Stabilisation works completed on historic South Solitary Island lighthouse buildings
Department of Environment and Conservation (NSW)
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Stabilisation works completed on historic South Solitary Island lighthouse buildings

Media release - Tuesday, 21 September 2004

Stabilisation works have now been completed on the former lighthouse keepers' cottages on South Solitary Island, off Coffs Harbour.

NPWS North Coast Region Manager Alan Jeffery said the island's lightstation holds an important place in the history of Coffs Harbour and the region.

"As a result of the works, the buildings are now weatherproof, secure and better protected from the elements, although not in condition for public use," Mr Jeffery said.

The lighthouse keeper's cottages are more than 125 years old and were in a poor state of repair when transferred to the NSW Government," he said. "The $440,000 project has halted the decline of the keepers' cottages."

"These grand buildings had not been maintained since the lightkeepers left the island almost 30 years ago. So, the average annual maintenance cost over 30 years of $15,000 per year in 2004 dollars helps put the cost effectiveness of these works into some context," Mr Jeffery said.

"Most importantly, the works have ensured the historic heritage values of the keepers' cottages, of national significance, are protected and maintained into the future," he said.

The project required the NPWS team to work through a number of difficult challenges, the remote location of the island and the potential for hazardous weather conditions.

Key logistical challenges included the transportation by helicopter of personnel and all materials required for the works to the island and the removal of all wastes. At the busiest point of the project 12 contract workers were on site including painters, roofers and carpenters, most of which were Coffs Harbour locals.

Mr Jeffery said careful consideration and meticulous planning meant that the project was completed on time and within budget. Over the 12 weeks of the project only two days were lost to adverse weather.

"I acknowledge the hard work and expertise of all those involved in the project including Pro-Group, a local building company, and their sub-contractors, Precision Helicopters, Coramba Timbers, the Department of Commerce, Graham Edds and Associates Heritage Architects, and NPWS staff," Mr Jeffery said.

The original construction of the lightstation complex began on 11 July 1878 and took thirty workers more than two years to complete.

"It's pleasing that a new generation of local tradespersons have had the opportunity to work with such historic architecture and to some extent experience what life must have been like for the builders and keepers of the South Solitary Island lightstation" Mr Jeffery said.

Between 1998 and 2000 the care and control of nine lighthouses along the NSW coast, including South Solitary Island, was transferred from the Australian Government to the NPWS. A Conservation Management and Cultural Tourism Management Plan guides their management. Lighthouse complexes at Cape Byron, Smoky Cape near South West Rocks and Sugarloaf Point near Forster-Tuncurry are open to the public including for overnight accommodation.

"Construction of the lighthouse and cottages on South Solitary Island was completed in 1880 under the guidance of colonial architect James Barnet. It comprised a tower with stores annex, residential quarters for three lighthouse keepers and families and a high-level landing jetty. The metal jetty has since rusted and fallen into the sea.

"The buildings on South Solitary Island are located on what is recognised as one of the most remote lighthouses on the NSW coast. Even with good conditions access to and from the Island has always been difficult and dangerous. This could quickly become impossible if the seas or winds came up.

The tower was automated in 1975 and it was no longer necessary for keepers to be stationed on the island.

Since then, the tower had been maintained by maritime safety authorities, however, the disused cottages and other elements of the lighthouse group have suffered from the harsh coastal conditions".

Mr Jeffery said that the island is not accessible to the public due to the difficult access, the need to protect nesting sea birds, sensitive vegetation and the importance of protecting the heritage values of the building. Due to these factors and the cost of restoring the buildings they are not proposed as accommodation.

"Local NPWS staff are working with Southern Cross University and the Coffs Harbour Historical Society to develop a display at the Coffs Harbour Museum to showcase the outcomes of this project and the beauty of South Solitary Island." Mr Jeffery said.

Media inquiries: Lawrence Orel

Page last updated: 20 December 2004
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