South Solitary Island Light

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South Solitary Island Light
South Solitary Island Lighthouse 2.jpg
South Solitary Island Light, 2009
South Solitary Island Light is located in New South Wales
South Solitary Island Light
New South Wales
Location South Solitary Island
New South Wales
Coordinates 30°12′24.33″S 153°16′2.52″E / 30.2067583°S 153.2673667°E / -30.2067583; 153.2673667Coordinates: 30°12′24.33″S 153°16′2.52″E / 30.2067583°S 153.2673667°E / -30.2067583; 153.2673667
Year first constructed 1880
Automated 1975
Construction concrete tower
Tower shape cylindrical tower with double balcony and lantern
Markings / pattern white tower and lantern
Height 66 feet (20 m)
Focal height 190 feet (58 m)
Original lens 1st order dioptric Fresnel lens
Light source solar power
Intensity 38,000 cd
Range 15 nautical miles (28 km; 17 mi)[1]
Characteristic Fl.W. 5s
Admiralty number K2812
NGA number 111-5976
ARLHS number AUS-152
Managing agent Australian Maritime Safety Authority

South Solitary Island Light is an active lighthouse on South Solitary Island, an island within the Solitary Islands Marine Park, about 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) northeast of Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, Australia. The lighthouse is located at the summit of the island.[2] It is considered the most isolated lighthouse on the New South Wales coast.[3] It was first in New South Wales to use kerosene over colza oil, and the last to do so before converting to electric power.[3]


The South Solitary Island Lightstation

Suggestions for a lighthouse near Coffs Harbour were made as early as 1856, with locations proposed on either North Solitary Island or South Solitary Island. It was the ship masters' preference that set the location to be South Solitary.[3]

The lighthouse was designed by Colonial Architect James Barnet,[3] and it is one of three concrete lighthouses built at that period, the others being Smoky Cape Lighthouse and Green Cape Lighthouse.[2] Barnet had personally visited the island in October 1877 to determine the best locations for the buildings and the sources for materials.[2] Cement and sand for the construction were transported to the island at harsh conditions, while broken stone was quarried on the island itself.[3] Timber came in small vessels from Bellingen.[2] Though construction was expected to finish by 1879, as the carving "18VR79" on the keystone over the entry doorway suggests,[4] it was first exhibited on 18 March 1880.[5]

The original lens was a Chance Bros. 1st order dioptric Fresnel lens, the second of its type to be used in Australia.[2] It is currently at the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum, though the museum is currently in interim home due to water damage sustained during a storm in March 2009.[6]

The original light source was a kerosene burner, the first of its kind in New South Wales, rather than colza oil one as used by other lighthouses of that period. As other lighthouses upgraded to kerosene and later to Carbide lamps and finally to electricity, South Solitary remained kerosene operated until 1975, thus being the last to use kerosene in New South Wales as well.[3] The light was displayed at a focal height of 192 feet (59 m) and was visible for 16 nautical miles (30 km; 18 mi).[2]

As of 1934, the intensity of the light was 205,000 cd and the light characteristic was one flash every 30 seconds (Fl W 30s).[4]

People and supplies being hauled from a launch, 1946

Conditions at the locations were harsh due to both the island's isolation and to weather conditions. Originally supplies were sent from Sydney by steamer every fortnight, weather permitting. Later, supplies arrived more regularly by launch from Coffs Harbour. Due to the slopes, supplies were taken off the launch in a basket lowered by a crane, then hauled up a steep concrete path. The living quarters were lit by kerosene until the 1950s, and coal was used for heating and cooking.[3]

Communications with the mainland was originally done by a signal lamp or heliograph. A pedal radio was installed in 1937, enabling communication with the Norah Head Lightstation. It was later replaced by a Bendix radio.[3] Keepers children were taught at first by a governess which was employed by the keepers, and later through correspondence.[3]

In May 1942, during the Second World War, the lighthouse was extinguished for the only time during its entire lifetime. This was due to several vessels which were torpedoed by enemy submarines near the island.[3]

In 1974 the flagstaff was removed and a helipad was constructed. On 22 August 1975 the lighthouse was finally electrified and automated. It was officially demanned on 28 December of that year.[5] The lens was replaced with a modern lens and the lantern was replaced with a workshop designed[2] fibreglass and aluminium lantern.[7] This lowered the focal height of the light to the current 190 feet (58 m).[8] The old lantern was transported to the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum with a RAAF Chinook helicopter on 7 September 1977.[5] The lighthouse was later converted to solar power in 1975.[5]

In 2000, the station was transferred to the hands of the National Parks and Wildlife Service.[5] In 2004, the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water spent $440,000 AUD restoring the buildings and making them weatherproof, secure and better protected from the elements, but not suitable for accommodation.[9]

Current display[edit]

The current light source is a solar powered, 12 VAmp lamp with an intensity of 38,000 cd.[3] It displays a light characteristic of one white flash every five seconds (Fl.W. 5s) and is visible for 15 nautical miles (28 km; 17 mi).[1] It is maintained by helicopter.[4]


Plans for the lighthouse, 1878

The lighthouse[edit]

The tower is 40 feet (12 m) from the ground to the lantern, made of mass concrete. Its external plan is round, a unique feature as the later two lighthouses of the same series, at Smoky Cape and Green Cape, used an octagonal profile. The internal well is 40 feet (12 m) in diameter. The walls taper from 4 feet 6 inches (1.37 m) at the base to 2 feet 3 inches (0.69 m) at the top. The tower is topped by a concrete oversailing cornice which is capped by the gallery itself, made of sixteen basalt blocks, each weighing 30 long hundredweight (3,400 lb; 1,500 kg), which were shipped from Melbourne. The gallery is surrounded by a gunmetal handrail.[2] Three levels of cast iron stairs lead to the lantern room on top of the tower.[4] Attached to the tower is a stores annexe.[2]

Keepers' cottages, 2008. The jetty and the storehouse are visible on the left
Remains of the jetty, 2008

Other structure[edit]

The lighthouse keepers' residence consists of one chief keeper cottage and two semidetached assistant keeper cottages.[2] They are made of mass concrete, rendered and painted.[10] The residence is surrounded by high stone walls as protection from weather conditions. A high stone wall also runs from the houses to the lighthouse. There is also a room near the residence which served as a little school house, with a governess teaching the children of the keepers.[3]

Also at the premises are the remains of a 13 metres (43 ft) above sea level jetty, the third to be constructed.[4] The first jetty was constructed in 1878 during the construction of the lighthouse, and was only 5 metres (16 ft) high. It was destroyed in 1904 and a larger jetty was built. This second jetty was repaired and reconstructed multiple times, in 1913–1915 and 1932.[5] Finally, the third jetty was built in 1959.[11] The shore end of the jetty was demolished in 1986.[2] As of 2008 the jetty still stands, though most of it has rusted and fallen into the sea. A small storehouse in poor shape stands next to the jetty.[4] The storehouse is the oldest building on the island, being constructed in 1879–1880.[5]

Site operation and visiting[edit]

The light is operated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority,[4] while the site is managed by the New South Wales Maritime Parks Authority as part of the Solitary Islands Marine Park.[12] It is usually inaccessible to the public, though it can be seen by boat tours from Coffs Harbour.[13] The island is open for tours two weekends every year. Travel is by helicopter only, and the tours are guided by National Parks and Wildlife rangers.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b According to List of Lights. Lighthouses of Australia Inc lists 20 nautical miles (37 km; 23 mi)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k AHD3416.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Lighthouses of Australia Inc.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Clifford 2000.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Timeline.
  6. ^ Museum.
  7. ^ Clifford 2000. While Clifford 2000 states this occurred with the demanning, AHD3416 states this occurred in 1976. As demanning was at 28 December, this very well may be the case.
  8. ^ List of Lights
  9. ^ DECC.
  10. ^ AHD3416 and Searle. Rowlett and Lighthouses of Australia Inc state they are stone buildings.
  11. ^ Clifford 2000 and Timeline. 1955 according to AHD3416.
  12. ^ Solitary Islands Marine Park.
  13. ^ Rowlett.
  14. ^ "Precision Helicopters – South Solitary Island 2012". Retrieved 25 January 2012. 


External links[edit]