Bruny Island's historic sites play key role

The past could play a big part in the future of Bruny Island. ROB SHAW took a trip to both ends of Tasmania's historic and picturesque island.

TWO sites at opposite ends of Bruny Island have vastly contrasting purposes, histories and appearances, but share a joint role in the future prosperity of the island.

One tells a fascinating tale of convicts, prisoners of war and contagious diseases, the other serves such practical roles as maritime safety and weather observation, but both fall under the guardianship of Parks and Wildlife, which wants to see them not only kept open, but well frequented.

The history of Bruny Island Quarantine Station goes back more than 150 years and spans several colourful eras while the Cape Bruny Lighthouse Station is even older and occupies one of the true extremities of Australian territory.

"They are two of the most important and historic sites on the island," said Bruny Parks and Wildlife ranger Bernard Edwards.

"We could quite easily shut the door and they would be a lot easier to manage, but then people are missing out on these fascinating places.

"From a cultural and historical but also conservation perspective, it's very important not to have these places locked up.

"They are extremely important to tourism on Bruny. That's the lifeblood of the island."

Part of South Bruny National Park, the lighthouse is both a popular day trip for visiting tourists and a valuable contributor to the Bureau of Meteorology.

Dating back to 1838, it is the third oldest in Tasmania and fourth oldest in Australia.

Since 2010 it has been manned by temporary lighthouse caretakers whose assorted roles are to maintain the buildings and facilities, provide weather reports and welcome the numerous interested visitors.

"It's important to have the building open and have someone living there," Mr Edwards said.

"If you close these places down they start to deteriorate dramatically."

The lighthouse is booked up for the next 18 months on a four or eight-week program depending on the caretakers' availability.

Scottsdale's Craig and Debbie Searle were the first two members of the voluntary caretaker program, taking over from long-time lighthouse keeper and caretaker Andy Gregory shortly after they had completed a stint on Maatsuyker Island.

"We were keen to continue doing the same sort of thing and had met Andy before we went to Maatsuyker and kept in touch with him," said Mr Searle, a retired teacher.

"Parks asked us if we would be interested in going to Cape Bruny and we helped set a few things up based on our experience on Maatsuyker.

"But it was very different. After four months on Maatsuyker we enjoyed the fact that we could just get in the car, go for a drive and maybe have a coffee somewhere. Because we were the first ones in, and Parks wanted to upgrade the houses, we were happy to get stuck in and get our hands dirty."

Ironically, Mr Searle also has a family link to the quarantine station. His great uncle, Ray Searle, was in a training camp at Brighton in 1915 when he was sent to Bruny to quell some unrest among German merchant seaman being held there as prisoners of war.

Mr Searle said anybody interested in volunteering as a lighthouse keeper at Cape Bruny would find it richly rewarding.

"It's not that difficult. You are provided training by the Bureau of Meteorology and there's a pretty good network of past caretakers you can call upon.

"You are in an isolated spot but it's not that isolated. So you have some privacy but also tourists coming in every day and you talk to some fascinating people.

"People have a real fascination for lighthouses and the place scratches all those itches for them.

"You've even got your own beach, the wildlife is amazing, it's magnificent scenery and there are a lot of places to walk.

"Bruny Island is a wonderful place to explore and you have a month or two to do that."

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