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  • 03/09/2018 02:44 PM

    Sydney’s lighthouses: a guiding light for 160 years

    Sydney’s heritage-listed lighthouses have been guiding ships to safety for 160 years — and the bright lights of these magnificent towers are still just as essential for keeping Sydney Harbour safe today. 


    Towering above the cliffs at South Head in Watson’s Bay stands one of Sydney’s most iconic buildings: Hornby Lighthouse. But this heritage-listed lighthouse is no relic of the past — it remains to this day a vital navigation aid for ships seeking safe passage into Sydney Harbour.

    Following the loss of two ships in 1857, the Dunbar and the Catherine Adamson, it was recommended by a committee of the Light, Pilot and Navigation Board for a lighthouse to be constructed on South Head to ward off ships from the rocks at the harbour’s entrance.

    The lighthouse, designed by government architect Alexander Dawson — who also designed the Sydney Observatory and Sydney Registry Office — was built in 1858. Now the third oldest lighthouse in New South Wales, Hornby Lighthouse has been shining a light on the harbour mouth and keeping ships safe ever since.

    Hornby LighthouseImage: Hornby Lighthouse, managed by Port Authority of NSW, has been guiding ships into Sydney Harbour since 1858. © structuresxx stock.adobe.com

    But Hornby Lighthouse doesn’t stand alone — it’s part of a network of seven lighthouses and dozens of other lights, buoys and navigation aids managed and maintained by Port Authority of New South Wales.

    Together, this vital network of marine infrastructure is essential for the safe movement of ships, goods and people through the harbour’s busy and complex shipping channels.

    Along with the navigational assistance of Sydney’s marine pilots and the guidance given from the harbour’s vessel traffic service, the lighthouses and navigational aids give ships instruction on their location, their direction, where to go and where to avoid.

    As the ships entering Sydney grow ever larger — from 60,000 tonne cargo vessels to cruise ships carrying thousands of passengers, it becomes even more important to ensure their safe passage and the protection of Sydney Harbour’s infrastructure and marine environment.

    Port Authority's asset management teamImage: Sydney Harbour’s heritage-listed lighthouses are checked regularly
    by Port Authority’s asset management team

    While they may no longer be manned, maintained and lit by permanent lighthouse keepers, Sydney’s network of — now fully automated — lighthouses are kept ship shape by Port Authority’s asset management team. Daily checks are made to make sure they’re in good working order and each lighthouse undergoes a full maintenance inspection every three months.

    People of ports: meet a technical officer for Sydney’s lighthouses
    Find out what’s it takes to keep Sydney's lighthouses in ship-shape condition. Read more

    Many of the lighthouses are also heritage-listed assets with historical and architectural significance, and each lighthouse is looked after to preserve its maritime history for future generations.

    Maritime technology has come a long way since the days when lighthouses were lit with kerosene lamps and incandescent gas but even in the age of GPS and satellite navigation, lighthouses still play an essential role to maritime safety.

    Even after 160 years, the ships that sail into the harbour still depend on the bright lights of Sydney’s lighthouses to guide them to safety.

    Let there be light: a guide to Sydney’s active lighthouses

    These are the key lighthouses managed by Port Authority that still help ships move safely through Sydney Harbour.

    Image: Bradleys Head Lighthouse in Mosman has been lighting the way for
    ships in Sydney Harbour since 1905

    Bradleys Head Lighthouse
    Bradleys Head, Mosman
    Bradleys Head Lighthouse was constructed in 1905 and sits near the gun emplacements and mast of the HMAS Sydney a short stroll from Taronga Zoo on the Taronga to Balmoral Walk. Mounted on a rock and connected to land via a footbridge, Bradleys Head Lighthouse sits out in the sea with a stunning backdrop of the Sydney skyline.

    Dawes Point Lighthouse
    Hickson Road, Circular Quay
    Flanked by the impressive sights of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, you’d be forgiven for missing this little lighthouse. First built in 1904–1905 and rebuilt in 1946, the concrete and copper-domed Dawes Point Lighthouse might not be a looker but its light and foghorn play a vital role in keeping ships safe in the busy waters of Circular Quay.

    Grotto Point LighthouseImage: Grotto Point Lighthouse in Balgowlah Heights works together with
    Spit Lighthouse to help ships line up their approach

    Grotto Point Lighthouse
    Lighthouse Track, Balgowlah Heights 
    Built in 1911, Grotto Point Lighthouse is an 8m-tall lighthouse that works together with the taller Spit Lighthouse as a navigation beacon for ships entering Sydney Harbour. The masonry structure designed by architect Maurice Festu can be found down a short track branching off from Sydney’s famous Spit Bridge to Manly walk.

    Henry Head Lighthouse
    La Perouse, Port Botany
    Built in 1955, the small masonry lighthouse can be found along the trail through the La Perouse side of Kamay Botany Bay National Park. Also known as the Endeavour Lighthouse after Captain Cook’s ship, Henry Head Lighthouse looks south over the entrance to Botany Bay where HMS Endeavour first landed and where it now helps guide ships heading to Port Botany.

    Hornby LighthouseImage: The iconic red and white stripes and location on top of the cliffs at Watson’s Bay make
    Hornby Lighthouse one of Sydney’s most iconic buildings

    Hornby Lighthouse
    South Head, Watsons Bay
    With its iconic red and white stripes and picture-perfect clifftop location, 160-year-old Hornby Lighthouse is one of Sydney’s most iconic structures and a drawcard for people taking in the sea breeze and magnificent views from South Head. One of Australia’s oldest extant lighthouses, 9m-tall Hornby Lighthouse continues to welcome ships safely into Sydney Harbour with its light visible 28km offshore.

    Robertson Point Lighthouse
    Athol Wharf Road, Cremorne Point
    The 8m-tall Robertson Point Lighthouse sits at the end of Cremorne Point to warn ships away from the rocky peninsula that juts out into the harbour. Like the lighthouse at Bradleys Head, Robertson Point Lighthouse sits just offshore and is connected to land by bridge.

    Spit LighthouseImage: The Spit Lighthouse pokes through the treetops in a residential area on Parriwi Road

    The Spit Lighthouse
    Parriwi Road, Mosman 
    Tucked away behind the trees and houses along Parriwi Road, the Spit Lighthouse is easy to miss despite towering 15m over the water’s edge. Also known as the Rosherville Light and the Parriwi Head Light, the gleaming white Spit Lighthouse was built in 1911 and is located exactly a mile behind Grotto Point Lighthouse to help ships line up their approach into Sydney Harbour.

    Other key active lighthouses in Sydney include:

    Barrenjoey Lighthouse
    Barrenjoey Rd, Palm Beach
    Sitting at the very top of Sydney's northern beaches is the heritage-listed Barrenjoey Lighthouse. Built in 1881, the sandstone lighthouse sits atop Barrenjoey Headland and has sweeping views over Palm Beach and Broken Bay. Owned by the Office of Environment and Heritage and operated by Roads and Maritime Services, the lighthouse also features the original keepers’ cottages.

    Cape Baily Lighthouse
    Cape Baily Track, Kurnell 
    The isolated Cape Baily Lighthouse can be found a couple of hours walk along the Cape Baily Coast Walk in Kurnell. Operated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, the Cape Baily Lighthouse was constructed in 1950 as an aid to ships heading north along the coastline so they can avoid strong southerly currents found further out to sea.

    Macquarie Lighthouse
    Old South Head Road, Vaucluse
    Operated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and managed by the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, the 26m sandstone tower of Macquarie Lighthouse is one of Sydney’s most prominent landmarks. Located on the oldest lighthouse site in Australia, Macquarie Lighthouse was first built in 1818 with the current structure rebuilt in 1883.


    People of ports: meet a technical officer for Sydney’s lighthouses

    Find out what’s it takes to keep Sydney's lighthouses in ship-shape condition. Read more