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History – Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse

Cape Leeuwin lighthouse seen from a distance, Augusta WA.

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, on the extreme south west point of Australia, is dedicated to the world’s mariners.

Cape Leeuwin was named by Matthew Flinders on December 7, 1801 at the commencement of the circumnavigation of Terra Australis (Australia); taking the name of the adjoining area which had been called Leeuwin’s Land by the Dutch navigators when Leeuwin (The Lioness) rounded the cape in March 1622. The adjacent coastline first appeared on the charts by Hessel Gerritsz (in Holland) in 1627.

The dedication of the lighthouse was made by the Premier of Western Australia, Sir John Forrest, in performing the official opening on December 10, 1896. He said that in constructing the light from its own resources the colony had done its duty, not only to its own people, but to all the mariners of the earth. His words had special significance, as the light guards one of the busiest sea traffic routes on the Australian coast. In the days when most Australian-bound ships travelled via the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin was often the first Australian landfall.

The Cape Leeuwin light was first officially proposed in 1881, but did not come into service until 15 years later. A major reason for the delay was rejection by the Eastern colonies of the suggestion that as most of the sea traffic to Australia passed Cape Leeuwin, the lighthouse should be a joint undertaking. Another reason for the delay was that although the contract called for foundations 8ft (2.44 metres) deep, the exploratory bores had terminated on loose boulders instead of bedrock and it was necessary to go to 22ft (6.71 metres). This involved excavating more than 1,000 cubic metres of earth.

The light tower which is built of local stone was originally designed to show two lights – a higher white light and a lower red light. Although the foundations were completed, the lower light was never installed. The white light now installed (electric) has an intensity of one million candlepower and a range of approx. 25n miles. The elevation of the light is 56 metres above Mean Tide Level. The position of the light is latitude 340 22’ south, longitude 1150 08’ east.

Until June 1982 the lens was rotated by a counter weight driving clockwork mechanism, and the beacon was a pressure kerosene mantle type. A radio navigation beacon was commissioned in 1955 and operated until 1992. The tower was automated in August 1992.

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse is an important link in the chain of essential navigation aids maintained around the Australian coast by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. The Commonwealth assumed responsibility for coastal lights in 1915.

The Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse precinct is heritage listed. The climb to the viewing deck consists of 176 steps.

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