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Byron Shire
October 19, 2021

Keeping a lighthouse was a family affair

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Coordinator of the Cape Byron Lighthouse North Room Museum, Lee Middleton (NPWS) with James ‘Jimmy Smith’ who spent his younger years growing up at Lighthouses across the state including Cape Byron where he resided in the 1950s. Photo Sean O’Shea.

Working together as a team was key to keeping the lighthouse light beaming out into the night and the newest exhibition in the Cape Byron Lighthouse shines the light on the lighthouse keepers and their families who kept the lighthouse going for almost a century.

‘It was an incredible experience uncovering a lot of historical information about the Byron community,’ said Lee Middleton, National Parks and Wildlife (NPWS) coordinator of the Cape Byron Lighthouse North Room Museum.

‘We have a lot of information on the technical side of the lighthouse but not on the lighthouse keepers and their families they were not really represented and we decided to look into the social history.

‘There wasn’t a lot of information in the lighthouse records so we had to get in contact with the local library and historical societies and the lighthouse keepers to gather these stories.’

The permanent exhibition in the base of the light tower focuses on role the families played as a team to keep the light shinning night after night.

‘We often romanticise about the life of the lonely lighthouse keeper however, their families also played a crucial role in ensuring the lighthouse functioned day in, day out, year-round,’ NPWS area manager Sue Walker said

Harry Handicott, Cape Byron lightkeeper 1958 and headkeeper 1973 to 1974 is quoted as saying, ‘we worked as a team. We always knew it was a partnership.
Everyone knew the light was the priority. Each family had different stories to tell, different feelings and experiences, but the nature of the job was all encompassing and everyone played a part.’

With no other museum space in Byron township reprinting the historic heritage of the town this space represents the important and iconic stories of the Byron community for locals and visitors to discover stories about the history of the town.

‘There are a lot of different stories of people living at the light house and this exhibition focuses on the fact that everyone, including the wives and children, had a role in running the lighthouse,’ said Ms Middleton.

The exhibition includes a sound-station with recordings of keepers and their stories of past events, a display of items of significance, an interactive children’s adventure station and a broad collection of historic photos from 1902.

‘Lighthouse work was challenging and required an enduring commitment. This new exhibition highlights some of that commitment,’ Ms Walker said. 

The museum was in part funded by the Australian Government Maritime Museums of Australia Support Scheme.

 The Cape Byron Lighthouse North Room Museum and its ‘Lighthouse Keeping: A Partnership’ will be open to the public daily (except Christmas day) from 10am to 4pm.  

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