is now controlled
by Queensland Parks & Wildlife

Photograph: Tina Alderson


On Queensland's Great Barrier Reef, the Low Isles (Islets) are 2 small coral cays located 13 kilometres from Port Douglas. They are situated on the western edge of the main shipping channel.

The lighthouse was first recommended by the Chairman of the Queensland Marine Board, Commander George Heath, in a letter to the Colonial Treasurer in February 1876.

The recommendation was accepted with tenders being called and the contract subsequently being awarded for £3,195 to Willeam Peter Clark, who had constructed the Bustard Head lighthouse.

The lightstation, on the flat low lying western island, was completed and exhibited in 1878. The 18 metre tower was constructed on a timber frame with a galvanised sheath in the typical Queensland fashion, however Low Isles was the first to have porthole windows. Attached to the top was a 1.5m diameter lantern manufactured by Chance Bros of Birmingham, England.

A timber staircase gives access to the lantern room. The tower was painted white with a red dome. All the buildings were prefabricated elsewhere and transported and assembled on site.

The final cost of the lightstation was:
capital cost of buildings - £4,090
cost of optical apparatus- £1,389

The original oil burners were converted to vapourised kerosene in 1923, the illuminant and the lights intensity increased from 13,000 to 100,000 candelas and character was altered.

The character was altered again in 1930. The light was again upgraded in 1963 to electric operation.

At this point the apparatus was a Chance Bros 3rd order 500mm focal radius revolving lens supported by a roller bearing rotating pedestal driven by an electric motor. The solar conversion and installation of a 16 nautical miles self-contained beacon was made in 1993, when the station became demanned.

The Low Isles Lighthouse is on a low flat coral cay surrounded by thick vegetation [Photograph: SC]
The Low Isles Lighthouse is on a low flat coral cay surrounded by thick vegetation
Photograph: Sam Calder

The size of the island has led to a compact arrangement of cottages and sheds around the lighthouse. The original cottages were built in a radial arc around the tower. The same arrangement was used when these cottages were replaced in the early 1960s. The new Keepers' Residences are nearly identical, with only minor adaptations, such as a kitchen servery in the Head Keepers' cottage. The new cottages were raised in the tropical style with the area underneath being available for utility areas, workshop and stores. A new fibro boat house was built in 1963. None of the original cottages and buildings remain.

Provisions and mail were brought to the island every two weeks, if they were lucky, by launch from Mossman or Port Douglas. Access for supplies was through a beach landing point on the south-west corner of the island with a designated path for amphibious landing vehicles such as LARCs.

The island is well vegetated with trees, particularly at its perimeter, though in the past been subject to severe damage by cyclone activity.

The light was transferred from the Queensland Government to the new Commonwealth Lighthouse Service in 1915.

Prior to this an assessment made of Low Isles by Commander Brewis in 1912 found:

The light was transferred to the Queensland Government and is now under the management of the Parks & Wildlife Service.


On the western side of the island is an unidentified grave. The headstone and grave have been partially reconstructed in recent times.

Three keepers manned Low Isles, the head keeper and two assistant keepers. Keepers had one month's holiday a year and they always left the island.

Duties during the day included:

  • maintenance of the station, i.e. cleaning, raking leaves, painting etc.
  • cleaning and polishing the lens and the lantern room windows.
  • sanitary duties.

The watch was as follows:

  • Head keeper: 4-8pm watch, and
  • the two assistant keepers: 8pm-midnight and 12 midnight - 4am shift (alternating every week).

During a shift the clock had to be wound up every hour and the air cylinder pumped up every hour.


We need your help in compiling a list of keepers for this lighthouse. If you have any information then send it to Web Keeper.

Please include this lighthouse's name, the keepers full name and what years they were keepers. Also include the same information for any other lights they were on.

The headkeeper and Lloyd Williams on right on Low Island supplementing their stores (c1951) [Photograph: David Llewellyn Williams]
The headkeeper and Lloyd Williams on right on Low Island supplementing their stores (c1951)
Photograph: David Llewellyn Williams

Keeper Lloyd Williams and family
Photograph: David Llewellyn Williams


NEAREST TOWN: Port Douglas
DISTANCE: 13km (Port Douglas)
: <<>> (Brisbane)
ACCESS: The lagoon here provides a good anchorage and is a popular destination for large catamarans with day-trippers from Port Douglas.
TOURS: <<>>

The lighthouse is on the western island of the two cays that make up the Low Isles [Photograph: Tina Alderson]
The lighthouse is on the western island of the two cays that make up the Low Isles
Photograph: Tina Alderson

The Surrounding Area


Around Australia Chasing Lighthouses (Part 2 of 3) Bulletin Dec 00
Annette Flotwell's East Coast Lighthouse Trip: Part 1 Bulletin Sep 01
Lighthouses From the Air: Part 7 Bulletin Mar 02
Annette Flotwell's East Coast Lighthouse Trip: Part 3 Bulletin Sep 03


Calling All Low Isles Keepers Bulletin Apr 00
Arthur Henry Warren of the Low Isles Bulletin Sep 01

Other Low Isles Sites

The Low Isles at Port Douglas Reef Pix

The Low Isles Lighthouse from the air [Photograph: Winsome Bonham]
The Low Isles Lighthouse from the air
Photograph: Winsome Bonham

Special Thanks to:

  • AMSA for Technical Information
  • David Llewellyn Williams for Photograph
  • Peter Bird for Technical Information
  • SC for Photograph
  • Tina Alderson for Photographs
  • Winsome Bonham for Photograph


  • From Dusk Till Dawn by Gordon Reid
  • Chart AUS 831 Cruising the Coral Coast
  • Low Isles Lightstation Queensland by Ron Danvers Architects
  • Major Lighthouses of Queensland by JH Thorburn
  • Register of the National Estate
  • Tina Alderson

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