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Bulletin – Vol 9 No. 3 – May/June 2006
Tasman Island Centenary celebrations
by Denise Shultz, Lighthouses of Australia Inc President. All photographs by Denise Shultz unless otherwise specified
It was to be a grand celebration of one of Australia's most spectacular lighthouse's centenary. A lot of effort went into organising this event especially by the Rotary Club of Tasman Peninsula, Friends of Tasman Island, Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service and AMSA.
1. View of Tasman Island from Safety Cove, with tower just visible.
2. Tasman Island Lighthouse from Safety Cove
3. Bonnie & Denise Shultz ready for takeoff (photo: Carol Jackson)
The island was to be prepared for the invasion several days before the day by Friends of Tasman Island with the help of Tasmanian Parks. Paths were to be cleared, dangerous parts of the island marked with warning signs and the houses put in a more presentable condition. AMSA was to land two experts on the island to make the necessary arrangements to allow the incoming visitors safe access to the lighthouse.
1. View from the helicopter (photo: Carol Jackson)
2. Safely landed on the island - the helicopter from the lighthouse
3. Carol Jackson & John Cook, former residents of Tasman Island
For months before, John Hay from the Rotary Club was busy taking bookings for helicopter flights to Tasman Island. People from all over Tasmania and many from the Australian mainland embraced the unique opportunity with great enthusiasm. Around 120 visitors booked to be landed on the island. Two helicopters would shuttle the visitors in ten minute intervals from Safety Cove to Tasman Island, taking them back after they stayed for two hours. During that time, the visitors would have a chance to climb the tower, inspect the houses and walk 800m down to admire the view from the top of the haulage way.
1. Bonnie sets up her camera equipment
2. Bonnie, Trauti & Carol Jackson
3. Bonnie busy cleaning the door at the Head Keepers Quarters
As the date was approaching, the excitement was building up and the possibility of anything interfering with the trip was pushed far away from everyone's mind.
But still, it happened. The weather took a turn for the worse on Friday afternoon, continued to be bad on Saturday and the doom was completed on Sunday. No helicopter pilot in their right mind would attempt to land in such weather. The celebration was off and the trips had to be postponed. And yet, the lighthouse had its birthday party, though much less grandiose.
1. Denise & Bonnie Shultz on Tasman Island, with Cape Pillar in the background (photo: Chris Creese)
2. The columns of rock eventually fall over and end up balanced horizontally.
3. A rainbow over the cliffs of Tasman Island.
A group of nine fortunate people were already on the island and they made it happen for the old lighthouse. Nearly a week before the centenary, on Monday 27 March, nine volunteers were due to land on Tasman Island to make some preparations for the upcoming celebration. They were: Carol Jackson - "lighthouse kid" who was born on the island; Sandy Leighton, entomologist and botanist; Phil Wicks, ranger from Parks Tasmania, whiz with the brush cutter and all around handyman; Carol Markby, also a ranger from Parks, builder, organiser and the safety police; Chris Creese, handyman, yachtsman, brew maker and photographer; David Reynolds, plumber, handyman and veteran Deal Island caretaker and his wife Trauti, also a Deal Island veteran and cleanliness addict. Then there was me, Denise Shultz, a lighthouse fanatic and my daughter Bonnie, an aspiring film-maker.
1. The Headkeeper's Quarters, with amazing cliff views.
2. The view from the verandah towards the lighthouse.
3. Phil fixing the post at Quarters 2 -The First Assistants Quarters.
The day we were supposed to lift off from the paddock at Safety Cove was a bit rainy and after some frantic phone calls by Carol M. and Phil, we learned that the trip would be postponed till the next day, when the forecast was for much better weather. On Tuesday, the conditions were near perfect and, once again, we gathered at the paddock at Safety Cove to be lifted off to Tasman.
Our belongings, food supplies and tools already packed in two huge fish bags, we were airlifted to our destination. The flight along the rugged coast of Tasman Peninsula took less than ten minutes but it was spectacular. The pilot took us to the cliff edges of Cape Pillar and the Blade, then followed the eastern coast of the island and landed on the concrete helipad. Nothing could have prepared us for the feeling we experienced when we stepped down to the grassy plain of Tasman Island. The beauty of the place took our breath away.
1. Keeper's cottage with views....
2. The lighthouse and cottages from the helipad.
3. The explorers: Bonnie, Trauti, Sandy, the two Carols and Phil are pushing through the tall grass along the eastern cliffs.
By the time we got acquainted with each other, the last of the four helicopter landings took place, taking away one of us, John Cook, the 'last Tasmanian kerosene lightkeeper'. He and Chris Creese were searching for the area reportedly riddled with dangerous sinkholes but since the grass and bushes had taken over the island with such vengeance, it was a near impossible task. John still managed to roughly identify the area we should avoid.
1. Inspecting one of the deep sinkholes on the Island
2. David, Carol Jackson & Carol Markby with Cape Pillar in the background.
3. Enjoying the sun whilst at the Zig Zag track.
When the sound of the rotating chopper blades died out, we finally had time to move into the house closest to the tower, the former Second Assistant Keepers Quarters. The first impression was pretty gloomy. Broken windows, mouldy walls, filthy floors, unusable bathroom and toilet, dusty kitchen. But anything can be made better with a bit of TLC and so after we chose the rooms to sleep in, we pulled our sleeves up and got to work straight away. David, Phil and Chris were busy connecting the generator, gas and water pump, us women were cleaning up the kitchen, bathroom and the pantry. By 4pm the house had electricity, gas and running water, the bathroom was reasonably clean and the toilet was flushable. The mattresses were aired and rooms swept. It was now a liveable house.
1. Denise Shultz on the haulage way (photo: Carol Markby).
2. It's a long way down to the sea.
3. All that remains of the haulage machinery.
The first three days were warm and sunny with little wind and calm seas, so much so that David, Trauti and Carol M. braved sleeping outside in their tents. Split into four teams, we made the most of it. We slashed over 1km of paths, cut the grass from the concrete helipad and created another one nearby for an emergency. Our house now also had a neat front yard with the grass cut and weeds removed. Phil, Chris and Sandy were real experts with brush cutters and with the help of the rest of us as rakers, the work was progressing faster than expected. We were pushing ahead with the work outdoors while the weather held. Meanwhile, Sandy and Carol M. were busy marking the GPS of the buildings and other man-made structures but also weeds, where it was not possible to get rid of them immediately. Warning signs and labels were placed around the island and on the houses.
1. The haulage way is almost totally overgrown with grass and bushes. Sandy (sitting on hand rail), David, Carol J, Carol M, Chris, Bonnie and Trauti sit down to assess the slope.
2. Trauti carefully descends the haulage way
3. The group returns to the lighthouse carefully negotiating the ledge along the cliffs
After 4pm when the work finished, we went in search of adventure. The island is not very big, but since it had been abandoned in 1976, the grass previously grazed short by sheep and cattle, had taken off with abundance. Protected by the grass, the bushes also started to grow and today, there are thickets of white correa, mountain berry and pittosporum. On the more remote parts of the island, banksias, casuarinas and leptospermum thrive. Moving around the island is therefore no easy walk.
Exploration of the island was much more difficult than we expected to be but eventually, we looked down the cliff sides on both western and the eastern side of the island and descended a quarter of the way down the haulage way, its rails now barely visible under the thick cover of grass and bush. We sat at the upper end of the zigzag track, soaking up the sun, taking in the almost unrealistically beautiful view.
1. Soft light at sunrise bathes the tower in a pink sheen
2. Sunrise appears over distant Cape Pillar
3. The tower is equally beautiful at dusk.
Friday morning was the last time we enjoyed good weather. In the afternoon it took a turn for the worse. We nearly completed the outdoor work and could now turn to the indoor tasks. We removed broken glass from the cottages, cleaned the front windows, doors and floor in the entrance hall in the Head Keepers Quarters, while Sandy and Carol M. did a thorough heritage assessment of the houses.
1. The Tasman Island lighthouse overlooks sheer cliffs
2. The group walks towards the tower through the long grass
3. The weather station on Tasman Island.
The wet and windy conditions continued on Saturday and as a result, the AMSA men were unable to land on the island and prepare the lighthouse. The forecast for Sunday was not good, but we still refused to give up hope that everything would go ahead as planned. By the evening and after a few calls to the 'Big Island', it became obvious that there would be a lot of disappointed people on Sunday. We learned that everything had been cancelled. That, of course, meant that we would not be able to get off the island either. No one seemed to be devastated by the fact, just the opposite. We were determined to make the most of it.
1. Carol J stands near a rusty winch, formerly part of the haulage equipment
2. Chris, Carol & Bonnie in the long grass
3. After a day of hard work, Trauti, David, Carol J. and Bonnie are coming up back to the house along the newly cleared path.
We continued to work all Sunday as usual till 4 o clock and finished all the brush cutting and cleaning we could possibly manage. Then, when it stopped raining for a while, we look out the signal flags and all sorts of cameras and walked a few metres to the lighthouse. We fooled around, taking pictures and video recording the scene. Then we all held hands in a chain and sang a Happy Birthday song, never mind that the wind was trying to blow us off the lighthouse base. We felt honoured to be there on such an important day. If it was not for the bad weather, we would have all departed with the first return flights and other people would be celebrating instead.
1. The group fights the wind out to the tower.
2. Nine people - nine flags. David and Trauti Reynolds, Bonnie Shultz, Carol Markby, Chris Creese, Sandy Leighton, Phil Wicks, Denise Shultz and Carol Jackson proudly display the flags which read in signal code TASMAN100 (photo: Bonnie Shultz)
3. The group braves the cold wind and rain to celebrate the lighthouse centenary.
We felt both privileged and responsible to bring on the celebration on behalf and for the sake
of all the people who did not make it to the island that day (photo: Bonnie Shultz).
After dinner, we had a toast for the lighthouse with whatever alcohol we had left, which was not much. We knew that this was our last day on Tasman and we would be off the next day. When the helicopter arrived mid-morning on Monday, we found it hard to say good bye to the island. In good or bad weather, it looked stunning and left us utterly charmed, longing to come back. It brought us closer to each other. Together, we had fun working and exploring, together we enjoyed cooking and eating, together we laughed and fooled around every evening. What a beautiful place, what a great group of people!
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