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Bulletin - Vol 8 No. 5
September/October 2005


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Cape Willoughby Lighthouse
Whale bones and regular white stones decorate the area around the tower

Photograph: Kristie Eggleston

Kangaroo Island Lighthouses Part III - Cape Willoughby

by Denise Shultz, LoA President & Prism Editor

We conclude the story of Denise's lighthouse holiday at Kangaroo Island, South Australia in January this year.
Part 1 - May/June 2005 Bulletin - discovery of the spiritual solitude at Cape du Couedic Lighthouse
Part 2 - July/August 2005 Bulletin - astronomy and pharology at Cape Borda Lighthouse

Cape Willoughby Lighthouse and cottages
Cape Willoughby, also known as Sturt Light, was the first lighthouse to be built in South Australia. The original cottages were demolished in 1927 and new residences were built right next to the lighthouse. Named Seymour (centre) and Thomas (left) they are now available as luxury holiday accommodation.

Our two days at Cape Borda rushed past like a landing space shuttle and we were shifting camp again. We checked the weather station and had a last chat with Dan and Raff and at 11.30 it was “adieu” to Cape Borda as we headed back east.

Cape Willoughby is on the Dudley Peninsula at the opposite side of the island. In between lies the oldest town on Kangaroo Island, Kingscote, where the first official European settlement of South Australia took place in July 1836. At nearby Reeves Point, an ancient but still fertile mulberry tree commemorates the event. When we tasted its delicious ripe fruit, we felt once more the connection with the past. 

Cape Willoughby cottages
The northernmost cottage, 'Cawthorne', is a museum today. The bay in the centre background is the site of the former lightstation cottages.

Sadly, the success of the budding colony was short lived, as there was no reliable source of good water at Kingscote, and the centre of population was shifted in December the same year to the nearby shore of Gulf of St. Vincent, later named Port Adelaide. With that the majority of the early settlers also departed but some who stayed became very prosperous. In 1859, local brothers James and Michael Calnan built three identical cottages out of stone and named them piously Faith, Hope and Charity. 

The original lantern room
The original Cape Willoughby lantern room with its lens has been placed atop a newly-built lighthouse replica at the Hope Cottage museum.

Photograph: Kristie Eggleston

Two of these cottages survive until today - Hope is a cosy museum owned and maintained by the National Trust of SA and Charity is still somebody’s home. Unfortunately, Faith did not survive the 1920s.

Paul and I loved the Hope Museum because it had something for both of us. The Kewpie dolls inside the cottage and the replica of a lighthouse with slowly rotating first order lens from Cape Willoughby in the yard caught my fancy, while Paul admired a collection of old engines, cars and machinery in the museum’s farm shed. 

View from the balcony
Looking over the 'Seymour' and 'Thomas' Cottages of the lightstation, with the long dirt road heading back over the Dudley Peninsula in the background.

We returned to Kingscote for lunch and coffee and I raided the souvenir shop. There I found, among other things, Julie Carstairs’ Cape Borda lighthouse lamp, locally made olive oil (frightfully expensive), and a very interesting book by Rebe Taylor called Unearthed. The book is a well researched history of Tasmanian aboriginal women brought to the island by sealers in early 1800s, well before the official settlement of the island began. 

With all those trophies safely in the back of the car, we were set for Cape Willoughby

We drove through the very narrow neck where Dudley Peninsula joins the larger rest of the island and soon found ourselves on a dusty road again, passing along farms and wineries. At last, a beautiful vista opened before our eyes. Bare grass plains gave way to the blue of the sea, and on its boundary, a picturesque group of white, red-roofed cottages with a short, stumpy lighthouse dominated the scene. Closer to us, a new ultra-modern building on the left side of the road would have looked striking by itself, but in combination with the lightstation, the impression was more of disharmony.

The lantern room
The lantern room looks neat and tidy with historic pictures, plaques and keyhole-shaped windows.

When we arrived we just caught Wren Lashmar, the manager-caretaker, as he was leaving the lightstation after a busy day at work. We had a chat and settled to meet again the next afternoon for some more talk and action. 

Once again, we were moving inside the lightkeepers cottage. Ours was called Seymour, the other two Thomas and Cawthorne, all named undoubtedly after the early lightkeepers. (Nat Thomas, one of the first settlers in the area, was talked about in the article Journal of a trip to Kangaroo Island by W.A. Cawthorne, the lightkeeper's son, published in Prism 2/2003 and Bulletin 2/2003). Yet again, the standard of accommodation was impeccable: comfortable beds, well equipped kitchen and roomy lounge, but the pièce de résistance was the bathroom containing the antique porcelain bathtub. I was not sure whether I would be able to use it, as both Cape du Couedic and Cape Borda had a shortage of water and a bath was not an option. Only later, I found out from Wren that it was not the case in here. What a delicious luxury! 

The original cottages
This archive photograph, taken prior to the cottages' demolition in the late 1920s, shows the original Cape Willoughby cottages hugging the bay which was some distance from the lighthouse.

Photograph courtesy: Wren Lashmar

There was plenty of light left in the day yet, so we decided to go down to the valley below the lighthouse to search for whatever was left of the original cottages. The site is several hundred metres from the lighthouse, down the hill. The weather was beautiful and the walk was nothing but pleasant for us, but it must have been another story for the poor lightkeepers who used to walk the distance in the middle of the night during rain and gale and all kinds of weather. No wonder they complained and eventually, in 1927, they were moved to the newly built cottages closer to the lighthouse, the same ones we were now inhabiting.

We tried hard but could find very little evidence of the original cottages. A suggestion of flattened ground, a bit of rubble here and there and an old rusty iron lid from the water tank betrayed the presence of long gone cottages. If we did not know where we were standing, we could never guess the significance of these remnants.

Cape St Albans lighthouse
The Cape St Albans lighthouse is located on a grassy peninsula about 4km north of Cape Willoughby. The access is restricted because it lies on private land.

Photograph: Marguerite Stephen

We were back at the foot of the lighthouse for the sunset show with the inevitable glass of wine, which has become almost a tradition. We saw the Willoughby lighthouse switch on, but the light seemed very feeble indeed. South Page Island in the middle of Backstairs Passage and the nearby Cape St. Albans both outshone Willoughby by a factor of at least twenty. But they were far away and so out came the telescope again. This time, neither wind nor the light from the lighthouse was a hindrance. Instead, we encountered another menace. At dusk, cute possums appeared from nowhere, looking for something to eat. When nothing was forthcoming from us, one decided that I would do for dinner, and tried to bite off my toe. Ouch! It taught me a lesson to never come out of the house after dusk without adequate foot protection. Despite my swollen toe, it ended up as a very successful night of star, nebula and galaxy gazing.

The next day we had a tour of the lighthouse with a group of visitors. Before we entered the lighthouse, we looked around the Cawthorne Cottage, which has been converted to a museum that holds many items of interest to a pharophile. Old photographs, documents, lighthouse lenses and paraphernalia as well as a souvenir shop with many art and craft items inspired by the lighthouses filled the former head keepers cottage. The museum has now so many items that it is expanding into the former engine room.

The tower interior
Industrial grade staircase inside the Cape Willoughby tower looks decidedly uneasy.

When we entered the lighthouse, I was quite shocked by its inside appearance. While its original spiral oak staircase must have looked beautiful, it was ripped out in the seventies and replaced by rectangular steel stairs with three landings. The result looks very industrial. Our tour guide Yani could not be more enthusiastic about the lighthouse and managed to transfer her positive energy to the whole group.

We hardly saw Wren, as once again, he was very busy, but we knew that we would catch up with him and Ann after work. In the afternoon we went for a trip to American River, the site of the early sealing and whaling station, where a group of shipwrecked American whalers built themselves a vessel from local timber. On the opposite side of the shallow lagoon lies Strawbridge Point, speckled with camp sites, shacks and beach houses. It is also possible to drive the car along the beach, a little bit like miniature Fraser Island. 

Aerial view of the lightstation

Photograph: Winsome Bonham

On the way back to the lighthouse, we stopped at the modernistic building close to the lightstation that caught our attention the day before. It was a café - winery, so we did not hesitate and sampled the locally made Dudley Peninsula wines. With a very satisfying red and rosè in the bag, we crossed the remaining few hundred metres and were back “home” at the lighthouse. By now, it was past visiting hours and we met with Ann and Wren for a talk and walk around the lightstation. I filled in a lot of details that escaped us during the tour before and after we exchanged the latest lighthouse gossip, it was time for serious business again. We boarded our utes and the Lashmars led the way to show us the nearby St. Albans lighthouse. It is on private land surrounded by pasture and we had to unlock the gate to get there. A very steep and scary descent at the end of the road took us right to the little lighthouse. Though paling in comparison with its older, more famous cousin across the bay during the day, at night, it outshines Willoughby by a mile. Paul and I felt very privileged that we were allowed to take a close look at this lovely example of an early automatic light.

After locking up the gate from the outside again, we said goodbye to Ann and Wren and parted ways. They headed home to Penneshaw, while we drove back to the Willoughby lighthouse. It was our last night on Kangaroo Island. The next day, we boarded the ferry back to the mainland and our holiday was over. It seemed way too short and I could have stayed for another month at Kangaroo Island, but of course, we had to go back to work.

I started this series with an old saying so I’ll finish with another one. In the end, it is not the quantity but the quality that really counts.

All photographs by Denise Shultz unless otherwise attributed.

Email Denise Shultz

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