By Alison Stillwell
Opened on January 24, 1872, the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse operated for 101 years from a platform off shore on the Margaret Brock reef located approximately 27 kilometres South West of Kingston SE in South Australia.
By 1973, shipping from the port of Kingston had dwindled to virtually nothing, and the aging Cape Jaffa light was taken out of service in March 1973. Its navigational role was taken over by the Guichen Bay beacon at Robe while a solar powered beacon replaced the old light on the reef. The lighthouse tower and quarters were removed by helicopter and lighthouse tender, M.V. Cape Pillar, to Kingston, where they were re-erected on the foreshore by the Kingston Branch of the National Trust of South Australia, and opened as a museum to visitors on January 24th, 1976.
The lighthouse at Kingston shortly after relocation. AMSA Archives
Cape Jaffa lighthouse museum Kingston SE. PHOTO: Trent Rothall
Glazing frame corrosion had caused cracking in lantern glass panes.
It had been 48 years since the last regular maintenance from light keepers. In June 2019, Lighthouse Maintenance Contractor, Mark Sheriff OAM, visited Kingston SE to inspect the condition of the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse and recommend a course of action to secure its structure, safe-guard the constant stream of visitors through it and assist in formulating a long-term Maintenance Plan.
He needed to address the water ingress issue, particularly in the Lantern Room, with the glazing frame badly corroded. According to Mark Sheriff, “With the evolution of modern navigational aids leading to the de-manning of light stations worldwide, lighthouses began to suffer from the day the keepers closed the door. The keeper, always with a brush in hand along with the attitude that ‘if it stays still, paint it and if it moves, oil it’ kept the fabric of light stations in ship shape condition”. Lantern panes needed replacing, rust-jacking around the external catwalk required attention, safety features had to be installed, and everything in the Lantern Room and Stairwell had to be painted.
The two week program included the assistance of twenty-five volunteer guides from the Kingston community who are passionate about sharing the amazing history and stories of the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse.
The museum exhibits depicting life on the reef.
The ornate steelwork of the lantern room freshly painted.
The museum exhibits depicting life on the reef. Photo courtesy of Katherine Lisk.
It also meant committing to duties through the busy school holiday periods and for private tours throughout the rest of the year. Many volunteers provide on-going help with repair work and refurbishment of rooms to ensure visitors enjoy a great lighthouse experience. Mark Sheriff’s tremendous and loving work has not only secured the nineteenth century structure for the time being, but has generated a renewed enthusiasm for sharing its story with others.
To take this iconic Kingston asset to the next level, the National Trust of South Australia is planning a major development around the lighthouse to include an Interpretive Centre and a replicated kitchen/storeroom which used to nestle into the tower on the light station platform – the Kingston Beacon Project.
The project aims to enable visitors of all ages and abilities to engage with the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse story by employing immersive and interactive exhibition technologies in an Interpretive Centre, which will also present changing displays of different aspects of lighthouse life. Included in the plan, and integral to the whole lighthouse story, is exhibition space devoted to the Meintangk Dreamtime stories of the region, incorporating Aboriginal history, culture and knowledge.
The re-building of the kitchen/storeroom, albeit in a modern setting, is an exciting dream of the Kingston National Trust branch, re-uniting the elements of George Wells’ original design and providing a bold statement of the Cape Jaffa Light-station.Additional features of the Kingston Beacon Project include
- A gallery
- Flexible meeting spaces
- Areas for community classes
- A café with views of the ocean and facilities for small functions
- Encouragement for increased volunteer involvement
- New opportunities for night-time events
Peter Bell and Susan Marsden, 2007: Kingston Heritage Survey
The "Restorer" (and part time Koala rescuer) Mark Sheriff OAM and his furry friend. Self portrait by Blinky the koala.
Cape Jaffa Lighthouse pictured in 1910 after it was built out to sea. Credit: State Library South Australia.