Lest my reader be surprised at seeing a lighthouse on the waterfront of the perfectly calm Darling Harbour I should explain that it is an exhibit of the adjacent Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM). Given it size, it perhaps goes without saying that the lighthouse is part of museum’s permanent galleries collection. I actually say this because, being part of this collection it is free to visit the lantern room, though you do have to be on a tour to do so. More on that later.
The lighthouse dates from 1874 and was built, one of twenty-two similar ones, and located at Cape Bowling Green, south of Townsville, North Queensland, to assist boats passing through the Great Barrier Reef via the Inner Route.
While from a distance the lighthouse looks to be of concrete construction it actually comprises a locally sourced hardwood frame clad with iron plates imported from Britain. I can only imagine how hot it would have been inside in a Queensland summer and assume this explains why living accommodation for the keeper and/or his three assistants was not within the lighthouse, but rather in a house nearby.
The original rotating kerosene light, rotated by a clockwork mechanism and producing 13,000 candlelight with a range of 14 nautical miles, was supplied by Chance Brothers of Birmingham, England.
Over the next 100 years the lighthouse was moved twice and its light and rotation mechanism upgraded a number of times. In around 1920 the turntable and clockwork mechanism were removed as they were no longer needed. Likewise neither was the crew required any longer as the light was now automated.
In 1987 the lighthouse, having been replaced by a more modern tower, was dismantled and taken to the ANMM where it was re-erected and opened to visitors in 1994.
As it happened, this was not the lighthouse which the museum originally wanted. It had previously selected one at Mackay, to the south of Cape Bowling Green, and announced its intention to take it to Sydney. Locals protested demanding that that lighthouse be re-erected in Mackay. The locals won.
When the museum subsequently identified the Cape Bowling Green lighthouse as meeting its needs no announcements were made and the lighthouse was clandestinely shipped to Sydney. When the local Government found out it accused the Federal Government (aka the museum) of “plundering and vandalising North Queensland’s maritime heritage” and “stealing the 114 year old Cape Bowling Green lighthouse”. Too late, the lighthouse was in Sydney.
Access to the lighthouse is free but you must visit it on a guided tour. Tours operate daily and you should register at the ticket office in the museum foyer.