THREE DECADES OF SURVIVAL & SERVICE

by ALEX PARRY

Imagine life in a harsh, remote, isolated and windswept location where you are responsible for keeping lives safe at sea and to survive you need the skill and luck of a farmer.

With no formal training, you are also the teacher, the nurse, the postmaster and in times of crisis or disaster, you are the emergency service responder for your entire community.

There are no formal roads, just rough, boggy, bush tracks. Supplies arrive only once a year, by boat, and having waited twelve months you watch helplessly on occasion as your supply ship is wrecked by the unforgiving Southern Ocean before your very eyes.

Surviving childbirth, raising your family of up to ten children and being forced to bury your own child builds a tough character. The circumstances of daily life are often trying, but for those in service at Cape Otway Lightstation the importance of protecting the precious lives at sea was a driving force.

Visitors to our Lightstation are often astonished at the wild, isolated and dangerous life experienced by the Lightkeepers and their families; more than 70 people called the Lightstation ‘home’ during 14 decades.

Cape Otway Lightstation stands majestically on the tip of Cape Otway on the Great Ocean Road and offers a unique opportunity to see first-hand the lifestyle of a lightstation community as it was in the 19th Century.

It was a small community of three to four families who shared close quarters and did not always get along. They lived together on this ‘island on land’ to serve the lighthouse and safeguard ships arriving to Australia after their long voyage from Europe, America and Asia.

Some families could only last days here, for others, like the Bayles Ford family, this was home for 30 years.

Winter sees the arrival of a brand new exhibition at Cape Otway Lightstation. ‘A Life of Service’ showcases a collection of treasured possessions belonging to Henry and Mary Ann Bayles Ford. The pieces have come to light almost 150 years after the Fords left Cape Otway and are housed in the heritage listed 1850 Keepers Quarters.

Henry Bayles Ford was appointed the second Head Keeper at Cape Otway Lightstation in 1848. This isolated location was to be home for Henry, Mary and their nine children for three decades.

The possessions on display, some hand carved here at the Lightstation, provide an insight into their lives and those of the other families who served here during the 1800’s.

The final touches have been added to the installation and the exhibition is now open to the public. 

 

This winter, here are five ways to appreciate the lives of those families who called Cape Otway Lightstation ‘home’:

 

1. Celebrate ‘A Life of Service’

Come and visit the brand new exhibit to see for yourself the beautiful pieces on display. Ask our Guides about the Ford family to hear some of the legendary Cape 

Otway stories and learn about the rich history. Our Guides give daily history and native plant talks.

 

2. Follow the Keeper’s footsteps

The lighthouse’s stairway has felt thousands of footsteps since it was built in 1848. Climb the 78 steps to the top and see the room as it was when the last Keeper, Peter Scott, sat at the desk to fill out his final log in 1994.

 

3. Come whale watching and feel the raw power of nature

Nothing brings you closer to nature than stepping out on a lighthouse balcony…especially when the wind can exceed 100km/h and humpback whales are breaching right before your eyes. Then, look 90 metres below to see the waves crashing against the ragged cliff face. As you walk the lightstation paths, look at the bent, windswept landscape and imagine yourself struggling to survive in this often harsh environment. Personally, I think the windier it is, the more exhilarating the experience!

 

4. The realities of family life

Walk into the 1850 Keepers Quarters - one room for an entire family to live, sleep and eat. Imagine their damp clothes steaming as they dried near the open fire. It is any wonder that during the Goldrush several of the Assistant Keepers left to seek their fortune on the Goldfields.

 

5. Warm up with a cuppa in front of the fire 

There is no doubt that the Lightstation community treasured their big open fires, home-cooked hearty meals and a good cup of tea…and so will you! Finish your tour of the Lightstation at the Assistant Keepers Quarters – now our Café. Enjoy the warmth of a log fire, a cup of the very finest local coffee or a Devonshire tea. Our home-made scones with jam and fresh cream are widely talked about both up and down the Great Ocean Road!

 

Built in 1857 for two families to share, the views from the Café are spectacular.

Click here to subscribe to our Cape Otway Lightstation mailing list, and follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

 

Pre-purchase your tickets here and come and celebrate ‘A Life of Service’.

 

Cape Otway Lightstation is open from 10am - 4:30pm every day except Christmas Day. Tickets can be purchased online or at the Kiosk on arrival.

 

Tip: make sure you make the most of your Otways experience – check out local places to stay, eat and visit!

 

Don’t forget to tag us on Instagram!

@capeotwaylighthouse

@visitgreatoceanroad

#iamwherestoriesunfold

#iamotways

#otwaynationalpark

About the Blogger

ALEX PARRY

SENIOR GUIDE, CAPE OTWAY LIGHTSTATION

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