to the lighthouse
After almost an hour of twisting, turning, sliding, plummeting, inching, and bumping along the most alarming dirt track I have ever adventured along, this is the sweet sight that greeted us.
Oh with what relief we stretched our legs and trotted off, these gorgeous, freshly whitewashed chimney pots – almost luminescent against the deep blue sky – beckoning us on.
The first building (and information board) to greet us – the telegraph office – which pleased Grandad, a morse code operator and enthusiast, no end. He learnt his skill as a young man during the second world war and then put it to good use in all those post offices he worked in – in those days the post office supervised the bulk of Australia’s telegraphic and telephone communications.
Then the three keepers’ cottages … with front porches and lawns to swoon over … I think that looks like the perfect spot for an hour or so of knitting or reading. Don’t you? :-)
And at last, the lighthouse itself. Green Cape Lighthouse. Built in 1883 – the first cast concrete lighthouse in Australia, the most southerly and second tallest in New South Wales.
There’s a wonderful story shared here by Beryl Royal, the daughter of lighthousekeeper Jim Duncan. Beryl spent five years of her childhood at Green Cape (pre World War 2) and describes a fascinating life that included homeschooling, the ABC’s Children’s Hour and Argonauts’ club, fishing, whale watching, pet wallabies, the thrilling arrival of the three monthly launch with their supplies from McIlrath’s in Sydney, and the endlesss maintenance of the lighthouse. She declares it a wonderful childhood. You really should take a peek at her story – it’s enchanting – finally convinced Grandad of the positive power of the world wide web.
There’s something about lighthouses, isn’t there? Ever since reading Five Goes to Demon’s Rocks, I have been bewitched. They truly do belong to a more romantic era – making such a courageous and resilient stance against the mercurial ocean – one that we, as tiny humans could not. They are our guardians – their lights flashing out over the seas whilst we shelter inside their elegant walls. Oh the sentimental inside me thinks it’s a terrible shame they are now all automated – and some, including Green Cape, no longer even used. There’s now a dreadfully utilitarian and ugly metal skeleton tower here to splash that light out over these heavy southern waters.
Ugh! A naughty, irresponsible part of me hopes that this ghastly thing comes twisting and clattering down in a storm. Obviously, I would never want any ships or boats put at risk – but how satisfying would it be to see this ridiculous, ugly, glorified ladder put in its place and it’s older, magnificent neighbour restored to its rightful position.
One feature that did DELIGHT us was this wee story board. It describes Green Cape as being not just an out flung bastion of government services and provider of safe passage, but a centre for the local settlers and farmers to gather and play … thus, the tennis courts. And the lighthouse families (’cause they preferred to employ lighthouse keepers with families, so as to best create “normal” and cheerful wee communities in these isolated places) were expected to take their roles of organisers and hosts seriously.
I cannot even begin to fathom how local families travelled to this lighthouse for a tennis party but oh standing amongst these lovely buildings, I could see the hustle and bustle. Trestle tables set up on the deep and sheltered porches, laden with food (including roasted black swan, parrot and wallaby!), children running about with their dogs, daring each other to silliness, mothers exhorting them to stay away from the edge! whilst sharing their tips for coping with the hardships of bush life, horses tethered further back amongst the melaleucas, fathers smoking their pipes and passing on the news of the day. I wonder how many tennis balls were lost to the sea!
The natural landscape is equally as lovely – breathtaking in fact. And there is supposedly a lot of wildlife – especially black rock wallabies, grey kangaroos, and seals. Sadly we saw none – but there was certainly plenty of evidence …
… I tried to introduce the girls to a spot of scatology but they were majorly unimpressed. So I took photos of all the different types I spied – perhaps if we are homebound by terrible weather and we lose all power to everything except my camera and all internet access except to my laptop, I may be able to twist Abby’s arm later in the holiday. Fat chance! She’d probably choose sleep as the only acceptable alternative :-)
Whilst Aunty Annie and Grandad meandered back to the car, the girls and I sprinted ahead to check out the Ly-ee-moon cemetery. It’s a small and sad memorial to just 24 of the 77 folk who lost their lives when the Ly-ee-moon, a passenger steamer that travelled between Melbourne and Sydney, drifted onto the rocks on a calm and well lit night – with the lighthouse burning I might add – and was broken in half. Lighthouse keepers did their best to rescue as many as they could and spent the next few days retrieving bodies but alas, the loss of life was great and most ended up lost to the sea. The captain and his first mate were tried in Sydney for manslaughter (yes, strangely enough, they were among the 17 who were pulled alive from the sea) and whilst they were acquitted, they were stripped of their offices by the Maritime Board and forbidden from ever holding a license again.
Each little white washed rock marks a grave and there is a small memorial listing the known names. Most of the children listed were unnamed … for example, M. Hamilton and babe, H. Fotherington and daughter, etc. And then there was “Two unknown men with German accents”, and “A Greek, granted passage at request of Cook”. The cemetery is several hundred metres deep into the melaleuca forest. And whilst you can hear the roar of the ocean, the trees meet overhead, obscuring any view, and the air is still and eerie. The neighbouring bay is not called Disaster Bay for nothing.
So add Green Cape to your list folks! I wouldn’t advise taking Green Cape Road in the rain – beggars belief what would happen if you tried – I think it would be more like skiing then driving, and you’d quickly come to an abrupt stop thanks to the heavy forest. But on a fine dry day, pack a picnic and plenty of water and head out south of Eden and along the Green Cape Road. You’ll have a marvellous day and come home with a head filled with beauty and stories of bygone days, ears ringing with the thunder of the ocean, and the phone number for the accommodation folks at the New South Wales National Parks – yes! You can holiday in the lighthouse keepers’ cottages! Eeeeeeeeee!