Take 5 lighthouses

Shining a spotlight on five lighthouses from the collection.


Green Cape Lighthouse, 1886, by Julian Rossi Ashton
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Built on Yuin/Thaua country

Green Cape Lighthouse sits on a prominent headland next to Disaster Bay, near Eden, on the far south coast of New South Wales. Designed by James Barnet, the state’s southern-most lighthouse was built between 1881 and 1883. At the time, it was one of the earliest concrete constructions to be attempted in Australia on such a scale. ‘Sand was a continual problem for the builders’, reported the Australian Town and Country Journal in May 1883. ‘Over the course of a day a wind could shift a hundred tons or so in one direction, and ... the next day shift as much in an opposite direction, cutting into the workmen’s eyes like shot.’

Wollongong Lighthouse, c 1900–10, by Star Photo Co.
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Built on Dharawal country

The Breakwater Lighthouse at Wollongong Harbour is within walking distance of its newer twin, the Wollongong Head (or Flagstaff Point) Lighthouse. Designed by Edward Orpen Moriarty and built in 1871, the two Wollongong towers are the only lighthouses in New South Wales constructed from wrought iron plates on a ferro-concrete base. After falling into disrepair, the Breakwater Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1974 but has since been restored as a lighthouse museum by the local community.

Sydney Lighthouse, c 1826, by Augustus Earle
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Built on Gadigal country

This hand-coloured lithograph is one of the earliest views of the original Macquarie Lighthouse, also known as Macquarie Tower, at Sydney’s South Head. Designed by convict architect Francis Greenway, it was Australia’s first lighthouse, with its foundation stone laid on 11 July 1816. The exposed location quickly revealed the limitations of the soft sandstone blocks used to build it, and as early as 1823 it had started crumbling. After continued problems, the old tower was replaced in the early 1880s with a James Barnet–designed lighthouse that still stands on the site.

Inspecting the Cape Byron Lighthouse, 2017, by Dean Saffron
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Cape Byron

Built on Bundjalung/Arakwal country

Cape Byron Lighthouse, on the most easterly point of mainland Australia, is the northern-most lighthouse in New South Wales. Also designed by Charles Assinder Harding, it opened in 1901 and was among the last of 25 major lighthouses built for the Marine Board of NSW as part of a planned ‘highway of lights’ along the state’s coastline. Built using precast concrete blocks, it is almost identical to a lighthouse at Point Perpendicular at Jervis Bay. Care and management of the site was transferred to the Cape Byron Trust in 1989 and the lighthouse is now a popular tourist destination.

Norah Head Lighthouse, 1939, by Ray Olson
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Norah Head

Built on Darkinjung country

The Norah Head Lighthouse, designed by Charles Assinder Harding, was the last to be built in James Barnet’s style. The light, which burnt vaporised kerosene, was officially lit on 15 November 1903 and kerosene remained the main source of fuel until it was electrified in 1961. Etched on the glass of the ground floor entrance door is the Latin saying Olim Periculum Nunc Salus, meaning ‘Once Perilous, Now Safe’.

Geoff Barker, Senior Curator, Research & Discovery


This story appears in Openbook winter 2021.