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Australian Lighthouses – 1

Cape Byron

Cape Byron
Lighthouse Tower

Inhospitable, isolated locations and the sentinel service they provide for mariners lend lighthouses a romantic appeal. Their unique architecture, long history the world over and their use as locations for many dramatic movies add to this appeal. Judy and I have always admired them in photographs, films and the odd one we’ve seen by chance when out and about.

On a recent brief stay at Currumbin we decided spend a morning visiting the Fingal Head lighthouse in northern New South Wales. It left us a bit underwhelmed, being quite small but it triggered the idea of investigating lighthouses in south east Queensland and New South Wales.

A visit to the Australian Lighthouses Inc website revealed a treasure-trove of lighthouses, both modern and historical, with details and photographs. I must say the modern versions leave us a bit cold, being utilitarian in design and lacking in any charm. So we decided to restrict our interest to those historical lighthouses of classical lines.

This blog covers four around Brisbane and northern New South Wales, each of which can be accessed by an easy day drive from Brisbane. More will follow as we encounter them as part of our travel blogs.

A number of Australian lighthouses offer accommodation in the old keeper’s cottages which would be a wonderful experience though a bit expensive unless you were in a group. Information and bookings are available through the Lighthouse Accommodation website.

Some lighthouses have day tours, details of which can be obtained by searching the web for individual lighthouses.

The Old Caloundra Lighthouse

This lighthouse is located beside a more modern replacement, which is pretty utilitarian ugly, on Canberra Terrace Caloundra [26 48S: 153 08E]. It served as a harbour light as well as a coastal light and is the oldest surviving building in Caloundra. The replacement signal tower was obscured by new high rise buildings in the late 60’s and in 1978 its coastal light function was transferred to a new concrete tower at Point Cartwright on the mouth of the Mooloolah River [26 40.9S: 158 08.2E]

The Old Caloundra Lighthouse, like many older Queensland lighthouses, has a tapered wooden frame, but is uniquely clad in vertically corrugated iron – the more traditional cladding is unadorned sheet metal. The corrugations themselves are tapered which is another interesting thing about the design.

The Old Caloundra Lighthouse is the only remaining example of two which were fitted with corrugated iron cladding; the other was located at Lytton Hill (dismantled in the 1990s).

Getting There

The journey is pretty straight forward and the lighthouse easy to locate. Travelling north from Brisbane take the Caloundra turnoff from the Bruce Highway and follow it through as it becomes Bulcock Street. Bulcock Street travels uphill through the town and Canberra Terrace is towards the top of the hill on the left. The lighthouses with a small car park are on the right almost on the corner of Arthur Street and Canberra Terrace.

History

1896 – Establishment of the original lighthouse.

1910 – Upgraded from kerosene to incandescent kerosene vapour lamp.

1942 – The light source converted to 240 volt mains power with a standby generator and the light was attended from the Brisbane Depot at New Farm.

Harold Chesterman who joined the Lighthouse Service shortly after WW2 states –

“It originally had kerosene light and was converted to automatic and plugged into the town mains when I came into contact with it in the late 1940’s. It was most unreliable and I had many a trip to Caloundra from Brisbane, where I was based at the Lighthouse Depot at New Farm. At about 5 o’clock on winter evenings, when all the housewives in Caloundra turned on their stoves and radiators, down went the voltage and out went the light. Then it would change over to batteries and a bell would ring in the Depot and I had to drive up to Caloundra to switch it back from batteries to the mains.” – Observer (22nd Feb 1995)

Eventually the Lighthouse Service arranged for a neighbour to switch the lighthouse back to mains power when required saving a lot of inconvenient to-and-froing from Brisbane. The neighbour inherited the bell and had to arrange for a “babysitter” if he and his family went out at night. – (Quote and notes from Lighthouses Australia Inc website).

1968 – The advent of large container vessels saw the deep Moreton Bay channel become increasingly important. To service this growing activity a new Signal Tower with added radar and radio operations was constructed to replace the original lighthouse. The construction of adjacent high rise buildings reduced the new tower’s function to a harbour light from 1974 to 1992.

The old lighthouse ceased functioning and fell into disrepair.

1970 – Old lighthouse rescued by the Golden Beach Power Boat Club and relocated to Woorim Park near their club house. The outer surface was rendered in cement to seal it.

1999 – Restored and returned to its original position. A history with photographs of the restoration and resiting is included in the Lighthouses of Australia Project Bulletin.

2010 – Lighthouse precinct placed on Queensland Heritage Register.

The precinct has a sign board with historical information.

Other Attractions

We were impressed with Caloundra and noticed great changes since our last visit many years ago. The town centre is clean with a lovely avenue of fig trees over Bulcock Street and has a great variety of shops, eateries and coffee shops. It has the other advantage of several major white-sand beaches and rocky foreshores. There is plenty of accommodation if you wanted to make a few days of it.

Our outing was finished with a lazy lunch at one of the many fine eateries at Bulcock Beach before we headed home.

Cleveland Point Lighthouse

Cleveland was a thriving port in the middle of the 19th century until the port facilities were relocated in the Brisbane River. This historic, timber-built lighthouse represents the first generation of lighthouses in Queensland. [21 37S: 153 17E]

Its tapered timber frame  clad with weather boards is unique and it remains the only one of three fully timbered lighthouses left standing.

Getting There

Travel south east from Brisbane along Old Cleveland Road to Capalaba. Old Cleveland Road becomes Finucane Street, which becomes Shore Street West, North Street, Shore Street North and Cleveland Point. In essence this is all one long roadway to the Point, although it is beset with numerous roundabouts.

History

1865 – Erected to replace an earlier beacon.

1872 – Lens replaced with one from the Moreton Island light.

1920 – Two red sectors were fitted to indicate shoals near Peel Island, Cleveland Point and Banana Island.

1934 – Converted from kerosene to electric power.

1969 – Served as an experimental base for the first local use of laser beams.

1975 – Decommissioned.

1975 – Moved to present location to make way for a new beacon.

1999 – Restored to its former glory after suffering damage from the weather, termites and vandals.

Other Attractions

Cleveland is a nice tidy suburb with lots of lovely ancient figs and Poincianas overhanging the main road. The Poincianas must make a wonderful display when in flower (mid-late summer). At the Point there is a pleasant restaurant, called not surprisingly the Lighthouse Restaurant, which serves everything from meals, takeaways or coffee and cake. We had morning tea there (coffee and cake) and it was excellent although the “mugs” are cup-sized. The dining areas are literally right beside the water providing a nice view over Moreton Bay.

There is a park at the Point with recently upgraded amenities so between the restaurant and the Lighthouse this destination would make a pleasant day drive.

If you feel like a more formal dining experience you could take in the well credentialed historic Old Courthouse Restaurant situated at 1 Paxton Street, a side street before the Point (Restaurant well sign posted on Shore Street). Amongst its many services, this establishment serves a la carte lunches and dinners all days except Mondays.

Fingal Head Lighthouse

Set on an elevated headland this is a small lighthouse of cement rendered brick painted a traditional white. It is one of the most easterly Australian lighthouses. [28 12.2S: 153 34.3E]. The original storeroom has been removed. Tacking Point Lighthouse (Port Macquarie NSW), the Clarence River Lighthouse (Ballina NSW) and Crowdy Head Lighthouse (Taree New, South Wales) are of the same design. Of these the Tacking Point and Crowdy Head Lighthouses have the original attached storeroom making them visually more substantial.

Getting There

This lighthouse is just over the Queensland – New South Wales border. It can be reached from the Pacific Highway heading south and turning left into Fingal Road just after crossing the Tweed River Bridge (just after Banora Point). Fingal Road follows the Tweed River eventually becoming Lighthouse Parade which curves to the right ending at a small car park and the Reserve. A short walk on a sandy track through bushland and a slight climb leads you to the lighthouse.

Again it was some years since we visited this lighthouse and much has changed. The bush is denser and a boardwalk with several sets of steps now leads up to the headland, which has been densely planted with Pandanus Palms.

History

1872 – Established and had a fixed white light provided by a kerosene wick burner.

1920 – Automatic acetylene lamp fitted and the single keeper was withdrawn.

Other Attractions

There are two other attractions with this trip. On each side of the main track there are side tracks that lead to lovely, curving sandy beaches. The other attraction is geological.

The headland and Cook Island, just offshore, were formed about 23 million years ago through the activities of the Tweed volcano centred on Mt Warning. Very deep flows of black basalt lava cooled slowly and formed hexagonal cooling columns. These columns are visible in the steep cliffs on the ocean side of the headland and are visible on Cook Island. In fact if you do a Google Earth search for Cook Island you can see the hexagonal formations that form the entire surface of the island resembling a tessellated pavement.

At the northern end of the headland the cooling columns have become separated from the mainland to form a small island. The passage is called the Devil’s Gateway after a similar formation in Ireland. In addition to this interesting geology are views to the white curving beaches either side of the headland.

This is another interesting day drive from Brisbane although you will have to get back to Tweed Heads or Coolangatta if you want coffee or lunch. There are no picnic or toilet facilities on the headland.

Cape Bryon Lighthouse

The Cape Byron Lighthouse is one of the many attractive Australian classical lighthouses and its most easterly mainland installation [28 38.4S: 153 38.1 E]. It is set on an elevated, rocky headland whose rocks were crushed to form aggregate and used to prefabricate the concrete blocks for its construction (1901).

Getting There

Take the Pacific Highway into New South Wales turning left into Broken Head Road at the Byron Bay turnoff and follow the signs to Byron Bay. Pass through the town to Lighthouse Road, which ascends to the Lighthouse. Towards the top this road is one way and if you want to drive right up to the Lighthouse precinct you are asked to pay $7 to park for one hour. There is a small cafe, gift shop and museum in the old Keeper’s cottages as well as visitor accommodation.

History

1901 – Constructed of concrete blocks made from crushed rocks hauled up from the headland below the lighthouse site.

It was designed by the then New South Wales Architect Charles Harding after the style of his predecessor James Barnett. Towers with a large ornate crown identify this style and it is visually very attractive.

The optical lens was made in France. It has 760 pieces of polished prismatic glass, weighed 8 tons, was rotated by clockwork mechanism on a bearing with mercury lubrication and had a concentric six wick burner.

1922 – Wick burner replaced by a kerosene vaporised burner.

1956 – Light source converted to mains electricity. It is the brightest lighthouse in Australia. Rotating mechanism converted from clockwork to electric motor.

This light house has both accommodation and day tours. It is also open to the public (downstairs) most days with volunteers to answer questions. All doors are solid Red Cedar from locally sourced timber. The main door has a large frosted, ornamental glass panel and the entrance hall is tiled in crisp, alternating black and white parquetry. Stepping into this entrance immediatley gives impressions of careful design and a safe haven in times  of turbulent weather.

Other Attractions

On the day we were in Byron Bay (school holidays in New South Wales) the traffic was horrendous and there was virtually no parking. We eventually found a spot at the southern end of Clarke’s Beach on the northern side of Cape Byron and were surprised to see parking meters everywhere.

Clarke’s Beach has vegetation right down to the sand which was a nice contrast to the Gold Coast Beaches where the dunes are covered with buildings. It also had wonderful views of Mt Warning and its surrounding mountains. There is a small rocky lookout (with stairs) at The Pass that provides a more elevated view of the perfectly arched beach and, over Cape Byron to the south, a teasing glimpse the main attraction, the lighthouse.

If you are feeling energetic there is a walk from the Clarke’s Beach parking area that leads up through bush to Cape Byron and the Lighthouse.  At the Lighthouse there are walkways to the point of Cape Byron.

We had coffee and cake at a cafe near the car park and although the coffee and cake were excellent we felt $29 was a bit steep especially as the “mug” was a cup and the cake portions were not generous.

After visiting the lighthouse we had a light lunch at the cafe beside the lighthouse (not great range of food and tables in the open without shade) and headed for home through Byron Bay still clogged with traffic. Note to self – time our next visit to avoid school holidays.

Acknowledgements

Notes on the lighthouses were compiled from details in –

  • The Lighthouses of Australia Inc website. (An excellent compilation of notes, history, locations and photos of Australian lighthouses).  All lighthouse co-ordinates in the blog are from this source.
  • The Lighthouses of Australia Project Bulletin. (Notes by lighthouse enthusiasts).
  • John Ibbertson 2004. Lighthouses of Australia, Images from the End of an Era. (An excellent and detailed research reference with stunning photos – publication details in “Reference” page of this blog site).

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