The four lighthouses of ‘South Solitary’

Monday 16 August 2010

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.

This is the Maatsuyker Island Lighstation, the most southerly Australian lighthouse, off the coast of Tasmania at 43° 39.5′ South Latitude, on which the fictional South Solitary Lightstation is based. This photo was taken on the day in 1891 when a party of VIPs came to celebrate the inauguration of the light, and had a warm, calm and sunny day. Most days, the weather at Maatsuyker Island is foul​—​here in the Roaring Forties the lightkeepers en­dured almost constant wind and rain. The remoteness of the site and the tediousness of the weather were essential story elements, but they made it impractical as a film location. Also, the name Maatsuyker Island doesn’t evoke the necessary feelings of isolation and privation, except to lighthouse tragics like me. [State Library of Tasmania, item 192251]

This is the light­house at Cape Nelson (1884), near Portland in Victoria, where most scenes in the film were shot. As I know from a couple of inspections in 2006, it’s an easy drive from several comfortable motels, and a more practical film location than Maatsuyker Island.

This is Cape Otway Lighthouse (1846), where the scenes inside the lantern room were shot. Cape Nelson no longer has an original first order optical apparatus, but Cape Otway does. This drawing shows the original lantern house and parabolic reflector apparatus, not the later nineteenth century Chance Brothers lantern house and catadioptric apparatus we saw in the film. [National Archives of Australia, item barcode 4957233]

This is the real South Solitary Island Lightstation (1880), on a beautiful day in April 2007 when I flew in for an inspection. It’s close to the coast of Northern New South Wales, near Woolgoolga. It’s not really very south, except in relation to the other Solitary Islands, of which there are more than this one.

An original drawing for South Solitary Island Lighthouse. It’s a typical New South Wales tower designed in the office of James Barnet, NSW Colonial Architect​—​just as Maatsuyker Island is typically Tasmanian in style, and Cape Nelson and Cape Otway are characteristically Victorian. [National Archives of Australia, item barcode 4957073]

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