The Limestone Coast of South Australia has an unenviable record of shipwrecks and resulting loss of life. In 1852 the crew and passengers of a ship called Margaret Brock were lucky to survive when they were wrecked on the rocks 8 kilometers off the point of Cape Jaffa. The reef was subsequently named “Margaret Brock Reef”. A further six accidents occurred before the decision to erect a lighthouse was made. The Lighthouse began operation on 6th January 1872, and continued until a new lighthouse at Robe began operation – 1st April 1973. The future of the old lighthouse remained uncertain, until intense lobbying by members of the National Trust secured it’s relocation to nearby Kingston. This immense task was completed in 1976 and thanks to the foresight of these people visitors get an opportunity to view an original lighthouse from the 1880’s.
I was very fortunate to recently take a boat trip out to the reef, where the original lighthouse platform now is a rookery for the Australasian Gannet. The day before my trip, the seas had been very rough, and it would have been impossible to safely get close to the platform, so luck was certainly with us on this day of calm seas. The trip was led by Ross, from the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and the other passengers were, I think I could say, birders. Me? I was out there for adventure and to see if I had any sea legs 🙂 The answer – yes!
Spare a thought for the men who built this structure. It was a lovely calm day like this when the man who won(?) the contract for building the lighthouse paid his first visit. He later had to find out to his great financial cost, that there would only be 4months of the year of decent weather and this meant heavy penalties for every day over the stated one year for completion. It took 3 years and I thought it a shameful part of history that this contractor was initially deceived about this situation, and then held at ransom when he couldn’t fulfill his original intentions. I think it’s testiment to his own sense of decency that he stayed with the task – a lesser man could have simply left it undone and disappeared…..
There were three lighthouse keepers and their families. Two stayed out on the reef, while a third rested on the shore, and maintained the cottages and monitored the radio. Back in July, I walked down the coast from Cape Jaffa to the site of the original cottages. It’s a bit far to walk in summertime…..
Like many settlers in new lands before and since, they brought with them garden favourites, and these have naturalised the area. The air was quite heady with their perfume, although really, they are an environmental weed.
Back on firm soil, I drove from Cape Jaffa to Kingston, and as it was school holidays, the Lighthouse was open for viewing. It is staffed by volunteers, and the two I met obviously loved their task in explaining the history.
No push button automatic washing machines in those days – and yes, I’ve experienced washing by this method in the days I lived out bush, and am quite happy to be done with it. The flags were the method of communicating with passing ships.
The heart of a lighthouse of course, is the Light.
I had a little difficulty with absorbing all the facts from the wonderful guide, as I was adjusting to being up so high in such a small space…..