LIGHT ON THE HILL
Crossing the Clarence River entrance bar has always been dangerous for ships entering and leaving the Clarence River. The first recorded shipwreck was of a wooden sloop, the Alexander Macleay in 1841. The rising number of shipwrecks at the mouth of the river led to the appointment of a Pilot, Frances Freeburn, in 1854 and the establishment of a Signal Station and primitive lighthouse on Pilot Hill. That first lighthouse was a simple kerosene lamp attached to a pole near the signal staff on the most easterly part of Pilot Hill.
Sailing masters lobbied the Colonial Treasurer for a better system until in 1865, the Legislative Assembly approved £120 ($240) for the erection of a beacon in the same position as the lamp pole. This beacon was a fixed red kerosene light placed on a bench in a small wooden sentry box whose shutters could be opened at night to send the rays 10 to 13 kilometres out to sea. One of the Pilot boatmen, William Walker maintained the light but the pilot’s daughter, Jane Freeburn, also tended it as a child - making her way through the brush on the headland with a bodyguard of Aborigines to protect her from possible predators.
The 1950s concrete reservoir was demolished in 1987, which was when the Lower Clarence Media Co-operative Society decided to construct a replica of the original Pilot Hill lighthouse on the original site, at an estimated cost $13,000. By 1990 the Lighthouse replica was completed by volunteers at a cost of approximately $3,000 with no Government grants, as the bricks were made on site. The first transmission of 2TLC-FM on 100.3MHz from this site occurred in 1991, after operating from various temporary sites previously.
In 1999 a large cairn was erected near the Yamba lighthouse to mark the spot where Lieutenant Mathew Flinders took sightings on 11 July 1799, as part of Yamba’s Bicentennial festival. It was unveiled by the Governor of NSW, Gordon Samuels. Captain Bern Cuthbertson and an eight-man crew of the replica sloop "Norfolk" also attended.
In 2011, with the support of local benefactors and PYHS, the old Lighthouse replica on Pilot Hill was finally completed with the installation by volunteers of an actual lighthouse lens and its housing brought from Melbourne. (667 words)
Original 1879 lighthouse
Moves to construct proper lighthouses all along the North Coast began in 1878. The style, for Yamba as well as many other east coast towns, was based on the first Macquarie Lighthouse at South Head, Sydney, designed by renowned architect, Francis Greenway. A Grafton building contractor, William Kinnear was awarded the contract for £1097 ($2,194) and completed the structure in 1879. William Walker was appointed first lighthouse keeper and held the position for 40 years. Quarters were constructed for him adjacent to the lighthouse in 1905. However, when the lighthouse was automated in 1925, the position of lighthouse keeper disappeared.
Lighthouse with signal staff in background. The signal staff was relocated to the Yamba Public School grounds on Wooli Street in 1905 and then moved to Norfolk Park, opposite museum in 1977.
View of lighthouse during World War 2, with radar dish deployed in background.
The 1879 lighthouse had never ceased operating, even during the blackout restrictions of World War 2, until it was sold for £5 and demolished in 1957. Blocks from that lighthouse were used to construct a retaining wall, which still exists today along the lower side of Campbells Lane. The site was then used for a concrete reservoir as part of the improved water supply scheme for the township.
The new lighthouse, first lit on December 21, 1955.
After the Pacific Hotel and other buildings were constructed on Pilot Hill in the 1930s, the light from the lighthouse became less visible, so it was decided to build a new lighthouse on the extreme eastern point of the headland. Tenders were eventually called in late 1954 and Boulder Construction Company began work in late February 1955. Standing 17 metres high it is supported by 5 metres of reinforced concrete foundation embedded in bedrock. Fully automatic, lit by electricity with an emergency acetylene light, the lenses of the old lighthouse were re-used, providing light visible for 33km in clear weather.