The isolated life of lighthouse families in 1966 | RetroFocus

The isolated life of lighthouse families in 1966 | RetroFocus

August 30, 2019 1 By Ronny Jaskolski


An English family – the Greenwoods – is
coming to Maatsuyker for their first experience in lighthouse keeping. The school lessons will be
through correspondence classes. While Mrs. Greenwood will have to
bake her own bread and be self-sufficient generally. Ships can’t berth but the family
must get ashore. And this can have an element of
adventure if there’s a sizable swell running. Getting to their new home
doesn’t end with this either. There was a time when the only communication with
Hobart was by carrier pigeon. Now they have a radio telephone hook-up. Everything on the island tells of
ruggedness and heights, and the new lighthouse family
still has quite a distance to cover before they finally make it. Time is the thing. One family arrives and
another leaves Maatsuyker. With her children, Mrs. Claire Visser is
going down to join her husband, Peter. Meanwhile, the Greenwoods are about to
embark on the big climb. After three years on this lonely island, the Vissers are saying goodbye for good. For them, no more of this. And way up there is the Maatsuyker Lighthouse, a sentry for shipping off Southern Tasmania. From here, a beam goes out that
can be seen 36 miles away. There are three families on the island, and new arrivals come well stocked up because rough seas could well delay
the Cape Pillar next time. Gathering briquettes, the Greenwoods
meet one of their neighbours. To begin with, there’s a certain newness about it all,
until island life becomes daily, weekly and yearly routine. 50 miles east of Hobart, Cape Pillar is
separated by a narrow channel from Tasman Island. The coastline of Tasman
Island is so hostile that no landing attempt is made by the work boats from
the Cape Pillar. People and supplies are plucked straight
out of the boats by a flying fox device. Even their pets made the journey
with one of the families. Mrs. Ruston and her husband Allan have transferred
from the East Coast Eddystone Lighthouse. 60 feet above the sea, perched on the cliff face is the platform where everyone and everything must go. It’s not for the faint-hearted, Tasman Island,
and when you do land finally there are sighs of relief all round. And the trip is just about over. Or is it?
There remains merely the 800 feet of cliff at an angle of about 45 degrees. Experience has taught many lessons.
Some sheep are kept here, just in case the weather turns nasty and food cannot reach the three families which tend the lighthouse. And again, it’s the same story.
Some arrive, others depart. Life on Tasman Island is certainly not
everyone’s cup of tea. There’s a rather frightening majesty about the place
and this appeals to many. And someday they all must face this. Although he arrived only a few
minutes ago, Allan Rustan is already at work. In three months time, depending on the
weather of course, the aerial maneuvering will happen again. Supplies, mail, perhaps more comings and goings.