|In this Issue|
Letter from the Editors
Williamstown’s historic Timeball tower is probably Melbourne’s best kept lighthouse secret. After Cape Otway, it is the second oldest lighthouse in Victoria but because it functioned as one only for a short period of time (1850-1860) and has not been looking like a lighthouse for many years, it is often overlooked by lighthouse enthusiasts.
The recognition and preservation of this tower and its surroundings is, however, close to the heart of our member Cyril Curtain. His article introduces us to the history of this bluestone tower, which was originally a lighthouse and reveals the recent events in which the local residents are co-operating with Parks Victoria and the local council to assure that the tower and reserve are available for the public to use and enjoy. The Point Gellibrand case clearly shows that the public opinion can make a difference and could be an example for other groups seeking similar goals.
To continue the tradition of publishing the memories of “lighthouse kids” we have Ian Cameron’s recollection of events that had taken place on Montague Island during Christmas 1934 and in the aftermath of his father's death in early 1935. Ian Cameron’s father Joseph (Jock) had a long association with Royal Navy and later State and Commonwealth Lighthouse Service.
Ian and his four brothers and one sister lived with their parents at Montague Island, Cape Byron, Smoky Cape, Seal Rocks (Sugarloaf Point), Norah Head and Macquarie lighthouses. Ian himself continued in his father's steps and worked for the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service as an electrical tradesman and later as a Supervisor for Maritime Aids until his retirement in 1983.
Two different lighthouses, but similar tragic events which took place around the same time are the subject of another article.
The Cape Jaffa platform is not safe yet and the fight for its survival continues in a form of an unusual protest action.
Richard Jermyn is currently working as a volunteer caretaker at Maatsuyker Island. He gives us his informed opinion about the recent debate on the lightstation’s future.
A report on a very interesting meeting of Victorian members at Cape Schanck closes this issue. Good reading!
By Cyril Curtain
Today, Point Gellibrand at Williamstown is a windswept open space, commanding stunning views across Melbourne’s shipping channel and northern Port Phillip Bay. The only feature rising above ground is a basalt (bluestone) tower, surmounted by a copper ball and a staff. It is the sole visible survivor of nearly 170 years of the history of sea and land transport in Victoria. Point Gellibrand was the first landing place for the Port Phillip settlement when it was established in 1834. It has been described by eminent historian Geoffrey Blainey as significant a site as Sydney’s Circular Quay.
The first light
The first recorded structure on the point was a timber light tower. In 1836 Captain William Hobson recommended to Governor Bourke that a lighthouse be placed at Pt. Nepean and two beacons inland. By 1839 the Port Phillip Superintendent C.J. La Trobe had arranged for Richard Dawson of Sydney to provide a brass lamp fuelled by whale oil which was placed on a thirty feet high timber frame at Gellibrand's Point, designed by James Rattenbury, Clerk of Works to the Port Phillip District. Barrel buoys were moored nearby to mark the channel and mariners were advised that the light would shine after sunset from August 1840. The first lightkeeper and signalman was a Mr. A. McNaughton. It was the first permanent navigational tower light at Port Phillip and the first in Victoria. It is shown in a painting of the Williamstown foreshore made by the new colony’s surveyor Robert Hoddle in 1840. The chart from the 1843 survey carried out by John Lort Stokes in HMS Beagle shows a fixed light at Point Gellibrand. It was noted to be visible from 7 nautical miles.
The bluestone lighthouse
In 1849-50, a tapered, square-plan quarry faced castellated bluestone tower with dividing string moulds, five internal levels and four rectangular windows on each face, aligned vertically, was built by James Linacre to the design of Henry Ginn, Colonial Architect, to replace the earlier timber structure. The original light from the latter was mounted in a domed light compartment on the top of the tower, which was painted white.
An impression of the tower is given in a coloured lithograph by Edmund Thomas published in 1853. After Cape Otway (1846-48), it is the second oldest light tower in Victoria. Its bluestone construction, ladder access and square section makes it unique among Australian towers.
The timeball era
The use of a time-ball to signal the correct time to vessels in port began in 1833 at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich in England where a ball was dropped every day from the top of a pole at one o’clock in the afternoon. Five minutes before the hour, the ball was raised in preparation for the signal and its position would be visible to ships in harbour, allowing ships to correct their chronometers. The Greenwich time-ball was not only a signal to mariners but was also public time signal to those ashore.
In July 1853, R.J.L Ellery, the first Government Astronomer of Victoria, was appointed to set up a nautical observatory at Williamstown. His job included astronomical observation and the calculation of the correct time so as to signal it to the ships by means of a time-ball installed on a flagstaff at Point Gellibrand to notify ships in harbour of the correct time. As in Greenwich, the ball was dropped at one o’clock every afternoon. In August 1853, a public time signal was established for the citizens of Melbourne on Flagstaff Hill. An observer there used a telescope to see the time-ball at Williamstown fall at one o’clock each and dropped a similar ball at as near as possible instant. In 1854, Melbourne and Williamstown were connected by electric telegraph, Australia’s first, enabling more accurate synchronisation. The line was later extended to Geelong, which also acquired a timeball, putting three of the major towns in the colony on the same time.
The tip of Point Gellibrand is not the best location for a leading light into Hobson's Bay since a large area of basalt reef extends for several hundred metres east offshore. The shipping channel was marked and a lightship (later replaced by a pile light) was placed close to the south-eastern extremity of the reef. The light on the tower was extinguished in 1860 and the timeball apparatus put in its place. The construction of Coode Canal and Victoria Dock up the Yarra River in the 1870’s made the time-ball signal less important as fewer ships anchored at Williamstown. Its function was finally taken over by hourly time signals transmitted by radio stations and the time-ball ceased to operate in August 1926, its apparatus dismantled. By then the light on the Gellibrand Pile Light had lost its singularity against the background of the city lights and in 1934, a cylindrical brick tower was built on top of the old bluestone tower to support a navigation beacon used by pilots on ships entering the Yarra River. In 1989 this second tower was removed so that the Time-Ball Tower could be restored and the time-ball apparatus replaced.
The context of the Tower
Point Gellibrand is a most historic site, dating from the earliest settlement at Melbourne. Apart from the time ball and observatory, activities there included defence, railway workshops, cemetery and extensive on-shore port facilities built for the handling of bagged grain. The remains of wheat silos, a project later aborted, are still visible underneath a car park.
Authorities were concerned about the vulnerability of Melbourne to raiding warships during the gold rushes. In 1855 a shore defence battery was built on an arc of land reclaimed to the south east of the lighthouse. The semicircular redoubt housed nine guns, with a magazine halfway back to the lighthouse. This battery, and another of six guns at Sandridge, was the only shore defence up until the early 1860s. With the acceptance in 1861 of the plan of Captain Scratchley of the Royal Engineers for defence of Hobson's Bay, this battery became known as the ‘left’ battery, being one of four batteries at Point Gellibrand. These were upgraded with the use of convict labour in 1871. The range of available guns rapidly improved and it became possible to defend Port Phillip from batteries at Point Nepean and Queenscliff. By the end of the 1870s, only the Fort Gellibrand batteries were maintained, and the Lighthouse Battery was dismantled in the 1880s or 1890s. The current car park to seaward of the time ball tower covers the approximate area of the battery.
The Railway Workshops were built from 1857 between Williamstown and the Railway (Gellibrand) and Breakwater Piers. The Workshops dominated the area from the end of the 1850s until the new Workshops at Newport opened in 1889. The area then became part of a larger railway goods yard serving the Gellibrand and Breakwater Piers, with large goods sheds paralleling the rail tracks and even abutting the Time Ball Tower.
In the early 1960’s the then Melbourne Harbour Trust proposed to expand the port area by reclaiming 45 ha of the seabed immediately to the south east of the point. The residents of Williamstown vehemently opposed this proposal and the Victorian Trades Hall Council banned work on the project. This was arguably Australia’s first ‘green ban’. It is important to note that that the objections were made on environmental and amenity grounds. Heritage did not come into it. As time went by, it became clear that changes in cargo handling technology and the discovery of oil in Bass Strait meant that the reclamation would be a white elephant. This did not prevent it from appearing in the Trust’s Port development plans as late as 1974. By the late 1970’s the wheat sheds were being dismantled and the railway lines removed and proposals for the reclamation quietly died.
Although there was little public recognition of the fact, it was clear to non-government bodies such as the National Trust and the government Heritage Victoria and its predecessors that the Time Ball Tower and precinct was of historical, scientific and technical importance to the State of Victoria.
With the site falling into dereliction many in the community saw the opportunity to create a coastal park and at the same time there was an increasing appreciation of its historic importance. The restoration of the time ball tower was driven by local service clubs and the Williamstown Historical Society and this provided an important focus for developing community appreciation of the historic importance of the whole area. A watershed was the publication in 1987 of a consultant’s study on Point Gellibrand’s heritage. This drew together evidence from diverse sources on the different uses of the area from earliest settlement and formed the basis of a conservation plan.
After a great deal of local pressure and sorting out ownership of the various parcels of land at the Point, the Public Transport Corporation in 1995 divested the precinct back to the Crown for the purpose of environmental remediation and ultimate disposal. The Point Gellibrand Coastal Heritage Park was reserved as a site for public purposes in April 1999. Parks Victoria was made Committee of Management and an initial Master Plan was prepared. Extensive community consultation was carried out. An estimated 2500 residences in Williamstown were letter-boxed with the information and a questionnaire, public information day was held at Point Gellibrand and as a result 311 responses were received with regard to the Point Gellibrand Master Plan.
The Master Plan was endorsed by the Minister Marie Tehan in 1998, who announced that the Government would support the creation of the Point Gellibrand Coastal Heritage Park. But the Government excluded from the Park the 1.6 ha of land north west of the relocated road known as the Hanmer Street land and determined that this section would be sold for private housing. A strong community campaign was mounted against the sale of this land and its use for housing. In November 1999, Mr. Bracks, as new Labor Premier, announced that the Hanmer Street land would not be sold and that Point Gellibrand would be protected in its entirety for the public. In December 1999, the Master Plan was adopted by the new Conservation Minister with the addition of the Hanmer Street land in the Park. In July 2000, a Community Forum was formed to work with Parks Victoria and the local Hobson's Bay Council to implement the plan. Agreement was reached on virtually all aspects of its design, which needed to accommodate activities like:
However, all of these activities had to be catered for within the following principles.
A major sticking point was 4. which was a statement of fact rather than a principle. There was no consensus within the Community Forum, Hobson's Bay City Council and the general community whether to retain the existing coastal road. Removal of the Road was strongly favoured by Parks Victoria in line with its policy of minimising motor traffic within its parks. From the public, there was little comment on much of the detail of the Master plan, except for a large number of submissions in favour of keeping the road.
A panel was appointed and after hearing many submissions delivered its report at the end of 2002. It recommended that the road be retained but further away from the coast and that the original water’s edge route of the road be made a cycle/walking track. From the heritage point of view its most significant recommendation was that the site, including Fort Gellibrand and the Williamstown railway station be treated as a whole. The Council has accepted the Panel’s report, except that they preferred the original coastal route for the road. In the meantime the Consultative Committee has very strongly urged that Parks Victoria to get on with those other aspects of the plan that are not in contention.
Local planning schemes impact many of our lighthouse sites. In some cases urban development might have taken place along a previously uninhabited stretch of coast, or in the case of harbour lights changes in land use might have produced development conflicts. With many of the lights the history of the surroundings is integral or complementary to that of the light itself and should be respected accordingly. The public input is widely sought today. It is important that members of LoA and other lighthouse enthusiasts make their voices heard whenever planning issues are raised. It is also important to make common cause with other like-minded groups, such as the National Trust and the various conservation organisations.
An inquiry was held before R.B. Sheridan. Esq., J.P. at Sandy Cape, Great Sandy Island, on Monday last, touching the death of the late John Simpson, as announced in our previous issue.
Jane Simpson, widow of the deceased, deposed that she remembered Thursday the 20th July inst.; about half past three o’clock that day she saw her husband; he told her he would take a walk with his gun and told her to send the boys after him with the ammunition when they left school; she asked why he did not take the ammunition with him; he said the gun was loaded and probably he would not use both until she could round the boys. In about 20 minutes after, the boys left after their father. One of the boys returned crying, “My father is shot in the den”. She then ran for the assistant lightkeeper Duncan Henderson, and they all ran to the spot. Henderson got there first. When she arrived she saw her late husband lying on his stomach with his hands crossed under his forehead and one foot over the other. The gun was lying a few steps away with the stock broken, her husband seemed as if he had walked a short distance and lay down in the position he was found in. He seemed in good health and spirits when he started with his gun. She thought it was about an hour after he left home when she saw him dead. On examining his body she saw a hole about three quarters of an inch wide in his right breast, near the centre of his body. Her husband was superintendent at Sandy Cape lighthouse and had been about 26 years in the public service. What she meant by the den was the glen near the lighthouse.
Duncan Henderson, assistant lightkeeper at Sandy Cape lighthouse was called next and added that about half past 4 o’clock p.m. on the 20th instant Mrs. Simpson ran to his house and called him saying “Mr. Simpson is shot.” He said where her little boy Charles pointed towards the place and led him to the body. When he arrived at the spot, he found Mr. Simpson with his face down and his arms crossed under his forehead. He felt his pulse, he was quite dead. There was a large pool of blood near the body about five yards from where the body lay. He found a double-barrelled gun (produced and identified as Mr. Simpson’s gun) laying with the stock broken at the guard. He found a wallaby dead 12 yards from the body. It seemed as if it had been just killed. He turned Mr. Simpson’s body over and found what appeared to be a gun shot wound in the right breast. The portion of a shirt was part of the shirt Mr. Simpson had on at the time. The perforated hole on the breast corresponded with the wound in the body. Judging from the place and position, he was clearly of opinion, that in running to secure the wallaby he (Mr. Simpson) stumbled over a log which lay in the way, that the gun went off and was broken by the fall and that the charge lodged in his breast and thus caused his death. Several other persons saw the body; it was removed to Mrs. Simpson’s residence. It now lay in an open grave awaiting internment.
Between 1862 and 1899, newspaper reports criticised the position of the Cape George lighthouse. During this period, woeful tragedies occurred that involved lighthouse staff, their families and others in the area.
Two unrelated teenage girls had been reared like sisters at Cape St George lighthouse, where their fathers were the Principal Keeper and Assistant Keeper. On the afternoon of Thursday 14th July 1887, the girls were together in the house of a neighbour, a Mr McPhail. Kate Gibson, the daughter of the Principal Keeper, tripped while holding a loaded firearm. The gun discharged, striking her friend Harriet Parker in the back of the skull, killing her instantly.
The Inquest into the death of Harriet Parker, the daughter of the Assistant Keeper, was held on the day following her death. The jury of the ensuing Coronial Enquiry stated that Harriet had died 'from a gunshot wound accidentally received; and that Kate Gibson was not to blame, as the girls were skylarking.'
Another Assistant Keeper used to supplement his income by fishing for sharks off the rocks below the lighthouse. In his thirteenth year of service, he was washed from the rocks by a large wave while fishing. Entangled in his lines, and relentlessly pummelled by heavy seas, he floated, completely spent. At this point, the roles of predator and prey were reversed - as his two young sons watched with horror, the doomed man fell victim to the sharks.
A telegram sent by a son of the dead keeper reads: 'Poor Dad washed off rocks this evening while fishing at the point and drowned. Have no hope of recovering the body.'
A newspaper article of the time tells of a youth who lived near the lighthouse falling off the cliff face. He had the habit of hurling stones from the cliff edge. Apparently, part of the cliff had collapsed under him and he fell 90 metres to his death. It was several days before the unfortunate juvenile's body could be recovered.
These events are described in notes compiled by Helen Ruttley of Vincentia, Jervis Bay, with excerpts from The Illawarra and Shoalhaven Mercury, 23rd July 1887, and the story “Cape St. George lighthouse: two wrongs don’ t make a light”, published in Geo Magazine, March-May 1987, written by Ford Kristo, a freelance photo-journalist and ranger.
Plans to restore the ruin of Cape St George Lighthouse to a level that will prevent further deterioration of the site - and to accommodate a limited number of visitors - are presently under consideration by the Commonwealth Department of Territories.
Ian Cameron’s memoirs
It was a great adventure travelling from my lodgings at Gosford to my parents’ home in the Head keeper’s Quarters at Montague Island. At twelve years old, I set out with my suitcase, boarded a steam train at Gosford, and travelled to Sydney. From Central Railway station, I found my way down to the Illawarra and South Coast Steamship Company wharf located on the Northern Side of Pyrmont Bridge.
The largest ship of the company’s fleet was SS Cobargo, which carried cargo to the ports of Tathra, Merimbula and Eden, as well as supplying the light station at Montague Island. The ship left Sydney at 1600 hrs every second Thursday en route to Eden via Montague Island. I had to report to the Chief Officer who told me to stow my suitcase and keep out of the way. The ship normally carried no other passengers. The seamen were accommodated in bunks in the forecastle and the officers were appointed tiny cabins.
I noticed another lad about my age on board and we started to talk to each other. His name was Hilary Hanson, which I thought a very sissy name. He was much bigger than me, so I dared not tell him so. His father was the shipping company’s agent at Bermagui. Little did each of us know then that we were to meet forty years later, when he was a Sergeant in the NSW Water Police and I was the OIC at Macquarie Light. We became good friends, but that’s another story.
The officers’ dining saloon consisted of a table about eight feet long, with a padded form on each side of the table for seating. We were given a couple of blankets and a pillow each to make up a bunk. Hilary slept on a form on one side of the table and I took the other. The table was set athwart ships, so once we cleared the heads and the ship started to roll, our feet would be in the air well above the horizontal, with our head down; then the opposite would occur.
The cabin was extremely hot due to its proximity to the engine room and boilers, both amidships. With the heat, the noise of the engines, the rolling of the ship, and the activity of the officers making tea throughout the night as the watches changed, it made for a very uncomfortable night.
The crew were very kind to us though. Captain O’Connor had been with the company for many years, so I think he provided our transport free of charge. However, I am sure the company would not have objected.
It was about 10:00 hrs on a Friday morning in mid December 1934, when the whaleboat drew alongside Cobargo with Dad (the Head keeper always used the sweep oar) and the two assistant keepers, Tom Padden and Harry Slocombe.
It was the practice for the lighthouse whaleboat to be rowed to a point a mile or so north of Montague Island, where it was brought alongside the ship to load the stores, which comprised of food, paint, kerosene fuel and other items needed for the day to day running of the light station.
Whilst the work was proceeding, the ship would travel slowly south and the boat would cast off opposite the landing and row across to the jetty, later known as ‘the old landing’. The fully laden boat would be lifted from the water by a hand-operated crane on the jetty, to be loaded into a horse-drawn cart and carried up the steep track to the lighthouse at the highest point of the island.
The larger of the two clinker-built boats was used for transporting bulk stores, such as coal for the fuel stoves in the houses, and heavy items like furniture that was often transferred from other light stations.
For island duty, every Light keeper had to be a good seaman, skilled in boat handling.
When the boat was loaded, I was told to hang onto the cargo hook to be hoisted up into the air by the ship’s steam winch and lowered into the waiting arms of the men in the boat – a very scary experience for a twelve year old. Seamen operated the cargo handling gear on these smaller ships in the thirties.
Once reaching shore my father handed me a newspaper-wrapped bundle of meat from the butcher in Sydney and told me to take it straight up to my mother. There was no refrigeration in those days. Meat was already two days old by the time it arrived at the island, so it had to be cooked before it “went off”. We ate fish and tinned bully beef for the next two weeks until the ship returned with more stores.
Towards the end of January 1935, it was time to return to high school at Gosford. Captain O’Connor had arranged to make an unscheduled visit to the Island to pick me up, but the weather had turned foul – it had become a sixty-mile per hour full gale. The captain had telegraphed the Pilot at Narooma, asking him to advise the light station by visual signalling that due to the weather conditions the ship was behind time and that his ETA (estimated time of arrival) would be 2000 hrs or so.
When the ship’s lights were seen south of the island, the three keepers launched the boat and headed out to meet it. The boat carried hurricane lanterns so the ship could spot us in the darkness. As all three keepers were needed to man the boat, my mother took over my father’s watch, which involved winding up the mechanism for the rotating lens’ clockwork and keeping the kerosene pressure up to the burner.
The seas were enormous; I had never felt so scared in my life. Captain O’Connor turned the ship to give maximum protection to the boat from breaking swells. A rope ladder was thrown over the side of the ship and a burly seaman clambered down and carried me up the ladder where other seamen dragged us over the bulwarks onto the deck. I waved goodbye to my father and the men on the tiny boat. Little did I know then that I would never see my father again. As we steamed north to Sydney, the waves became higher and completely washed over the deck.
My father was appointed Head Light keeper at Montague Island in 1934. In March 1935, he became ill as a result of being severely wounded by shrapnel in France. He had delayed leaving for medical attention, as the annual inspection of the Light station by the NSW Lighthouse Inspector was imminent.
Becoming seriously ill he was taken off Montague Island and taken to Moruya Hospital where a local doctor operated on him. He had a hole in his side the size of a fist. The old wound became infected from time to time and required cleaning out.
Moruya Hospital did not have the facilities they have now and the operation was unsuccessful. His condition deteriorated rapidly and he became seriously ill, so it was decided to transfer him by ambulance to Sydney Hospital.
The trip over dirt roads in a 1935 country ambulance to Sydney was a nightmare for the patient. The bill for the ambulance was £200 – almost a year’s salary in those days – and the cost all but drained the family savings. Light keepers were not reimbursed for medical transport costs until after the war, when the government then introduced increased benefits for Service employees.
In Sydney, my father underwent another unsuccessful operation. He died from osteomyelitis, an inflammation of the bone marrow, which was often incurable. If antibiotics such as penicillin had been available, he may have lived a full life. Some WW1 veterans never got rid of infection after being hit by shrapnel or bullets.
He was buried at South Head Cemetery with a Naval Guard of Honour. My mother could not afford a headstone – only a simple wooden cross. His dying words to Ada were “Tell the boys to stand by their mother”.
This one sentence will always remain with us. After our father’s death, we had nowhere to go, so she rented a house at Lakemba for 22 shillings and sixpence a week. All her belongings were packed for her and brought off the island. She never returned there.
This was a dreadful time for Ada – destitute, with six children, no home, and only a very meagre pension. She moved to Sydney for better prospects of obtaining a job to support us all. Unable initially to find employment she was forced to send the four youngest children to an orphanage run by the Freemasons movement.
In those days, there were no widow’s pensions, no child endowment, and her British War Pension was about two dollars (one pound) a week. With this pitiful amount, she had to pay rent for a house and buy food and clothing for the family.
Alan and I were over 12 years old and not eligible to be admitted to the orphanage. While the twins were admitted to the Masonic School, Don and Bruce initially had to spend a few months at another orphanage called the Dalwood Homes for Orphans.
Some of the children did not have shoes and were forced to walk around summer and winter in bare feet. This was, of course, the Great Depression at its height. Eventually we four youngest siblings were admitted to the William Thompson Masonic School, which was situated at Baulkham Hills, NSW.
Eventually my mother found a part time job in the Sydney GPO. She was trained as a telegraphist and had worked at the Southampton Post Office before the First World War. She had also used her skills in the lighthouses with my father. When I was young, I remember going to our local post office at Lakemba with her. She could stand at the counter and decipher telegram messages by listening to the clicking of the Morse key behind the office wall.
This training helped her in getting a job. In those days, a position in the Post Office was considered a top job because it was a secure one.
Jim started his first job in the Post Office on thirteen shillings and nine pence a week. He was a telegraphic messenger delivering telegrams. Telegrams were the fastest way to deliver the written word.
The first house my mother rented was at No.1 Diamond Bay Vaucluse. It was a small weatherboard house mounted on stilts, almost in a crevice at the northeast end of the street. The rent of this cottage was eighteen shillings and sixpence per week. I think she wanted to live near the Macquarie Lighthouse where we had once lived. Opposite on the other side of the street was Peel’s Dairy. In the earlier days, the dairy had been an ostrich farm.
Vaucluse was then not part of the Woollahra Council, as it is now. Vaucluse Council Chambers were located at Watson’s Bay in the building now known as Dunbar House. The street was transferred to Woollahra Council about this time as the Vaucluse Council thought it detracted from the elite suburb of Vaucluse due to the large dairy. Diamond Bay Road now consists mainly of blocks of home units.
Although I remember after not having enough to eat, and occasionally asking the greengrocer for ‘speck fruit’ (insect damaged), I do not think our health suffered. Many Depression-era children had malnutrition, living on rabbits and not much else.
I left school after obtaining my Intermediate Certificate in 1936. I was first a messenger boy at an artificial flower factory near Sydney Town Hall, and then at Truth and Sportsman Newspapers in Kippax Street Sydney, near Central Railway Station. My pay at these jobs was one pound a week.
Alan secured work on the railways, and at sixteen, I became apprenticed as an Electrical Fitter. My income dropped considerably to fourteen shillings and sixpence a week. Virtually all our pay went to enable my mother to rent a small house at 37 Fairmount St, Lakemba NSW.
We all had it tough when our father died unexpectedly in 1935 at the height of the Great Depression. Despite experiencing extreme poverty after the death of our father, we overcame these difficulties mainly due to the determination of our mother in adversity.
From the interview with Robert Mock
In early May, a lone farmer from Bordertown set out to stage a protest against the demolition, by camping on top of the platform and running a media campaign for two or three days.
Robert Mock is a member of Birds Australia and one of his concerns is the fate of the birds nesting on the platform. The fact that up to 300 Australasian Gannets' nests in South Australia’s only Gannet rookery as well as other sea birds would be destroyed without replacement while their occupants are away, and that those remaining to breed out of season would have to be repelled so they do not come to nest there, was a major source of concern for him. Robert is highly aware of the platform’s historical and maritime value and feels that removal would be a real loss to the area. Local fishermen and boat operators seem to draw a sense of security from the platform as a landmark and this also seemed to be a good reason for such a protest.
On 5th May at 2.20 pm Robert set out from Cape Jaffa. Beforehand he contacted the local fishermen about his intentions and with their help arrived on the spot at 3.20 pm. Being an ardent bird observer, Robert, used to camping in rugged conditions, was well equipped with a tent, inflatable mattress and food and water for six days if necessary, to survive the intended stay. A car battery, mobile phone re-charger, phone book, diary and books on the history of the light completed the temporary media centre.
Robert, 51, has never protested like that before but was determined to stay as long as it took to make a point. Of course, he did not expect things to go on unnoticed, just the opposite and after getting immediate hits on ABC radio that evening, the reaction of the authorities came swiftly.
At 7.15 pm Robert got a call from South Australian Police and was requested to leave the platform immediately. As soon as AMSA learned about this camping adventure with a mission taking place, the request was put to the police to remove the protester before dawn the next day. The team of Marine Police was to be sent from Adelaide to remove the camper by force and the consequences could have been serious for Robert. As much as he considered his mission important, he did not want to risk having a conviction, which would prevent him holding company director positions, as well as his Wine Producers License. After negotiating with the local police, he was able to stay without arrest, provided he left with the boat bringing the Adelaide zoologist the next day at 2.00 pm.
In the end Robert had spent less than 22 hours on the platform, but during that time, he managed to conduct numerous interviews with local radio stations like 5MG (Mt. Gambier) as well as State Radio and the ABC, the Adelaide Advertiser newspaper and Border Chronicle and made it to local and also state ABC news. He would have probably received much more media coverage had he been able to stay longer.
On return to land hundreds of people have commented that they had no idea that such a structure existed, and there were no negative comments on the protest.
Robert Mock is one of the few people who managed to climb on top of the platform lately, and so he had a chance to have a good look around and assess the state of the structure.
According to him, the platform is far from being in the state of falling apart yet and could last for another fifty to sixty years without being repaired in any way. The timber deck, hidden under about 20 cm of guano, is still sound and the argument that the iron parts falling of the structure can cause danger to passing watercraft is flawed as well. When the piles rust through and fall off, they will finish up at the bottom of the sea, with little chance of them being swept off to pose any danger to the passing shipping traffic.
The main reason cited by AMSA that the platform is to be demolished is to prevent people hurting themselves and blaming the owner AMSA, for the damage. With the public liability being so expensive, it is deemed safer for AMSA to remove the source of possible danger. However, Robert believes that Australia could adopt an insurance scheme which would be similar to New Zealand’s Accident Compensation Corporation, which is a “no fault” scheme, there is no compulsion to prove the fault and the victim is compensated not with a lump sum but with regular payments. More details are available on www.acc.co.nz. Time will tell on this one. Meanwhile, Robert, with the support of his family and the local community at least managed to get across the message, that the coastal community of SE of South Australia is not happy with drastic actions designed to save the unlikely payouts of damages at the expense of the piece of local history and the destruction of the homes of hundreds of birds.
By Richard Jermyn
I read with interest the four letters on this subject in the Dec 2002 issue of Prism. I have a background in architectural heritage consultancy, and my observations are based on my recent experience as a caretaker at Green Cape, NSW, where I conducted public tours for a period of two years. I am currently stationed at Maatsuyker Island.
I applaud the efforts of all the writers, John Ibbottson (who visited me at Green Cape while preparing material for his book), Ian Clifford, Christian Bell and Roger Lea, who are grappling with this important issue.
I agree with Mr. Ibbottson, in that the situation of historic lighthouses should be looked at as a whole, and a plan established. However, I disagree with the premise that a solution is necessarily tied to the availability of funds. There is an implied assumption that present funding has to be somehow spread to cover everything, and a further, probably fair, assumption, that this cannot result in an adequate allocation to each structure.
Mr. Ibbottson further raises the questions of possible reduction of present funding, and suggests the possibility of "the money" being allocated to "the other lights that people see", instead of going to the one light that "few people ever get to see".
Mr. Ibbotson further extends his line of reasoning to suggest that the best option may be to dismantle the Maatsuyker tower and re-erect it elsewhere with more public exposure, and possibility of income generation?
All of this seems to be reverse logic, and timid thinking - typical of the "default" decision-making process engaged by politicians at all levels. Surely we have the guts and the skills to tackle the issues squarely and not to squirm out of responsibility by simply saying, "There is not enough money!"
I suggest that the correct procedure is to firstly examine the total significance of Maatsuyker Island and its associated architectural, archaeological, social, technological and environmental values. Secondly, on the basis of these conclusions, determine a proper course of action regarding the conservation, preservation, or alteration of these values. Thirdly, determine how to appropriately manage these values, and then at this stage, determine the level of funding and other means of support required to undertake such management.
Some of these steps have already been capably undertaken. Lucas, Stapleton & Partners' "Maatsuyker Island Conservation Management Plan", though prepared for AMSA in 1994, is still valid. It concludes:
"Maatsuyker Island Lightstation is of outstanding cultural significance because it consists of a relatively intact group of late Victorian buildings (then) still operating as a lightstation, including the remains of a rare supply haulage system and an unusually intact lighthouse...all situated in a characterful and dramatic island setting noted for its isolated position and (being) the most southern of all Australian lighthouses" (p.83)
Mr. Clifford's contribution to the debate is one of sound common sense. I understand it is based on practical experience. I fully endorse his conclusion that Maatsuyker must be preserved. I believe he is also correct in his assessment that "unless the public is behind conservation of our lighthouses, it won't happen." The question is: how to achieve this, assuming we (in the immediate sense, the members of this organisation) want it to happen. Raising the issues in these pages is an important part of this process.
Mr. Bell's points are well-considered summaries of various arguments in favour of keeping an active human presence on the island, and against changes to existing cultural heritage items and their context.
Finally, I must take issue with Mr Lea. In particular, his inference that because "the pedestals are often old and worn out", this is a justification for removing them. Important decisions should not be made on the basis of such loose thinking and uninformed opinion. He states that large lenses can be dismantled into panels and removed easily. And I say, "Not without risk of damage to the prisms."
The fact is, the Maatsuyker lantern, lens and "associated stuff" - namely the original clockwork - all produced by Chance Bros. in c. 1890 and installed in 1891, is still in perfect working order. I have " run the clock" and driven the lens array for the benefit of visitors, who were not only excited to see it was still in working order, but they were inspired to imagine how, with the resources available at the time, those people were able to produce such treasures! The present state of this facility is the result of the long tradition of light-keeping and overall care given, which continues through to the present volunteer programme run by the Tasmanian Parks Service.
The lightstation should engender feelings of humility and respect. It should displace some of the arrogance of our society, believing, as we do, that only the current technology is any good. Even if this equipment could be taken away and re-erected, it would be out of context and close to meaningless, as Christian Bell observes. It would show disrespect for this important aspect of our cultural heritage.
Of the social significance of Maatsuyker Island and lightstation, the Lucas & Stapleton report says:
"The occupation of a remote island, the farthest south in Australia, for over 100 years, including the original construction of first quality lighthouse and buildings, is an inspirational chapter in the history of Tasmania and Australia. Visitors, of which there have been many over the years, rarely fail to admire the character and history of the place, and hold it dear." (p81)
Far from dismantling and removing anything, it is imperative in my view that everything here remains intact - from the tower to the haulage. Where appropriate, specific items should be conserved without compromise. The valuable significance of this lightstation will increase. Although difficult to access, people will continue to come here. Similar to Mecca, one does not necessarily have to go there; it's a comfort just to know it exists. There is something deeper here than merely "seeing" something.
In the longer term, Maatsuyker could become a world icon. The light, as the focus of that icon, could be returned to full working order, even for occasional lightings. With the co-operation of AMSA, this has already happened at Point Perpendicular in NSW.
In the longer term, full restoration of the lantern and contents would be imperative for faithful conservation. Weatherproofing of the tower and other structures would be an important first step; with proper coordination, planning and technical support, much of this secondary work could be done by volunteers. Let us open our minds to creative possibilities, and not have them closed for us by the accountant mentality.
Jarman Island (Lat 20º 39' 32s S. Long 117º 12' 59s E.) is located off the Pilbara Coast in Western Australia, 1.5 km northeast of the mouth of the Harding River. The historic port town of Cossack, formerly known as Tien Tsin Harbour, is situated 2 km upstream.
Jarman Island Lighthouse is made of pre-fabricated cast iron manufactured in 1888 by Chance Brothers of Birmingham. The lighthouse tower (excluding the lens) was transported from England in kit form to its present site and erected the same year.
William Lambden Owen, Resident Engineer of the North West, was responsible for its construction. He engaged a ships' carpenter, W.E. Straton, as foreman and they used prison labour from Roebourne, a mixture of aboriginals, Malays, Manila men, Chinese and Arabs who were mostly miscreants from the pearling fleet that was at the time laid up in Cossack during the cyclone season.
The body of the lighthouse is composed of cast iron plates, 28 mm thick, flanged and bolted on the inside, presenting a smooth face to the exterior. This type of construction was developed so that salt spray would not get a foothold and cause corrosion at the joints. The lighthouse came complete with the tools for its construction and the paint to protect it. A derrick (or ginny pole) was constructed to lift the heavy sections into place.
The tower was capped with a lantern house containing a fixed white light of the third order - first exhibited on 16th May 1888, with the light on Reader Head being discontinued. First Official Lightkeeper S. Efford was appointed the same day, while assistant Lightkeeper W. White was appointed 24th July 1888.
The light, fuelled by kerosene or paraffin oil, was a four-wick Douglass burner with a glass chimney. The height of the tower from base to vane is 15.45m, and the centre of the lantern is elevated 29.09m above the high water mark.
In 1911, the wicked lamp was replaced by a 55 mm incandescent lamp with a mantle fuelled by vaporised kerosene. The following year, the light was given a distinctive character by inserting a mechanical shutter actuated by a clockwork mechanism that was rewound every fifteen hours. This converted the light from fixed to occulting every seven seconds; duration of light - five seconds; eclipse - two seconds.
In August 1917, an AGA acetylene gas lamp was installed, to operate automatically with a sun valve. The acetylene gas was stored in steel cylinders called accumulators, and filled with a porous ceramic substance said to reduce the risk of explosion. From this time, the island was no longer occupied by lightkeepers.
The light was extinguished on 15th May 1985, when Cape Lambert lighthouse became operational. The lens, sun valve, filters and cylinders were removed and are now on permanent display in the museum at Cape Naturaliste, in the southwest of Western Australia.
On 1st July 1996, the Shire of Roebourne obtained a 21-year lease of Jarman Island from the State Government. In 1999, a Conservation Plan was undertaken by Kevin Palassis Architects, to be administered by The National Trust of Australia (W.A.) for the Shire of Roebourne.
The 1999 Conservation Plan deemed Jarman Island lighthouse to be "an element of 'exceptional' significance because of its importance as a landmark, architectural and technological importance, historical associations, and its relative intactness."
The Shire adopted the plan and following along policies arising from the cultural significance of the place have, over the past five years, endeavoured to seek funding through grants for the conservation of the lighthouse.
The latest submission pending is through the Commonwealth Government Regional Tourism Program. This project is part of a long-term plan to conserve and restore all buildings and structures on Jarman Island with the shorter-term objective of allowing visitors easy access to view the lighthouse and stone quarters.
To date, the Shire has established new pathways from the beach to the lighthouse and quarters, produced interpretative material such as signs and pamphlets and is proactive in raising awareness as to the urgency of the project.
For enquiries and information, contact:
The Geometer of the Light
An exhibition titled "Geometer" by nine artists was held at the exhibition space at Bright!, 8 Martin Street in St Kilda, Melbourne during June. Curated by David H Thomas, the collection of works was conceived at Wilsons Promontory and incorporated photography, painting, drawing, sculpture, sound and architecture.
The title of the exhibition comes from a species of moth that inhabits the Promontory, and derives its name from its caterpillar stage - it seems to be measuring ground as it moves. In ancient Greece, a geometer was one who was skilled in geometry and measuring.
The creativity and dedication of people who strive to preserve natural habitats and icons for future generations is a laudable pursuit. In art and resource management, the successful outcome depends on a measure of skill and a certain depth of humanity.
Geometer was opened by Jim Whelan, Ranger-in-Charge at Wilsons Promontory National Park, and one of the exhibiting artists is a conservation architect with AusHeritage, who has recently completed the renovation of the Head Keeper's quarters at the lighthouse on the Promontory.
Since AMSA handed over responsibility for the upkeep of the Victorian lighthouses to Parks Victoria, the need for an updated conservation policy arose. Roger Beeston and his associates provided a Building Fabric Condition Assessment, Remedial Works Schedule and Costing for the lighthouses and quarters at Gabo Island, Wilsons Promontory, Pt Hicks, Cape Schanck, Cape Otway and Cape Nelson.
The collaboration of the exhibiting artists, the successful conservation project and the management of Parks Victoria and its representatives creates a lasting worthwhile contribution to Australia's cultural and natural heritage.
Geometer will be exhibited next year at the Switchback Gallery, Faculty of Art & Design at Monash University campus, Churchill in Gippsland. Exact dates will be posted in The Bulletin as the time approaches.
By Denise Shultz
Shortly after the last issue of Prism went out, I received an interesting letter from Aubrey Strydom, former lightkeeper and now a ranger at Sandy Cape, Fraser Island. Queensland. It said:
The history on Willoughby was interesting, however, I was surprised to find on closer reading that the light was downgraded, not actually decommissioned. I think the headline and the editorial comes over as misleading and confusing. Many people will skim the article or just read the editorial and believe that Willoughby no longer displays a light from its tower. 1785 candela isn't much, but it is still a light!
Indeed it is. I contacted Wren Lashmar, the author of the article and clarified the situation with him. The new, though feeble light, still resides in the lighthouse.
Also, Malcolm Macdonald noticed that Tipara Reef, mentioned in the article as the place where the Chance Brothers lens was taken from, is not actually near Port Adelaide but near Moonta on the York Peninsula, west of Adelaide.
Thank you to observant readers and my apologies for the mistakes.
By Denise Shultz
A group of LoA members who are based in and around Melbourne met at Cape Schanck Lighthouse on Saturday 5 April 2003 for a casual BBQ lunch and get together. We chose Cape Schanck for strategic as well as aesthetic reasons. Beautifully maintained and being one of the best preserved lighthouses in Australia, it is open to the public. It is also relatively close to both metropolitan Melbourne and Geelong, situated across Port Phillip Bay a short drive and a ferry ride away.
For many of us it was the first time we met the other people in person. We knew each other from correspondence or for the results of our work but could not put a face to a name.
We started gathering inside the compound around two o’clock. Marguerite and Nick Steven were the first on the spot and with the help of the Cape Schanck tour guide John, started the barbecue and organised the tables and chairs which were provided by Tony and Prue Sheer, who run the Cape Schanck lightstation as B&B and a tourist attraction. All the tables were set under roof in the former stables just in case it rained, but luckily the weather turned out to be perfect. It was perfectly suitable for a family outing so most of us brought over either our families or at least partners or friends. Steve Merson’s two girls Effie and Stella had a great time flying a kite, others just enjoyed talking to the people they wanted to meet for a long time but just did not manage to do so yet. Everyone wanted to talk to Margaret Hill about her book “Corrugated Castles” and those who did not have a copy already, could obtain it from her on the spot and signed by the author.
Brothers Max and Doug Huxley used to live at Cape Schanck as lighthouse kids when their parents Cyril and Bernice were lightkeepers there in the early forties and could still vividly remember how it looked like all those years ago. They had a good talk later with our tour guide John, who was very interested and undoubtedly added some of the information he heard from them to his already ample knowledge of the lightstation’s history.
After all that eating and talking around four o’clock it was time for tour of the lighthouse.
Cape Schanck lighthouse was built in 1859 to mark the nearby entrance to Port Phillip Bay. When climbing up, many of us appreciated the fact that the tower being only 21m tall, contained just 59 steps. The stairs, like the tower, are made of limestone and are lined with lead foil. The central column still contains the clockwork mechanism which turned the lamp until it was replaced by electric motor. The weights, still lying at the bottom of the central shaft are very heavy indeed, but to turn the lens which weighs several tons, they had to be! Apparently, the old clockwork mechanism is still capable of doing its job, just needs to be connected to the lamp. The “piece de resistance” of the whole lighthouse is of course the spectacular first order Chance Brothers lens, polished to perfection and slowly and silently revolving on its mercury bed. According to the specification sheet, one of the flashes is a powerful 1.4 million candelas.
After the lighthouse tour our little party started to break up because some people had other engagements but others stayed a little longer to admire the lighthouse at dusk. Kristie and her sister Jen stayed on until after dusk, waiting for that perfect shot of the lighthouse when the lantern first switches on. Kristie took a number of photos, with a small crescent moon in the background, and the beam of the lantern heading overhead. The result was spectacular.
We all headed back home with the feeling that maybe we found a few new friends and that such meeting is worth repeating in the future.
LoA Committee elected
Lighthouses of Australia, Inc held its 2003 Annual General Meeting via an online Meeting Room over Monday 23 June to Wednesday 25 June 2003. Holding the AGM online was a great success, and many ideas and suggestions for future directions for LoA were discussed.
The LoA Committee for 2003 was elected - the Officers of the Association are as follows:
Deal Island Meeting
We invite you to bring any stories, historical items, videos, photos, drawings, scrapbooks or any other art to the event.
We will also be spending part of weekend to engage in some project planning but only in the most organic and convivial fashion.
Former caretakers, project workers or those interested in becoming involved with the Friends group are invited.
We will meet at Darlington on Maria Island, on Saturday 23 & Sunday 24 August 2003.
International Lighthouse and Lightship
International Lighthouse/Lightship Weekend 2002 saw over 385 stations in over 40 countries active at lighthouses and lightships around the world.
The lighthouses are "activated" by amateur radio operators, and the intention is to spread goodwill by communicating and furthering the knowledge of lighthouses around the world.
Hams set up their gear in or next to a lighthouse / lightship, and make contact with other lighthouses. This event now coincides with International Lighthouse Day.
The public is invited to participate, to learn about radio and the importance of lighthouses and their preservation.
This year the event will be from 0001 UTC on Saturday 16 August 2003 until 2359 UTC on Sunday 17 August 2003. Full details of the rules and an entry form can be found at http://lighthouses.net.au/illw/.
A list of stations around Australia that have already confirmed their participation is below. The full list of stations around the world can be found at http://lighthouses.net.au/illw/2003.htm.
An album of photos from Emery Point NT (ILLW 2002) can be viewed at http://www.vkham.com/vk8da/html/08-Album.htm
So come and join us in the fun of the weekend, listen out for the QRP, newly licensed and other lighthouses/lightships, and give them a call.
73 Mike GM4SUC
Following is a list of participating lighthouses in Australia:
* ARLHS - Amateur Radio Lighthouse Society Lighthouse number
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.
The memberships and costs are as follows:
Other groups/bodies with an interest in Lighthouses:
Application for Membership Form
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