Today in Transportation History – 1881: A Soap Opera Icon is Lit

On Australia’s southeastern coast, a new lighthouse made its debut on the headland of Barrenjoey in the colony – and present-day state – of New South Wales (NSW). The first light for the sandstone structure was kerosene-fueled.

The Barrenjoey Lighthouse was built in response to longtime demands for stronger safeguards for vessels, particularly the steady traffic of ships transporting coal from the Newcastle region to Sydney in NSW, in the frequently turbulent waters along the coast there. While such installations as a customs station and an unmanned beacon in the vicinity had met the need for navigational aids to some extent, many people still clamored for a permanent and full-fledged lighthouse as the best possible solution. One letter published in an 1867 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald, for example, insisted that things would be much better “if there were a guide in the shape of a lighthouse on Barrenjoey.”

Authorization was finally given to build this lighthouse. Scottish-born James Barnet, who had become acting head of the NSW colonial architect’s office in 1862 and was promoted to the actual position of colonial architect three years later, designed the new structure for Barrenjoey.  This lighthouse was one of at least 20 that Barnet ultimately designed during his time as a colonial architect; he served in the role until stepping down in 1890. The development of the Barrenjoey Lighthouse became sort of a family affair for Barnet and his family, with his daughter Rosa laying the cornerstone for the new structure at a ceremony in April 1880.

The Barrenjoey Lighthouse was maintained by a total of five different keepers until being converted to automatic operation in 1932. Since 1988, the lighthouse has also been a television star through its regular appearances in the Australian soap opera “Home and Away.”

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