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Bulletin - Vol 8 No. 4
July/August 2005


Features

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The Cape Borda Lighthouse
The lightstation is surrounded by 100m cliffs.

Kangaroo Island Lighthouses - Part 2 : Cape Borda

by Denise Shultz, LoA President & Prism Editor

We continue the story of Denise's lighthouse holiday at Kangaroo Island, South Australia in January this year. Part 1 published in the May/June 2005 Bulletin documented her discovery of the spiritual solitude at Cape du Couedic Lighthouse. Part 2 covers her time at Cape Borda Lighthouse at the north-west corner of Kangaroo Island.


The sea lions at Seal Bay
Photograph: Kristie Eggleston

After two days of “splendid isolation” Paul and I said farewell to the lovely Cape du Couedic and after spending the previous day exploring the wilderness of the west coast of the island from West Cove to Breakneck River and the Cascades, we decided to behave like proper tourists for a change and headed back where we came from, towards the east.


Kelly Hill Caves, Flinders Chase National Park
Photograph: Kristie Eggleston

Seal Bay is probably the most visited tourist attraction of the island and for a good reason. There are few places in Australia, where seals can be observed at such a close range. It is a breeding colony of about 600 Australian sea lions which seems to be quite comfortable and undisturbed by a constant stream of inquisitive people, who just can’t get enough of them. Like in Flinders Chase, time did not stand still here either. A large interpretative centre instead of a wooden shed, wider paths and boardwalks and for the sake of safety, more restrictions. The distance to which the animals can be approached has increased while the action radius of the beach walk has shrunk. But our ranger-guide Yula was very friendly and knowledgeable and we really enjoyed having an informal talk to her after the tour.


The corrugated red dust road to Cape Borda
Photograph: Kristie Eggleston

It was a very hot day and so, after replenishing our diesel supply and having lunch at Vivonne Bay, we decided that we needed to cool down underground. Except for better lighting, nothing much had changed at Kelly Hill Caves. Fortunately, the limestone formations were still beautiful and delicate while the caves were still as crowded as ever. After visiting the caves, we felt that we paid enough homage to the thriving tourist industry and it was time to get back to the lighthouse. We headed north along now comfortably sealed West End Highway, but after turning west at the main road intersection, we were soon bumping along the corrugated surface and stirring the red dust of Cape Borda Road.


The Cape Borda Lighthouse Keepers Cottages
The two main residences were extended and reconstructed many times. The Headkeeper's cottage (the current caretaker's residence) is on the left, while the newer Assistant Keeper's cottage is on the right. Both cottages face north, away from the prevailing winds. The lighthouse is to the right of the cottages.

Another 30-odd km later we were at the lightstation and if there was any change here, at least it was not immediately obvious. It was 5.30 pm and the place seemed strangely deserted. Several times we slowly drove around, checking the houses which were scattered around the lightstation and hoping to provoke a reaction, but no one came out. After some hesitation, I decided to knock on the door of the biggest house that looked occupied, judging from the clothesline full of washing. Luckily, it was not another visitor, but a ranger who came out and soon, we were moving our stuff inside the house next door. 

Swiftly, we settled in, had a quick dinner and came out for some socialising. It was evening and well past the tour times but the lightstation suddenly came alive. There were the rangers Torran and Rafferty going about their business but also a pair of overnight visitors and a small group of campers from nearby Harvey’s Return.

The boys from the tiny cottage (which Torran called with tongue in cheek “The Chateau” ) were busy cooking their dinner and taking a shower in the rangers’ house, but we all came out to watch together the sunset over Southern Ocean. 


Torran, one of the rangers at Cape Borda fires the cannon

With the Sun spectacle gone, everyone retreated to their rooms, the campers keen to return to their canvas homes before darkness fell. Sheltering from the wind on the northern side of the lighthouse Paul and I stayed and watched the lights come on. First, the light above our heads started to blink in a sequence of four flashes and as the darkness got deeper, we were able to distinguish more and more lights flickering further out at sea.


Cape Borda lens

Cape Borda's fourth order lens sends four flashes every 20 seconds with the intensity of 170,000 candela.

I knew one of them was Althorpe Island because we could see the lighthouse on top of the island during the day, in binoculars. The visibility was remarkable because we were able to distinguish even the Neptune Islands, some 70 km away. When the night fell, we were surprised to see six other lights from Cape Borda. The whole horizon was lit up like a Christmas tree with lights flashing in various sequences and intensities. It crossed my mind that it would be really confusing for someone out at sea, if they were able to see what we did, but because Cape Borda is 150m above sea level, our visibility range was, of course, much farther than that of someone standing aboard a ship. Such an observer could probably not see more than three lights at once. For us, it was the sight to remember. That evening, we were able to see Althorpe Island, Cape Spencer, West Cape, Wedge Island and North and South Neptune Islands. With Cape Borda behind us, we saw a record of seven lights altogether. 


Cape Borda Museum
The former stores building that was also used to house the workshops, stables and cart shed is now a museum

The next morning, there was an ominous haze over the ocean which hid all islands we were able to see so clearly on the previous day. It was originating on the mainland, coming from Eyre Peninsula. We did not know that it was the sign of a terrible bushfire which destroyed houses, farms and animals and during which three people died at Port Lincoln.

Oblivious to the tragedy that was taking place not so far away, Paul and I went to see Harvey’s Return. It was named after the captain of a whaling ship who returned to the rocky cove in 1834 after a sealing trip.


The Cape Borda Cemetery
The cemetery by the road near Harvey's Return contains sixteen graves, among them that of George Woodward, a head keeper who died in 1858, a month after being pierced through the eye by falling over a tree stump.

When it became the landing place for the lighthouses supplies, a rail was laid in 1859 at a gradient of around 45º. The loads were hauled up with the help of windlass pulled by horses. After that it was another 8 km on land to the lighthouse. The landing of supplies was a pretty hazardous affair and while boats were capsized and swamped on a regular basis, in 1925 two men were drowned when attempting to land the supplies at Harvey’s Return. 

Today, little remains of the tramway and its associated devices and wild goats roam the area, quite nimble on the rocky slopes.

On the way back to the lighthouse we paid our respect to people who did not survive the hardships of the early lighthouse keeping at a cemetery near Harvey’s Return road intersection.


'Captain' Dan Grieve, ranger at Cape Borda, sends the weather report

We were back at the lighthouse well before midday to have a good look at the museum and to witness the regular cannon firing at 1 o’clock. The cannon had been near the lighthouse for as long as it exists, used as a military deterrent, fog signal and time setter. Since 2000, it has been restored to its former glory and is being fired again every day to the delight of visiting tourists.


Entry to the lantern room
Inside the lighthouse, timber stairs lead to the lantern room. Under the stairs, a cupboard is filled with signal flags.

After the cannon blast came the highlight, the visit to the lighthouse. Spotlessly clean and meticulously maintained, it was a delight to see. Polished timber staircase led from the ground floor where, behind wire fence, was the backup diesel generator, to the first landing, where navigation maps and a cupboard with signal flags were on display. The lantern room was out of bounds but it was still possible to see the rotating 250mm Fresnel lens. I would have spent the entire afternoon at the lighthouse if it would have been possible, but we finally had to leave, we had a bushwalk planned.

Later in the afternoon we were on the road again to re-visit Ravine de Casoars. It is a beautiful cove about 5 km south of Cape Borda, which was named by the French because of the number of dwarf emus that they saw there. The emus were made extinct long time ago and today there is a number of feral goats and pigs instead. 


'Captain' Dan Grieve, ranger at Cape Borda raises the flags

The “Ravine” is a beautiful place indeed, it has everything the bushwalker can dream about: the ocean beach with roaring surf, the creek and a lagoon with fresh water, wildlife, spectacular views and on top of that, some very large and deep caves adorned by stalactites, stalagmites and other limestone formations. Best of all they are there for free, unmolested by commercial exploitation. 

The walk, only about 4 km long, used to lead through two different types of forest until it finished on top of the cliff high above the Ravine, with the most spectacular view. The following steep descent was the best part of the walk, but it is not so any more. For safety reasons a new path was cleared, which basically follows the creek and forms a loop on the return, only part of which utilises the old track. Once again, safety and fear of liability repercussions won over the adventurous spirit and obliterated the most remarkable bushwalk on Kangaroo Island. The wildlife was also gone or hiding, we only saw one tiger snake and one goanna which refused to move out of the way, and that was on the old part of the track. It must have been a wise person who once advised to “never look back”.


Some of the lighthouse relics in the Cape Borda Museum

That night, there was not a single light visible far at sea but the sky above us was clear, so we took out the telescope to observe the stars. The light from the lighthouse and strong wind prevented us from observing at Cape du Couedic and this time at Cape Borda, it was no better. Though it was not particularly windy, the lighthouse was just overwhelming. The light was so low above the ground that it swept over the house’s roofs and its reflection killed our every effort to look into the universe. We concluded that astronomy and pharology just do not go together and that one of us will have to find another hobby. (Or maybe not?).

All photographs by Denise Shultz unless otherwise attributed.

 

 


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