The 1890s gold rush enabled the Western Australian government to undertake several capital works programs, including the construction of lighthouses such as Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse (CNLH).
The CNLH stands on a 100 metre bluff overlooking Geographe Bay. It was built over a ten month period during 1903 at an estimated cost of 4,800 pounds. Before the lighthouse was built most mariners depended on ‘The Tub’ as a landmark. This was a barrel on top of a 30 foot pole erected in Busselton, to mark the best landing place for passengers and stores.
The roughly-hewn, grey, circular tower of CNLH is 20 metres high. Its 14 foot diameter lantern was manufactured by Chance Brothers of Birmingham, England, who supplied the equipment for most of Australia’s early lighthouses.
Three keepers and their families originally lived at the Cape and the three original lighthouse keepers’ quarters are still standing. Life revolved around night watches which were divided into three periods, one for each man. During each watch the keeper had to wind the clockwork and pump kerosene to the burner.
Life was hard for the keepers and their families. With no paid annual leave or travel assistance, lighthouse keepers often remained at their isolated stations for many years. Once a fortnight stores were delivered from Busselton. The nearest school was 20 kilometres (14 miles) away at Quindalup.
The three stands inside the base of the tower were originally tank stands for fresh water. The steps leading up inside the tower are made from blocks of Burmese teak, dowelled together and set end-grain up for long wearing. This remarkable method of joinery has successfully withstood the test of time, and of course, thousands of tramping feet!
The lighthouse’s apparatus consists of the original Fresnel lens, made of lead crystal, driven by an electric motor. Originally a clockwork mechanism rotated the lens which, including the turntable, weighs about 12.5 tons. The turntable is hollow and contains 156.5kg of mercury (less than 12 litres) on which the lens floats. The original shipment of mercury for the CNLH arrived safely from England, only to be lost overboard while being unloaded at Quindalup jetty!
The lighthouse was converted to automatic operation in July 1978, and the last lighthouse keeper left in 1996; CNLH was the last manned lighthouse on mainland Australia. The station is connected to mains electricity with a battery bank as an emergency back-up. All maintenance is now performed by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
The light’s white beam is visible for 25 nautical miles (46 km) and identifies itself to mariners by flashing twice every 10 seconds with a 2.5 and 7.5 second interval.