I grew up in Wollongong and during the school holidays or on a long weekend, my dad would sometimes take my brother and I fishing, much to our delight, and I think my mum’s as she had a few hours respite from her noisy and sometimes over-energetic boys! The very first time, when we were still in primary school, dad took us with rods and hand reels down to Wollongong Harbour where we threw a couple of lines in off the jetty, my brother and I chatting away about the size of the fish we’d be bringing home for dinner. After half an hour or so, us kids, bored with only the smallest of fish nibbling on our baited hooks, left dad in charge of our lines and wandered over to explore the base of the ‘old’ lighthouse (later buying fresh fish on the way home). Many years later, when I first got my drivers licence, school friends and I would cruise around flagstaff hill, where the ‘new’ lighthouse is located, stopping in one of the parking bays to chat or swap music (cassettes in those days) then cruise around until curfew, we weren’t ‘hooning’ around, but just enjoying our new found freedom.
The only place on the east coast of Australia to have two lighthouses is at Wollongong Harbour. Also known as Belmore Basin, it is approximately 90 kilometres south of Sydney, a picturesque recreational spot on the edge on the Illawarra coastline. It is home to fishing boats and pleasure crafts including a couple of seafood restaurants and fishmongers. From 1820 to 1900, ships would transport the regions timber, coal and farmers produce to Sydney usually taking only a day whereas the overland journey could take a rattling three days therefore making the Harbour a vital link to the prospering settlement of Wollongong
As the settlement grew and prospered, the harbour, at one stage, became the 3rd busiest in NSW, mostly to the export of coal which, by mid century, was what was mostly carried and becoming a thriving industry for the region. In 1866 The Wollongong Borough Council made a request for a lighthouse to be built to help the coal ships navigate into the harbour, past the breakwater.
In 1871 the lighthouse was built with wrought iron plates brought in and constructed onsite, a first for the time. An identical lighthouse was also built on the breakwater in Ulladulla, a few hundred kilometres south, which was later moved to Evans Head nearby. Officially known as the Breakwater Lighthouse, yet in later years affectionately known as the Old Lighthouse, it first cast its beam when an oil lantern was installed in early 1872 three levels from the base. The oil lantern was replace by a gas in 1908 and then an electric lantern a few decades later. As the region grew and exports of coal started to make their way to places other than Sydney, it was realised that the lighthouse was not sufficient enough for ships making their way into the harbour from the south, past a group of Islands off Wollongong Head known as The Five Islands and later into the new coal port of Port Kembla.
Over the years, the Breakwater Lighthouse fell into disrepair and with decommissioning in the 1970’s, its light was extinguished in 1974. It was earmarked for demolition until locals rallied around, raising funds for its restoration. It was restored again in 2002 and the light is now lit on special occasions. It is an Icon of Wollongong used on brochures and many company logos due to its important history in those early days of Wollongong. The Breakwater (Old) Lighthouse was heritage listed in January 2000 for being the first prefabricated lighthouse in Australia.
In 1936, the NSW government built the new lighthouse, known as The Wollongong Head Lighthouse, on Flagstaff Hill. Constructed of reinforced concrete, it was the first lighthouse to be built in NSW since 1903 and the first to have an automated flashing light. With a height of 25.3 metres versus the old lighthouses 12.8 metres, its beam can be seen further off the coast than its nearby counterpart.
When the old lighthouse was decommissioned, The Wollongong Head Lighthouse became the sole light warning sailors of the heads, islands and shallow water with its white and red flashing lights. In 2000, the lighthouse was listed as a heritage building for being the first automated lighthouse in Australia.
Wollongong Harbour, the only eastern Australian point to have two lighthouses, both heritage listed due to their Australian firsts and the place of a few firsts of my own 🙂
Wollongong NSW 2500