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Bulletin – Vol 9 No. 6 – November/December 2006
Montague Island lighthouse turns 125
By Mark Westwood, Ranger, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service
Descendents of keepers, along with lighthouse lovers and heritage buffs journeyed nine kilometres offshore from Narooma on the NSW south coast on 1st November 2006 to commemorate 125 years of operation for the Montague Island Lighthouse.
Narooma Charters ferried everyone across in magnificent south coast sunshine across a smooth sea, pausing for several pods of migrating humpbacks, meeting muttonbirds, and checking hundreds of basking fur seals on the rocks before landing on the Island.
Montague’s jetty was a fitting site for John Mumbler, local Aboriginal Elder, to welcome the group to this part of the Yuin people’s country and remind all present that it was in bark canoes that his ancestors came to “Baranguba” (the Island’s traditional name) for feasts and for ceremonies. His welcome included a sober warning that Baranguba is very much a men’s teaching place and women may visit but they do so at their own risk!
Looking up at the tower some 70 metres above, people explored their own emotions during the walk, and in some cases Island “taxi” ride, up the steep track from sea-level. At the halfway seats, everyone caught their breath while Amy Jorgenson gave a short presentation concerning her research work on improving the habitat for the Little Penguins and other seabirds on the Island, which essentially consists of removing introduced kikuyu grass and replanting with seabird-friendly native plant species.
It was then upward past the protesting nesting seagulls currently sitting on eggs right beside the track, past the quarry where the granite was blasted and hand-tooled into wedge-shaped blocks for the construction of the tower, and on to the historic lighthouse precinct itself, resplendent in its restored condition - bright white paint and blue trim – evidence of the hard work of NPWS since taking over management of the Island in the late 1980s. Everyone remarked on its fine condition!
Four generations of the Townsend family, relatives of lightkeeper Charles Townsend who is buried on Montague Island
Photo: Mark Westwood
The James Barnet designed light station with its 20 metre granite tower and three classic Victorian-era brick houses, played host for the morning as people re-lived their childhoods and memories of life on the Island and shared family stories about their ancestors while exploring inside and out the buildings and the tower.
The Townsend family’s ancestor Charles was there for five years from 1889 until his death and subsequent burial on the Island in 1894. Four generations came out to remember him and to see his house and pay their respects at his grave.
Edna Townsend, widow of Charles Townsend (a grandson of the original Charles), brought her daughter, her granddaughter and her great granddaughter for the day, and one could suspect their group may have won the prize for having the most senior person and the most junior person on the Island on the day!
A granddaughter and great grandson represented the Williams family, keepers on the Island in the early 1900s. Well-armed with her research, Beth Troth was able to fill in many blanks in the lengthy list of Montague’s keepers.
Four Cameron brothers were there, whose father Jock, Head Keeper in the 1930s, has his story told in a previous LoA bulletin.
The eldest brother Ian is well-remembered across the lighthouse service for being Supervisor of NSW Maritime Aids for many years until his retirement in the 1980s. The four brothers were last all together on Montague in 1998 when brother Bruce organised a family trip out there.
Five of the Allen family were there whose family towards the end of their time on the Island in the 1960s numbered 10 all up, albeit the youngest child being only a few months old! If you think only of the keepers, you can think of islands like Montague as being a place for just a few people to live, but in days past large families could mean there were over twenty persons out there making it quite a community at times!
Mary Conley came out to reminisce on her seven years on the Island from 1978 where she and keeper husband Bruce Conley raised their children. Bruce’s memories are recorded in a previous LoA Bulletin.
Department of Environment and Conservation Regional Manager Tim Shepherd welcomed everyone to the Island and the traditional cake was cut.
The signal pennants for 1-2-5 were flown from the tower itself as the original signal mast is now home to parts of the automatic weather station.
A highlight for many was a tour through the re-furbished head keepers quarters, now open for overnight stays through a partnership between NPWS and Conservation Volunteers Australia.
The tower itself was also a thrill for some as AMSA has recently been busy with the internal metal work receiving corrosion protection and a thick coat of paint. The lantern room has been re-glazed and a new Vega rotating lantern replaces the AGAPRB 24/4 array which replaced the original 3.5m Chance Brothers first-order lens now on display ashore in Narooma’s Lighthouse Museum.
Authors Laurelle Pacey (“The Lure of Montague”) and other local history books and John Ibbotson (“Lighthouses of Australia”) attended and signed many copies of their books.
Later in the day a casual dinner was held at Taylor’s Fish Café on Wagonga Inlet where Mary’s daughter Jane, now married into the Taylor family, joined us during her work. Her memories of seven years of childhood on the Montague with her keeper father Bruce are counted as being very precious.
The Taylor family themselves played a significant part in Montague’s history through their family shipwrights building local boats the Emjay and the Good Intent which served time doing the local supply contract to the Island. In fact the Taylor family had the contract for many years in the 1950s!
Good food, some refreshment and time spent relaxing and listening to the stories was a fitting way to end the celebration for all involved after travelling back in time for just a few hours.
As the evening darkened, all were conscious that east across the sea, atop a small rocky island, a light was shining out across the ocean warming the hearts of all who could see it just as it has done for 125 years and hopefully for many more than that to come!
Happy 125th birthday Montague Lighthouse!
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