Arriving at Neptune Island
females were allowed to use the basket instead of the rope ladder.
As we got close to Neptune Island, I could see steep cliffs at one end and grey-green vegetation covering the low rocky shoreline at the other end, which was actually another island separated by a narrow rocky channel through which the sea raced and churned.
The Yandra dropped anchor a long way out, as the weather could change in a matter of minutes, whipping up squalls that could prevent the ship from getting out for days, or worse - blow the ship against the rocks.
I could see three cottages nestled at the foot of the lighthouse, with several outbuildings dotted around. Below the houses were some small shiny white domes that looked like beehives.
The land fell steeply down to the beach where a long wooden jetty with a crane at the end jutted out into the tiny bay.
Neptune Island had been described as a small granite island, with very little vegetation, no natural wild life or natural water. It sounded ugly and I thought it would be difficult to cope with the isolation. Instead, I fell in love with the place at once.
The rough grandeur of the islands and the marvellous seascape was unexpectedly beautiful, and it soothed my fears.
"What do you think?" a crewman shouted to me. "It's beautiful!" I yelled back. Moving closer to where the crew were working, I continued: "It looks bigger than I had thought, and much greener. And don't the beehives look pretty against the dark background?" I prattled on about bee keeping being a great hobby and a source of valuable food.
There was silence. The sailors had all stopped work. Then they broke out into great gusts of laughter, taking a while to explain that the little white domes were not beehives, but dunnies (outside toilets).
Our stores were brought up on deck from the hold, and we prepared to go ashore in the motor launch, waiting below at the ship's side. The older children went down in a large basket, as it was their first time.
The Captain seemed to take pleasure in telling me, "Everyone over five goes down the ladder - reg'lar monkeys, lighthouse kids are", as if the credit for their agility was his. The baby was strapped onto Jim's back and he disappeared down the rope ladder, leaving me to fend for myself.
Very nervously, I went over the side but froze as the ladder swayed under me, my feet slipping on the wet greasy rope. I was aware of the heaving sea below and the rusty metal of the ship's side near my face. Petrified, I clung to the ladder until I felt someone climb over me, strong hands gripping mine and a gruff voice shouting into my ear: "Stop being bloody stupid. Now when I say move, you move. I'll be with you." Shocked out of my fear, and realising what a sight I must look perched on the ladder with my skirt billowing in the breeze, I climbed down into the waiting launch.
When we reached the high jetty, the head keeper yelled down: "Better send that helpless female up in the basket with the kids." I was mortified.
cottages sit on the barren exposed island.
As the men moved the stores ashore, I was handed over to the other two keepers' wives to be shown my new home and the 'beehives'. Both women gleefully informed me of every disadvantage of the buildings, and appeared to take great pleasure at my horrified reaction to the toilets. The white painted domes were built of granite blocks, and one had to step down into these dark, rock dungeons - they stank to high heaven and they were a haven for huge blowflies and spiders. How I came to hate those toilets.
Later, as I settled in to the everyday routine of island life, I realised my arrival was possibly one of the high points of their year.
Everyday Life on Neptune Island
The following morning I sat in on the daily 'galah session' on the short wave radio. Its main use was for official lighthouse business, weather reports and emergency calls, but to ease the isolation, it was also used to exchange news and gossip. As I listened to the conversations, I heard the details of my arrival being broadcast far and wide.
original skeletal tower on South Neptune Island.
The lighthouse structure sits on the seaward side of the island, on the edge of a sheer drop into the ocean. The three solid granite cottages nestle close together by a low rocky ridge, to shelter from the worst of the storms and gale force winds that frequently lash the island.
The cottages were built of stone quarried on site, and the thick walls were almost sound proof. The timber flooring and doors had been brought in by ship. The windows were high and narrow, allowing for little natural light in some of the rooms, making them seem drab and uninviting.
Salt spray caused constant damp. The living room was the driest - it was where the large galvanised bins of dry goods were stored, and where the children studied at a large oak table.
All signs of study had to be cleared away when the crew of the Cape York came ashore to do maintenance and repairs, as they had to be looked after in a formal manner. This was a very sore point with the three lighthouse wives, as our task of supervising the correspondence schooling for eight children was difficult enough without interruptions.
On our first night on Neptune, we sat outside at sunset to witness the spectacle of the mutton-birds returning to their nests. The flutter of a lone mutton-bird caught my eye as it glided in, and then the sky was filled with birds, descending on the island in droves. The sound of thousands of beating wings filled the night air like a huge sigh, and with a great deal of flapping and twittering the birds slowly settled down for the night, leaving a light coating of oil and a rank, fishy smell on our clothes.
jetty was nestled in a small bay.
It was very rugged and beautiful out amongst the islands. The views were spectacular - smooth, misty, silver water and distant purple islands; the ever-present birds and seals; the ferocious storms sending giant waves crashing over the rocky shorelines and the wind roaring like a wild thing around the buildings.
If the weather permitted, we caught leather-jacket, barracuda (snook), grouper, shark and crayfish (rock lobsters) to feast on. Jim was always keen to fish on his afternoons off, but permission to lower the rowing boat from the jetty always had to be sought from the capricious head keeper. He had to give his approval for everything.
author, Margaret Hill, persisting with endless chores.
I seldom got out walking to view the scenery or study the wild life. Housework was difficult and constant, so my time seemed to be spent washing, splitting wood for kindling, cleaning out the stove, trimming wicks and refilling the lamps. The floors were covered with brown linoleum and were supposed to be kept highly polished, using a house brick inside an old woollen jumper. I could never get a shine on those floors.
The laundry was separate from the house and contained the usual wood-fired copper and concrete troughs. I never got up to date with the washing, as there was never enough water to finish a load. The baby developed large ulcers on her bottom from napkins that were either poorly rinsed or salty from the sea spray in the air.
Our weekly water ration of 150 gallons was pumped up by hand from the underground water tank each Saturday. Clean use was rinsing teacups, second use was washing hands and faces, and third use was washing floors. Once a week, the whole family bathed in an inch of water in the bottom of the bath, using the same water to soak our clothes in afterwards.
being landed from the supply ship, Cape York.
There had been no rain for a month - our storage tank was empty - so water was brought out from the mainland on the supply ship, Cape York. It took a dozen men several hours to manually transfer the forty-four gallon drums from the ship's hold to the launch and up to the cottages to be emptied into the water tanks. The imported water was a dark, muddy-brown colour and smelt strongly of kerosene. The head keeper moaned about the tank being contaminated by Adelaide water, and for once, we had to agree with him.
The coastal steamer, Yandra, brought supplies out every second week from Port Adelaide. Our letters, shopping lists, schoolwork and any other business was sent away on the ship to Head Office on the mainland. If we forgot to put something on a list, it was a month before we finally got it.
Each cottage had three kerosene fridges: one for a freezer, one for general storage and another in case of breakdowns. Fresh vegetables were kept in holes in the ground, but due to the damp nature of the sand they usually only kept for a week. A generator provided power for the homes and lighthouse, but it was only run at certain times.
The island's goats had run wild for generations and were nasty, vicious creatures. Jim caught one so we could have goat's milk, but it put up such a terrible fight each time he tried to milk it, he let it go. The milk tasted awful, anyway.
The Royal Flying Doctor Service provided a very comprehensive medical kit. Each item was numbered and referenced, and in the case of an illness or accident, we could radio a doctor for the appropriate treatment and medications to use. There was a small grass landing strip on the island for use in an emergency.
and Margarets' children, Marilyn and Sue with their cats.
One of the pleasures of lighthouse life was waking up to the smell of new bread baking. The third keeper always drew the midnight to dawn watch, so Jim baked ours early in the morning. By seven o'clock, the lovely smell of fresh bread filled the house, and there would be hot rolls for breakfast.
On calm afternoons, Jim liked to take the children for walks. He showed them the seals and tried to catch goats for them to pet. They explored the mutton-bird holes for eggs, sometimes returning with pecked hands or scraped elbows and knees from slipping on the rocks.
On Being "Stung" at the Beach
Without doubt there is something of the beachcomber in most of us, and we find it a pleasant experience to roam our nearby seashores, picking up, here and there, a pretty shell, a sea-urchin, perhaps a wine-glass-shaped sponge.
Little thought, if any, is given to possible danger in this casual garnering, But danger there is! Along our South Australian Beaches there are at least two marine stinging sponges which can cause a high incidence of dermatitis with painful lesions, usually lasting weeks or longer - sometimes as long as 9 months.
One of the sponges is considered to be potentially dangerous to the human eye E.G. - by accidental rubbing by divers or beach collectors.
Dry sponge, whether fresh or old, is non-toxic; wetting, however, activates the toxic agents.
For some years now reports have been coming in about these unpleasant marine creatures - some were washed up after a storm on the shore at Brighton - others were found growing on the reef at Aldinga and also on wharf piles at Outer Harbour. They all had one thing in common - they stung painfully.
And whilst, as yet, no report is have been received of findings of these stinging sponges on our own immediate beaches, last April a deadly blue-ringed octopus was found (and destroyed) near Carrickalinga, all of which sounds a warning to those who walk our beaches and search for marine treasures on our shores.
(Appreciation is extended to the AMA for permission to use data from its "Medical Journal" and also to Miss Edna Christie of Delamere for making available information of her late uncle, Mr Hugh Christie (born at Cape Jervis in 1860). Mr Christie was lighthouse keeper at Troubridge, Cape Jaffa, and later at Cape Don and Point Charles in the Northern Territory. As is obvious from these two letters Mr. Christie was a keen naturalist. He had a wealth of first-hand experience in the Northern Territory, and his fishing trips and hunting expeditions when the Northern Territory literally teemed with game, would make sportsmen and naturalists green with envy.)
We really did have a day like this! This was just one of several search and rescue operations we were involved in during our six months at Maat.
We could also have added such duties as: spotting fires in the remote SW National Park, reporting seals with gunshot wounds or plastic necklaces, observing boats pumping out oily bilge water right by a seal haul-out site, repairing the marine VHF radio repeater antenna, logging passing yachts and pleasure boats, removing blackberries and other weeds spreading through what is now a National Park, clearing vegetation from around the buildings for fire protection etc.
Can the heritage of Maat and the important services provided by the volunteer program be abandoned? We don't think so.
Notice of Tasmanian LoA Inc Meeting
Expressions of Interest for Caretaker Maatsuyker Island
Looking for William Lee Keeper on South Head
Who Was the Drowned Keeper at Moreton Island?
Looking for Lightkeeper McGregor
Where is Rofs Island Pilot Station?
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Two videos were shown, one a 6 min newsreel from 1947 and the other a TNT 9 television documentary from the early 1980s.
Malcolm gave the background of LoA, and then stated that despite its national and international success we need to develop groups such as a local Tasmanian chapter and local community based groups.
He stated that in reference to situations such as Maatsuyker the three key steps of a conducting a successful campaign (Negotiation, Alliance and Shame), and how important it was to have strong group to succeed at step one.
Christian gave an update on the current situation in Tasmania including Eddystone Point, Deal Island and Maatsuyker. He reaffirmed the importance of having a strong LoA chapter in Tasmania.
Dave Abbott informed us that a he was involved with a group of former caretakers who were looking at forming a "Friends of Maatsuyker" as they too were concerned about the funding cuts.
A healthy sign was the vigorous discussion, lead by Stephanie Calahan and Kim Shimmin, where members of the group wanted an idea of what direction was to be taken with a LoA Tasmania Chapter.
Dave Abbott volunteered to be the interim state organizer for the informal LoA Tasmania Chapter and the group made a decision to have a meeting in one month (see meeting notice in Letter & Notices).
It was decided that main objective should be to try and contact all interested parties and bring them together at the next meeting.
A welcomed suggestion was that around four events (such as picnics or re-unions) should be held by the local LoA chapter each year where those with an interest or background in Tasmania's lighthouses could come together and that these could be fundraisers as well.
All agreed that the group structure and place within LoA Inc should remain informal for the moment and should grow in an organic manner.
Anyone interested in be involved or looking for more information should contact Dave Abbott at <email@example.com>, Home: (03) 6223 6330 or Work: (03) 6226 1882.
Opening the Meeting
The inaugural meeting was held at The Moat House Hotel, Gatwick, England on Monday 2nd of September 2002, with 21 attendees between them representing 8 countries: Canada, Chile, Germany, Holland, Norway, Sweden, UK and USA. A very encouraging start indeed.
Others from several countries had expressed interest prior to the meeting, but had unfortunately not been able to attend. All agreed that the organisation should be called the World Lighthouse Society and would be an independent UK registered charity with a permanent address as a PO Box in England.
Peter Williams, opened the meeting then each attendee gave a brief personal introduction which was a most useful and illuminating exercise only a few people knew one another prior to the meeting.
Breaking with normal procedure, it was decided not to elect members of the Executive Board until the end of the meeting, by which time individual strengths and abilities would have had more chance of being aired and recognised! And those nominated would have more idea of what would be involved.
The WLS Constitution
Roger Lea, acting as Secretary, presented a Draft Constitution, which was discussed at some length. One essential need that was identified, since English would be the official language of the Society, was to ensure that all wording could be translated precisely into all other relevant languages, safeguarding against possible misinterpretation. It was also recognised that many differences across the different countries would need to be borne in mind to ensure the final Constitution would be relevant and applicable to all.
Another very important aspect, membership, was also discussed in some depth. It was agreed that membership would be open to all interested parties, with different categories being provided for individuals, groups, etc.
It was agreed that funding was essential to make the Society effective and therefore attractive to potential members. Initially, membership would be the only source of income. It was hoped that in due course sponsors would be found and encouraged to support the Society, so if anyone has any ideas or suggestions for possible future sponsors, their input would be welcome.
The long-term plan is to derive funds from membership fees, sponsorship, grants, gifts and donations.
Other issues discussed included requirements of the Charity Commission, future meeting venues, the importance of educational inclusion, local satellite groups and the necessity of a website.
Election of an Executive
committee for for the WLS. From left to right: Frans La Poutré,
Kim Fahlen, Stein Malkenes, Danckert Monrad-Krohn, Esbjörn Hillberg,
Reidar Johansen, Gerry Douglas-Sherwood, Roger Lea, Peter Williams,
Michael Walter, Mark Lewis, Frank Turner, Patrick Tubby, Paul Howard
(standing), Ken Trethewey, Rosalie Davis Gibb, Uta Koch and Egbert Koch.
Hernan Saez and Cristian Lopez had unfortunately left by the time the
photograph was taken and Vanessa Langley is also missing, as she took
A formal election was held to elect the members of the Executive Board. This was a very good example of how things differ from one country to another - in the UK we would call this type of body an Executive Committee, whereas it was pointed out that in other countries, such as Norway, this would be known as the Management Board - a term used, but with a different connotation, in the UK. Since the Society will be registered in the UK, it was initially decided to use the term Executive Committee, but it has subsequently been decided to change this to Executive Board, which should be more readily recognisable by all, comprising at least 9 members, representing at least 3 different countries.
It was agreed the meeting had been a huge success, achieving all that had been hoped for, not forgetting a most enjoyable lunch and the opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones.
A subsequent meeting was held at The Merchant Navy Hotel in London on Monday 9th of September.
5 of us who were able to attend on this date, Danckert Monrad-Krohn, Roger Lea, Mark Lewis, Gerry Douglas-Sherwood and myself, duly presented ourselves to carry on the good work.
It was suggested subsequent meetings in the UK be held at the Union Jack Club, near Waterloo Station in London, as this would also be easily accessible and the Association of Lighthouse Keepers regularly use this venue so its been tried and tested. It was also hoped to hold future meetings in different countries.
The Chairman suggested a small working party should be set up to discuss current issues, primarily consultation and research on the Constitution, and make recommendations to the Board, as this would help to speed up the process of getting the Society established. It was agreed that Mark Lewis should be co-opted onto the Board for this purpose and a Working Party was established comprising:
The Chairman proposed, and the other members of the Working Party agreed, that since Rosalie Davis Gibb had been the only other nomination for Chairman of the WLS at the inaugural meeting she should Chair the working party and also to assume the role of Vice-Chairman of the WLS, no-one having been elected to this post at the inaugural meeting.
It was noted that Frank Turner (UK) had originally volunteered to be on the Board, which had unfortunately been overlooked at the inaugural meeting, so it was agreed that Frank should be included, as those present felt other members of the Board would be agreeable, thereby obviating unnecessary communications.
The Constitution, requirements of the Charity Commission, the possibility of meetings with Speakers, occasional Workshops, local groups, a European group, membership, funding, providing a more magazine style Newsletter, were all discussed at some length.
Egbert Koch has since suggested that everyone who had expressed interest in the WLS, whether at the inaugural meeting or not, should be Founder Members
It was agreed a WLS logo was an immediate essential requirement and Mark Lewis offered to submit some suggested designs. However, the more designs, the more choice, so this is an invitation to submit any ideas you may have - you dont need to be an artist or a graphic designer - just an outline of the idea will be enough - dont be afraid to have a go!
WLS Promotion and Newsletter
Peter Williams, as Publisher, had very kindly offered to donate one page in each issue of Leading Lights magazine to the WLS. The disadvantage of this however, that only subscribers to Leading Lights would receive this. If you havent yet seen Leading Lights (The International Lighthouse Journal), please let me know and a sample copy will be posted to you free of charge. Then if not already a subscriber, perhaps you may consider taking out a subscription.
It became apparent during the day that we already had enough material for a Newsletter and it was agreed that the first issue should be prepared as soon as possible, which would hopefully show those approached to pay a membership fee that they would be getting something specific in exchange for their money! Early beginnings for the WLS of something better to come.
I agreed to act as Editor and produce the first Newsletter and each member of the working party offered to submit a contribution. Any contribution from other members is most welcome as well.
As yet, there is no set timescale for the Newsletter, but we hope this will become a quarterly publication.
Next Meeting for Working Party
The next meeting of the Working Party was arranged for 25th of November 2002 at a venue yet to be finalised. If you are interested in being involved with the WLS and have any points you would like raised (or suggested logo designs!), please let me have them by the end of October if possible>.
The forthcoming touring exhibition Beacons by the Sea - Stories of Australian Lighthouses is full of original drawings of lighthouses and fascinating stories about the lives of lighthouse keepers and their families. Many drawings, photographs and stories in the National Archives (NAA) collection will be featured.
The exhibition is on display in the NAA Canberra gallery from 19 October 2002 to 26 January 2003, then will tour to regional galleries and museums across Australia for three years.
Hundreds of original architectural drawings of lighthouses in the NAA collection have now been digitised and can be viewed on their database RecordSearch, simply by entering the name of the lighthouse and reference number.
For example the keyword of Montague with the reference number of A9568 will give you a listings of 5 plans associated with Montague Island Lighthouse.
The digitised drawings and plans depict the lighthouses as well as the lights, lighthouse keepers' residences, storerooms, watchhouses and equipment. Some plans are so large that they had to be photographed in segments and 'stitched together' in the computer.
Teachers and students can explore the intriguing subject of lighthouses through the education program that will accompany our touring exhibition.
The program caters for years 5-10, with links to the National SOSE (Studies of Society and the Environment) and HSIE (History, Society, Information and the Environment) curricula.
It explores key themes in the exhibition such as shipwrecks, lighthouse technology and life in a lightstation, and includes teachers resources and student activity sheets.
Parents and children can explore the exhibition together by following a self-guided discovery trail.
For more information on our education program, please phone (02) 6212 3933 or email <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
If you know of any news or event effecting an Australian Lighthouse please forward it to us so we can publish in the Monthly Bulletin.
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.
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Thanks to those who let me use their photos for thumbnails.
until the November 2002 Bulletin
The OCTOBER 02 BULLETIN was published on: 15/10/02
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