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Marking time

Marking time on lighthouses

Friday 20 June 2014

John Smeaton, on working solo

I am committed to Continuing Professional Development. I try to keep up with the current technical literature. Just now, re­minded by John Smeaton’s birthday, I have been re-reading his ac­count of the design and building of the third Eddystone Light­house. It’s a big book, full of fascinating detail. He wrote it at the end of his long career, as he looked back on his most celebrated project.

He explains why he chose to work on his own during the early stages of his work. He was stuck in London between meet­ings with various important people, as he grappled with the problem of securing the lighthouse tower to the wave-swept rock:

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Sunday 8 June 2014

John Smeaton’s birthday

Let us take note that John Smeaton, the English civil engineer, was born in Leeds on this day 290 years ago.

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Saturday 8 March 2014

Getty Images: free at last?

For years, Getty Images has tried to stop web publishers using images from its library of pictures unless they pay money to Getty. The company has tracked down pirates and chased them through the courts to recover licence fees. But, in a sudden re­ver­sal, the company has an­nounced a new scheme. Bloggers and other non-commercial users can use images on their web­sites at no charge​—​as long as the images remain on Getty’s servers and are displayed using Getty’s code.

I know there’s no such thing as a free lunch. When I first heard about it, I didn’t see why Getty Images would do this. But now I do​—​thanks to Peter Krogh who has explained how this could be part of a cunning plan.

With that new understanding, and just as an experiment, I am happy to try it out. So here is a picture of a lighthouse, courtesy of Getty Images.

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Wednesday 26 February 2014

Dent Island plan adopted

The latest Reef in Brief newsletter from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority announces that the heritage management plan for Dent Island lightstation has been added to the Com­mon­we­alth Register of Legislative Instruments.

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Monday 16 December 2013

The keeper’s Christmas dinner

I have sent out my email Christmas card for 2013, the third in a series illustrated with a wood engraving. Again, it’s a sentimental subject involving Christmas, a rowing boat, a lighthouse, and a lighthouse keeper.

This one is from the American magazine Harper’s Weekly, but the tone of the picture is similar to ones from the Illustrated London News I used in 2012 and 2011.

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Sunday 20 October 2013

Symbolising AMSA

I follow the @AMSAupdates Twitter feed for news about the Australian Mari­time Safety Authority’s work. These tweets don’t appear every day, but they are usually about something im­por­tant and in­ter­est­ing​—​a search and rescue operation, a lighthouse repair, a medical evacuation, or a training exercise.

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Wednesday 17 July 2013

Moon signals at Bustard Head

I found this in the Queensland Figaro news­paper, 24 September 1903. The same story also ran in the Launceston Examiner, the Wagga Wagga Advertiser, the Melbourne Argus, the Hobart Mercury, the Zeehan & Dundas Herald, and the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin:

Moon signals

It was while
locum tenens at the rectory of Gladstone, Queens­land (says a writer in Chambers’ Journal for August) that I became aware that moon-signals could be used in the same way as those of the sun. It was my duty to go to Bustard Head Lighthouse every few months to hold service and visit the Sunday-school and people of the sta­tion. I usually went by land, and rode 30 miles to Turkey Station; and as soon as I arrived Miss Maud Worthington, the daughter of the station owner, would at once helio­graph the news of my arrival at Bustard Head, and enquire by use of an 8 in looking glass at what time a horse could be sent to meet me on the other side of the swampy ground, over which it was wiser to walk. There I was met by Mr Rookesby and his wife, who piloted me to the lighthouse station. Mr Rookesby is a well-known inventor in Queens­land. He erected the heliograph between Turkey Station and the lighthouse, but failed to make communication with Gladstone, 84 miles off, either because an 8 in mirror was too small, or because of other conditions peculiar to the lie of the country. He then experimented with signalling by moonlight, and discovered that​—​notwithstanding the feeble light of the moon as compared with sunlight​—​owing to the darkness of the night, the moon’s reflections were quite powerful enough to carry the intervening 10 miles between the two stations.
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Thursday 6 June 2013

The mystery explained

On one occasion, whilst examining the machinery of the monster revolving lamp belonging to a lighthouse, a visitor, wishing to see how many seconds would elapse before it completed a revolution, took a half-crown from his pocket, and placed it on the revolving framework.
       Watch in hand, he patiently waited for the coin to come round again to where he was standing, but no half-crown appeared. The seconds lengthened out into minutes​—​still no half-crown.
       “Strange!” he exclaimed. “What can be the reason of it?”
       In order to find out, he walked to the other side of the lamp, and met one of the lighthouse men, who touched his cap and said respectfully,
       “Thank you, sir.”


[from the Rockhampton newspaper The Capricornian, 14 December 1907.]
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Saturday 18 May 2013

John Deazeley’s backdrop

Here’s an object that tickles my interest in three branches of history​—​photography, lighthouses, and the region where I live.

It’s a cabinet photograph made in the 1880s by John Deazeley, a photographer with a studio in Queen Street, Brisbane. Queen Street was, and still is, the main com­mer­cial street in the city. Three other Brisbane photographers had Queen Street studios then​—​Thomas Mathew­son, Albert Lomer, and Eddie Hutchison.

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Friday 12 April 2013

Zen raking

First thing in the morning. I’m on the verandah of the As­sis­tant Lightkeeper’s quarters. I can hear waves lapping the shore, sea birds calling, the wind in the palm fronds. At a distance, just audible, repeated strokes of a rake on sand.

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Wednesday 6 March 2013

Draft Dent Island plan released

The draft Dent Island Lightstation heritage management plan is now available for download. The period for public comments ends on 3 April 2013. I was commissioned by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, to complete this joint plan.

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Friday 1 March 2013

A lighthouse keeper’s life

The National Museums Scotland website has a fine online ex­hi­bi­tion​—​Shining lights: the story of Scotland’s lighthouses​—​where I found this video of interviews with lightkeepers:

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Monday 21 January 2013

Port Said lighthouse

Another one for the bucket list: I must have seen it as I passed through the Suez Canal (twice, in 1965 and 1966), but I don’t remember it. It marks the northern entrance to the canal.

It was the first reinforced concrete lighthouse tower, and was designed by François Coignet and completed in 1869​—​the first Australian example of this type was Green Cape lighthouse (first lit in 1883).

The Port Said lighthouse was among the first to be lit by elec­tric­ity, using a carbon arc powered by de Meritens dynamos​—​the first (and only) use of this system in Australia was at the second Macquarie lighthouse (first lit in 1888).

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Friday 21 December 2012

A Christmas pudding for the lighthouse

Last year’s email Christmas card was received so well, I have done the same thing again​—​another wood engraving from the Illustrated London News, by the same artist, of a similar senti­mental subject involving Christmas, a rowing boat, lighthouse keepers, and a pile-lighthouse.

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Saturday 3 November 2012

A visit to the Eddystone Lighthouse

I feel guilty, just a little, because I support the vandals who cut up old books and magazines. I am part of that awful trade. I search for bits of paper on eBay, and I pay money to dealers. Forgive me.

But I rationalise that it’s a small transgression. If I don’t buy those bits of paper, somebody else will; and if nobody wants them, they’ll all go to landfill.

I paid a dealer to send me some pages pulled from a bound volume of the Strand Magazine (Volume IV, July-December 1892)​—​an article written and illustrated by F G Kitton, de­scribing a visit to the Eddystone lighthouse. It’s a nicely written piece that gave me a peak into the offshore light keepers’ life.

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Wednesday 15 August 2012

Henry Winstanley’s great lighthouse engraving

I have a few nice old prints of lighthouses, but none as wonderful as the one I just acquired. It’s from a copper plate engraved by Henry Winstanley (1644-1703)​—​an English engraver, mer­chant, and entrepreneur.

The engraving shows the lighthouse Winstanley built, with very great difficulty, on the Eddystone Rocks near Plymouth. The work started in 1696, and the lighthouse was finished and lit in 1698. Winstanley was not satisfied​—​he enlarged and streng­thened the structure in 1899, and my engraving shows it in this improved form. The picture is surrounded by notes that set out the history of the project, and the intricate details of the design.

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Wednesday 11 July 2012

The new yacht ‘Galatea’

On this day in 1868 The Illustrated London News ran a picture of the Galatea, the lighthouse yacht I have already mentioned. The launching of such a vessel, associated with such a noble purpose (and such noble personages), was a typical subject for celebration in the popular illustrated press in the nineteenth century.

The Illustrated London News was the first illustrated weekly newspaper (founded 1842). It was followed in England by The Graphic (1869), in America by Harper’s Magazine (1850), and in Australia by the Australasian Sketcher (Melbourne, 1873). At their best, these mass-circulation illustrated papers brought high quality illustrations of current events into the homes of middle class people.

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Tuesday 20 March 2012

Quite a regal station

The Brisbane Courier-Mail newspaper published this letter to the editor on Wednesday 5 May 1937, under the heading Coin­cid­ence of names:

Sir,​—​I think it is rather interesting to note that the three lightkeepers recently stationed at Cape Moreton Light­house were named L. R. King, H. P. Earl, and L. Marquis, making quite a regal station.​—​I am, sir, &c.,
             H. P. Earl.
             Mary Street, Wynnum.
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Monday 5 March 2012

The Byrne family at Cape Moreton

Just because I enjoy looking at this evocative image so much, I am posting this photograph from the Byrne family collection.

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Wednesday 29 February 2012

Catoptric lights

Some work I’m doing at Cape Moreton Lighthouse prompted me to do just one more search for historical photographs and draw­ings online. At the National Archives I found something new​—​this drawing, signed by W Wilkins, lighthouse engineer of Long Acre, London, of a proposal for Cape Moreton lighthouse, the first lighthouse in Queensland and the only one built of stone.

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Tuesday 10 January 2012

A most delightful trip (not)

A hundred years ago the postcard was a favoured medium for quick informal messaging. The limited space, and the idea of quick communication, encouraged a short, informal writing style​—​having a great time, wish you were here. Perhaps the fact that somebody bought and posted a card said as much as the words written on the back.

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Friday 23 December 2011

Christmas papers for the lighthouse

My Christmas ‘card’ this year includes this old image from the Illustrated London News. On the left is the bulk of a side-wheel paddle steamer with a man on deck shown in the act of throwing parcels towards three men in a rowing boat close by. Alas, one of the parcels has fallen short of the boat, and one of the men is reaching over the bow to pull it out of the water. From the title, and from the silhouette of a pile lighthouse in the background, we understand the three men are light keepers who have rowed out to meet the steamer to collect the Christmas mail and papers.

I have found several pictures like this, in popular Victorian magazines, that depict light keepers​—​strong, stoic men doing important but lonely work​—​in poignant scenes around Christ­mas time. I can imagine parents showing these pictures to their children, and reminding them how fortunate they were to be in a snug parlour with their family around them, and a dry copy of a Christmas magazine to read.

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Thursday 13 October 2011

A postcard from North Reef

My favourite Queensland lighthouse is the one at North Reef, about 120 km north east of Gladstone. The lighthouse was built in 1878 on a small patch of sand on a coral reef, supported on a concrete-filled iron caisson founded on the coral. It is the tallest example of its type, and the most remarkable. Because the light­house is remote from the mainland, and is difficult to approach by boat, few visitors went there and old photographs are very rare.

I went to the North Reef lighthouse in 2006 for my nationwide survey project. I flew in and out with an Australian Maritime Systems maintenance crew by helicopter​—​an exciting and ef­fi­cient way to get a great view of the tower and the reef.

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Saturday 2 October 2010

Visited: San Giorgio Maggiore

Cross this one off the list. Today I visited the pair of lighthouses at the island of San Giorgio Maggiore.

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Monday 16 August 2010

The four lighthouses of ‘South Solitary’

On Saturday Margie and I saw the film South Solitary and thorough­ly enjoyed it. It brought to mind the four different lighthouses closely connected with the film. And it reminded me that I still want to go to Maatsuyker Island, the place that inspired the film.

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Tuesday 3 August 2010

San Giorgio Maggiore lighthouses

I guess that Pevsner would have classed most lighthouses as buildings, not architecture.† But in Venice there is a pair of lighthouses that must belong in the architecture class, and I’m putting them on my visiting list. I hope to see them next month.

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Saturday 10 July 2010

Alguada Reef Lighthouse

So remote is this lighthouse tower, on a wave-swept rocky reef off the coast of Myanmar, that a google image search found no photographs of it. That remoteness, along with its beauty and its impressive height, prompts me to add this lighthouse to my must see list.

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Sunday 2 May 2010

Mumbles Lighthouse

Another old postcard (or six), another old lighthouse I want to visit. Mumbles Lighthouse. Mmm, great name.

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Thursday 7 January 2010

New year’s resolution for 2010

I have resolved to compile a checklist of lighthouses I would like to visit some time. I have already said I want to visit Muckle Flugga. Next on the list is in Chennai (formerly Madras) in south­ern India. The postcard below shows an amazing architectural mashup of lighthouse and courthouse. The building, described as an exquisite example of Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, incorporates the lighthouse lantern room and optical apparatus in the top of its highest dome. Flickr user NavneethC took a nice telephoto shot that shows the Chance Brothers lantern grafted into the Indo-Saracenic dome.

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Monday 7 December 2009

Engineering heritage conference in Dunedin

I have just spent a couple of weeks in New Zealand, at the 3rd Australasian Engineering Heritage Conference and visiting various sites in Otago. I presented a paper on Queensland’s timber and iron lighthouses: 19th century colonial innovation [pdf, 165KB].

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Sunday 3 May 2009

Ramsbotham on lighting of the Great Barrier Reef

I spoke to a gathering at the Brisbane auditorium of Engineers Australia the other day​—​on timber and iron lighthouses, my usual shtick. My audience were a well-informed lot, and the discussion especially interesting. My thanks go to Bill Oliver for inviting and introducing me, and to Robert Riddel for a vote of thanks at the end.

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Thursday 12 February 2009

Lighthouse life in Queensland

It was my pleasure today to talk to members of the Queensland Women’s Historical Association on the subject of lighthouse life in Queensland. The association hosts morning talks each month at Miegunyah, its house museum at Bowen Hills. Before the talk we gathered on the verandah for introductions and chat. There were white table cloths, tea in china cups, and platters of dainty sandwiches. It was a warmish day, and kind ladies handed out fans to the members as they filed into the dining room for the talk.

My audience really enjoyed seeing a series of photographs of the Byrne family, taken at Sandy Cape Lightstation between 1903 and 1913. The photos are now in the John Oxley Library collection, and published on the web. The Byrne family story is also told as one chapter in the library’s virtual exhibition Travelling for love.

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Tuesday 16 December 2008

Design for extreme places

This article, describing a design to support habitation in Antarctica, reminded me of the living quarters built into the 1878 lighthouse on North Reef, off Gladstone in north Queensland.

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Thursday 23 October 2008

Talking to volunteer lighthouse guides

Today, at a seminar for volunteer museum guides at the National Maritime Museum, I spoke on Cape Bowling Green lighthouse in historical context. The hundred or so enthusiastic volunteers had some terrific questions, and there was some lively discussion after the talk. I prepared a small handout (pdf, 673 KB).

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Sunday 6 July 2008

Cape Bowling Green lighthouse

Since I was in Sydney for other reasons, I arranged with the Australian National Maritime Museum to have a close look at the Cape Bowling Green lighthouse on display there. This was the second of a series of timber framed, iron plated towers designed by Queensland architect Robert Ferguson (1840-1906). It was built in 1874 on a sandy cape south of Townsville. In 1987 the lighthouse was dismantled and taken away for display at the planned National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour.

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Friday 23 May 2008

Peter Garrett comes good

The Minister of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts has refused the application to despoil Nobbys Head lighthouse. Bravo!

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Thursday 8 May 2008

Timber and iron in the smart colony

Yesterday I gave a talk at the Queensland Museum, part of a series called Queensland Connections. In this series, speakers about cultural heritage subjects are teamed with Queensland Museum staffers who talk about natural environment subjects. The result is short talks and odd double-bills.

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Monday 7 April 2008

Peter Garrett and Nobby’s Head

The Commonwealth Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett, is inviting comment on his proposed decision not to approve a new building wrapped around the 1858 lighthouse at Newcastle. For the record, I have written to him supporting his decision to refuse this inappropriate and damaging proposal.

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Sunday 16 December 2007

Mapping lighthouses

All the lighthouses I have recently inspected are displayed on this Google map. If you have Google Earth installed, try this link.

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Monday 16 July 2007

Muckle Flugga

I want to go there. Muckle Flugga: a rocky islet near Unst in the Shetland Islands, site of the northernmost lighthouse in Scotland, at Latitude 60° 51.3′N. The light was established to guide ships carrying British troops to the Crimean War. Bella Bathurst describes engineer David Stevenson’s visit in the 1850s:

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Wednesday 30 May 2007

Navigating the Bosphorus

While I am at work surveying historic lighthouses in Australia my client for this project, AMS, is at work installing the latest navigation aids in Turkey.

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Monday 30 April 2007

John Smeaton

Another month, another placeholder. I’m still busy inspecting lighthouses, and collecting useful knowledge about them.

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Friday 30 March 2007

Business offshore

I’m busy with the lighthouse inspections, so I won’t be writing anything original here for a while. Let this engraving mark the time I am spending offshore. Islands have such evocative names: Who would not want to go to South Solitary Island, or Booby Island, or Low Isle, or Cliffy Island?

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Saturday 17 February 2007

It’s no holiday

I am off to Northern Tasmania tomorrow to inspect lighthouses. This morning I walked past a rack of postcards at the Southbank Market - reproductions of old travel posters, jam tin labels, and other ephemera. This one said buy me!

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Saturday 30 December 2006

Lighthouse welcome

Just found in the National Library picture collection: a stereo photo of a welcome arch built in Hobart for the 1901 visit of the Duke and Duchess of York. This little object tickles my interest in stereo views, lighthouses, and celebratory arches.

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Wednesday 1 November 2006

Kangaroo Island

I’m at Kangaroo Island, inspecting lighthouses. Today’s subject was the Cape St Alban Lighthouse, which deserves an award for cuteness.

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Saturday 30 September 2006

Split Point Lighthouse

I’ve been inspecting lighthouses lately, but seldom get to see them as they are meant to be seen - from the seaward side, at night.

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Tuesday 15 August 2006

HUET sequel

As I set off by helicopter from Gladstone to inspect another lighthouse tomorrow, I’ll have this plastic laminated card in my pocket. A source of comfort, I’m sure.

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Wednesday 26 July 2006

HUET

Yesterday I did Helicopter Underwater Escape Training. I spent the morning watching video clips of helicopter crashes, and hearing the theory of surviving a crash into the sea. After lunch the 14 of us did practical training in the cool water of the Queensland Police Academy swimming pool.

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Monday 24 July 2006

Rained-in at Nobby’s Head

Last week at Nobby’s Head lighthouse I met heavy weather: Rain, and cold gusty winds. It’s a long cold walk from the car, and the same going back.

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Friday 19 May 2006

Cape Byron lighthouse

I was doing some survey work at Cape Byron lighthouse yester­day. In the tower, on the level below the main light, there is a window facing Julian Rocks not far offshore. A red light in this window gives warning to sailors to watch out for the hazard. It also makes a magic atmosphere inside the lighthouse.

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On this page
John Smeaton, on working solo
John Smeaton’s birthday
Getty Images: free at last?
Dent Island plan adopted
The keeper's Christmas dinner
Symbolising AMSA
Moon signals at Bustard Head
The mystery explained
John Deazeley's backdrop
Zen raking
Draft Dent Island plan released
A lighthouse keeper's life
Port Said lighthouse
A Christmas pudding for the lighthouse
A visit to the Eddystone Lighthouse
Henry Winstanley's great lighthouse engraving
The new yacht 'Galatea'
Quite a regal station
The Byrne family at Cape Moreton
Catoptric lights
A most delightful trip (not)
Christmas papers for the lighthouse
A postcard from North Reef
Visited: San Giorgio Maggiore
The four lighthouses of 'South Solitary'
San Giorgio Maggiore lighthouses
Alguada Reef Lighthouse
Mumbles Lighthouse
New year’s resolution for 2010
Engineering heritage conference in Dunedin
Ramsbotham on lighting of the Great Barrier Reef
Lighthouse life in Queensland
Design for extreme places
Talking to volunteer lighthouse guides
Cape Bowling Green lighthouse
Peter Garrett comes good
Timber and iron in the smart colony
Peter Garrett and Nobby's Head
Mapping lighthouses
Muckle Flugga
Navigating the Bosphorus
John Smeaton
Business offshore
It's no holiday
Lighthouse welcome
Kangaroo Island
Split Point Lighthouse
HUET sequel
HUET
Rained-in at Nobby's Head
Cape Byron lighthouse

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