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The story of the “Old Cape Willoughby Light”

In 1974 at the base of Cape Willoughby Lighthouse (originally called The Sturt Tower after the explorer Captain Charles Sturt), several tons of perfectly machined 19th Century cast iron lay in scattered profusion beneath a tarpaulin. It was going to be a sad end for the “Old Cape Willoughby Light”, destined for the scrap merchant.
This magnificent piece of engineering originally came to South Australia in 1872. It was installed on Tiparra Reef in St Vincent Gulf. Thirty years later due to a lack of coastal shipping it was removed and was installed atop a ninety feet high masonry tower at Cape Willoughby, replacing a simple reflector lantern. It remained there until 1974 when it was deemed redundant and all machinery and fittings were removed. The tower itself was destined to be bulldozed over the cliff. When the demolition came to the notice of the Kangaroo Island Branch of The National Trust, determined efforts were made to save both the tower and the mechanism for posterity. The National Trust were able to acquire the many pieces, including 600 lenses and the four metre copper dome. The gift was conditional upon its re-erection on a suitable symbolic tower, built for the purpose of exhibiting the excellence of early British technology.
It was decided to re-erect the salvaged light on a shorter tower at the Hope Cottage Museum in Kingscote. The original lighthouse at Cape Willoughby is now capped by a lightweight fibreglass lantern, and is open to visitors. Special mention should be made of the contribution of John Downing, then chairman of the Kangaroo Island National Trust. Without his tenacity, technical knowledge, and his ability to overcome the many and varied challenges posed in the rebuilding of the light, the project could have easily faltered.
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One such problem was the reluctance of any local builder to attempt the construction of the round and convexly tapered walls. Piecing together the many scattered parts of the light and its structure was also a big problem.
The Kingscote Council helped by agreeing to lay the very substantial foundations required. A specially designed rotating trammel enabled Bill Budarick, an unemployed truck driver, to lay the bricks to a specific design. It grew brick by brick, with the inner and outer walls filled progressively by reinforced concrete. Jack Elsegood, a retired farmer, smoothly plastered the brickwork with cement render.

Johnny Edwards, a council mechanic, did much of the welding, especially the central pillar which had been salvaged from a damaged wharf pile. The floor joists were salvaged telegraph poles (RSJs'), and the first level flooring of 8mm steel sheet was a recycled truck tray. Pilkington Glass kindly replaced both the tinted and clear heavy plate glass that had been destroyed during demolition.
The height of the resulting tower (30 feet) was determined by the maximum lifting height of the only crane then on Kangaroo Island. This crane was willingly provided by The Electricity Trust of South Australia. A heritage grant of $6,000 paid Bill Budarick's wages, also for the making of the outside visitor's gallery, and for other steel work which had to be replaced.
All of the effort resulted in a working example of an historic lighthouse.
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Whilst some licence was taken for safety and convenience, the mechanism is as designed and built by Chance Brothers of Birmingham in 1872. The finished structure was opened in 1975. The light came from an incandescent mantle fueled by kerosene and hand pumped air, similar to a "Tilley" lamp, but considerably larger at 1205 candlepower. The lens assembly consists of 596 curved prisms and 16 bulls-eye lenses. It is approximately five feet across and seven feet high. The whole mechanism rotates approximately once a minute. Some power source was necessary to maintain rotation. This came from a mechanism similar to a huge grandfather clock, where the pull of a heavy weight on a cable turned a series of gears known as “the clock-works" at a steady rate. The weight needed to be rewound periodically by the light-keeper.
The ‘Lighthouse’ has now become a feature of the skyline of Kingscote.
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