Thunder, lightning, goat poo: The life of a lightkeeper

Visiting Cape Byron Lighthouse brought back fond memories for former relief lighthouse keepers Bob Smallcombe, Trevor King and Bob Nick Towers (L-R).
Visiting Cape Byron Lighthouse brought back fond memories for former relief lighthouse keepers Bob Smallcombe, Trevor King and Bob Nick Towers (L-R). Jasmine Burke

FORMER Byron Cape lighthouse keeper's family members and descendants gathered at the historical site yesterday celebrating the opening of the North Room Museum - host to a new permanent exhibition.

Former Byron relief lightkeeper Trevor King recalled a time when the workings of Byron Cape Lighthouse was his responsibility.

"I used to have nightmares when I left for the day, that I'd forgotten to either turn the light on or turn the light off," Mr King said.

Relief lightkeeper from 1969-70, Nick Towers said 28 shipwrecks on Main Beach was the reason for the building of the lighthouse in 1901.

"All the boats coming down from the coast would get caught and in the 1890s they had no motors so they were trapped," Mr Towers said.

Before automation, the duties of a lightkeeper consisted of keeping the place clean, painting it, taking visitors through twice a week, mowing the lawns and of course logging the shipping activity and doing three-hourly weather reports.

Bob Smallcombe took over keeping duties in 1971 and lived in "the first house in the gate" with his wife.

"It wasn't much fun doing the weather report at 3am with thunder and lightning around your ears, stepping in goat crap from the 50 goats that hung around," the three former keepers recalled.

"All the weather reports went through on telegram. You rang the telegram office and everything was coded out in numbers," Mr Smallcombe said.

"You got to know the exchange girls quite well, especially at 3am."

He remembers the bad times with the good: "We had a yacht come into Byron with bad weather and stayed all day and went into town. They came back and decided to go into Ballina but they only got around to Cosy Corner and got wrecked. I got sent down there but there was nothing left to guard - people lost their life."

The new exhibition Lighthouse Keeping: A Partnership shows insight into the days before fully-automated lighthouses and the long tradition of lightkeepers and the importance of their families.

Collating information for the exhibition took staff from National Parks Tweed Byron Coast Area 18 months.

"It was reaching out to previous Byron Bay lighthouse keepers who are now living all across Australia and overseas," Education coordinator Lee Middleton said.

"The lighthouse in Byron Bay was so connected to community and that's why it was considered one of the best stations to be posted to."

Images, articles, oral histories, artefacts and more can be viewed in the lighthouse daily (except Christmas Day) from 10am-4pm.

Topics:  byron bay national parks and wildlife northern rivers history northern rivers tourism

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