Life At Althorpe Lighthouse
by Kendall Holbert
Feeling temporarily of odds with his surroundings and unable to discover the niche that he sought, a young SA ex-serviceman recently took a job at the lighthouse on Al thorpe Is. There he found peace, an interest in -Hife that was new to him, and much to occupy his mind. When he returned, his spirits were restored, and al most exactly the job he had previously sought in vain was awaiting him. In the accompanying article he describes life on the island.
ALTHORPE Is., standing in In- vestigator Strait, four and a half miles south of Cape Spencer, Yorke Peninsula, has been passed by thousands of South Australian people on their way around the Gulf and outward and homeward bound from abroad. I won der how many have ever considered the people who live on the island and the life they lead, as they man the lighthouse station there. The Althorpes, as the group is usually known, since it comprises three is lands and several reefs, were discovered by Flinders during his voyage of discovery in
Approaching Althorpe Island from the north-east. This is the leeward side. The light can be seen faintly in the centre of the picture.
the 'Investigator' and named in honor of George John Spencer, Viscount Al thorp, at that time First Lord of the Admiralty, and an elder brother of Trinity House (the lighthouse au thority) . The largest island of the group, on which the light is situated, is three-quarters of a mile long and half a mile wide. It rises almost sheer out of the sea to a height of over 300 ft., and is composed of sandstone on a black granite formation. Approached from seawards, it presents a wild and deso late aspect, standing out against the sky, the sea surg ing about its base, and the broken and tumbled strata of the granite indicating its violent volcanic origin.
On the north-east side, a jetty has been constructed, running out into a small bay. protected from the sea by a reef extending north from the north-west point of the island. ? * ? ON this reef in 1919, the steamer Pareora, bound for Adelaide, was wrecked with the loss of three men, who were buried in a small plot of ground a few yards from where the jetty is built. A white picket fence surrounds their grave, and a legend painted on a wea thered board reads:— 'In memory of J. C.' Branth waite, J. G. Booth, R. Deebly, 'S.S. Pareora,' wrecked 18th October, 1919.'
Heavy seas rolling right up from the south latitudes pound the rocky south-west side of tiny Althorpe Island. This picturesque shot in a westerly gale was made by the writer of the article.
Behind the jetty, where the Yandra, on her fortnightly trip from Adelaide, lands stores and mail for the keepers, is a small beach, some hundred yards long. Above this the cliff rises sheer to the top. From the end of the jetty to the cliff top, a flying fox has been constructed to haul food, kerosene, firewood and
other supplies to the top. A path climbs up the cliff face. On the top of the island the ground is
gently undulating, covered by a thick growth of bushes and grass, and on a slight rise the tower and houses are built. ? ? ? IN 1877 the South Aus tralian Government recog nised the hazard presented by the Althorpes to ship ping. Tenders were unsuc cessfully called for the con struction of a lighthouse. Finally, the Government de cided to undertake the work.
Owing to the inaccessible and rugged nature of the spot, the task presented tre mendous difficulties. The tower, designed by the Harbors and Jetties Board Engineer, Mr. R. Hickson, was officially lit bv the Pre sident of the Marine Board on Friday, February 14, 1879. It stands 40 feet high, and is built of solid limestone,
with lintels and quoins of hard sandstone. All the stone was quarried and cut on the island. In the tower, the spiral staircase, of unusual con struction, is of interest. Each hard sandstone step is cut and let into the limestone wall. Including the light itself, which is a first order diop tric, and the lightkeepers' cottages, the total cost of construction was £11,000.
The light is white, except in that quadrant of the compass from north to west, when it is red. The red sector covers the approaches to Emmes Reef and south west rock, which lie 3¼ miles west by south and north by west respectively of the island. The light is visible in clear weather up to 35 miles.
On the top floor af the tower is housed the machinery for re volving the great lenses which concen
trate the light into 16 beams and project it out over the ocean. A passing vessel observes the light only as a flash as each beam comes into and passes out of focus. The flash occurs every 15 seconds. * * * THE revolving machinery works on the old clockwork principle. Weights are wound to the top of the tower, and as they slowly
run down to the bottom, ;hey provide the necessary power through a system of gearing. The machinery is wound up at three-hourly intervals. The lamp is a kerosene burning, incandescent one and is lit and extinguished at sunset and sunrise. Around the light and lenses, plateglass walls 13 ft. 6 in. high provide protection from the elements. The cottages of the three keepers are also constructed of island limestone. They are built a short distance from the tower, together with the oil store, workshop and sheds for firewood, &c. At present on the island are three lightkeepers— Mr. Cain, the headkeeper, and his wife; Mr. and Mrs. J. Gibbie, and Mr. and Mrs. Len Swenson. Their duties consist of keeping a constant watch on the light and maintaining the station and equipment in first-class order. The headkeeper lights the lamp at sunset and main tains a watch until 9 p.m., when he is relieved by the second keper, who in turn is relieved at 2 a.m. The third keeper, who maintains the watch until dawn and extin guishes the light, fills and pumps up the kerosene and air tanks in readiness for the next night. During the daylight hours curtains are hung up around
the lenses to protect them from the direct rays of the sun. The work during the day includes everything from painting to cleaning and polishing the brasswork and machinery, which, as on every light station in the world, is kept in absolute cleanliness and orderliness. The work demands patience and unfailing attention to even the most minor detail to ensure that the light shall not fail. In their homes on the island the same orderliness is present. Shining brass work, glass, floors, &c, stand as a testimony to the indus try of the women-folk. * ? * FOODSTUFFS and mail arrive at fortnightly in tervals, weather permitting, and perishables are imme diately stored in the re frigerators with which each cottage is provided. (Continued on Page 31)
Life At Althorpe Lighthouse (Continued from Page 27)
The lantern of the lighthouse from inside. The 1 42,000 candlepower lamp is in the centre, with the huge lenses behind it.
As is to be expected in such a lonely and isolated community, without any of the amenities of life on the mainland, ways and means must be found by the keepers and their families to pass the time. Fishing is popular, and the small population is hardly ever without a supply of fresh fish or crayfish. Swim ming is enjoyed during the summer and tennis is played on an improvised court. Woodwork, reading and occasional rambles around the island all help to pass the leissure hours, while occasional gymnastics keep the staff physically fit. Much has been written, and much more imagined, about the loneliness and so called romance of a light housekeeper's life. Here are the impressions of the writer after his six months' stay on the Althorpes. There is a sense of loneli ness, for a while at least, but it soon goes and one hardly, if ever, gives a thought to life on the mainland. There is much to do to keep one interested and mentally alert. A variety of flowers bloom marvellously in the rich, sandy soil with a little at tention. The scene is al ways changing .... wind, sun, sea, rain and the sea sons forever weave new pat terns of light and color. Visitors come . . . fishermen or friends from the city. One can keep happy and con tented in spite of the lack of social life as city people know it.
THE sense of isolation is largely alleviated by the pedal wireless. This is in stalled in the tower on the first floor, and every day at 9 a.m., 12 noon and 4 p.m. the station 'goes on the air.' Other stations in the vicinity . . . Cape Borda, Troubridge Shoal and Neptune Island are on the air at the same times, and messages and tele grams to the mainland are sent and received via Cape Borda, which is in telephone communication with Ade laide. At such outposts sensible people learn to 'insulate' themselves against the minor irritations caused by living for months in the same com pany. If they could not do this life would become in tolerable. It is to the credit of the men and women on the stations that a spirit of harmony and friendliness usually prevails. Wild life on the island is varied. Penguins nest there in the mating season, and their young are to be seen in nooks and crannies around the shore. During the sum mer months, from September to March, mutton birds migrating from Siberia nest on the island in millions, digging their nests in the soil, under bushes and literally covering the ground. Blinded by the light, they dash themselves against the glass as they come in from the ocean at dusk. Years ago, seals were plen tiful on the island, but owing to large scale slaughter dur ing the early days of the State, few, if any, remain. All other animal life com prises about 20 goats, two cats and the station dog.