THE only inland freshwater lighthouse in the Southern Hemisphere will be lit for the first time in 85 years next month.
The Point Malcolm Lighthouse in South Australia guided paddle steamers through the lower lakes of the River Murray from 1878 to 1931.
Situated at “The Narrows” – a channel linking Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert – the lighthouse was particularly important for boats travelling between the townships of Meningie and Milang.
Point Malcolm is on the opposite side of The Narrows from the small community of Narrung, which will hold an old fashioned dance in the town’s hall on the night to kick off a weekend of celebrations.
A lighthouse globe is being brought across from Sydney for the historic lighting on Friday, October 28, as part of Meningie’s 150th anniversary celebrations.
Meningie Progress Association member Andrew Dawes said the ports of Meningie and Milang played important roles in the movement of wool, livestock and dairy products.
“The lighthouse also would have guided paddle steamers down the Murray from Wellington and across from Point Sturt – people were coming at it from three ways so it was a handy thing to have,” he said.
“One of the most important roles the lighthouse played was to guide the Royal Mail from Milang to Meningie en route to Melbourne.
“Most of us have probably ignored the Point Malcolm lighthouse for long enough. We’ve now realised it’s a valuable asset and are starting to take care of it.”
The Royal Mail travelled by stage coach from Adelaide to Milang, by paddle steamer for the 53km (33 mile) voyage to Meningie before being returned to a stage coach for the long haul to Melbourne via Kingston, Naracoorte and Mount Gambier.
By the early twentieth century the paddle steamers Judith, Milang and Murray were carrying passengers, goods and mail up to three times a week between Milang, Narrung and Meningie.
The lighthouse sits on top of a steep bank 25 metres above the water level and has a range of 10km. It is under the care of the National Trust and is believed to the only inland lighthouse in the Southern Hemisphere.
The white light atop the 7-metre high concrete building initially revolved with a flash every 10 seconds but was altered to a fixed white light in November 1887.
The lighthouse can be accessed from a road near the Narrung Ferry. The keepers’ cottages are being restored for private use.
The opening of a bridge for trains and cars across the Murray River at Edward’s Crossing – now Murray Bridge – in 1924 and the establishment of a Narrung Ferry service in 1928 led to a reduction in paddle steamer traffic. The Point Malcolm Lighthouse ceased operation in 1931.
An automatic light on a pole has been installed next to the lighthouse, to guide recreational and commercial traffic using the river and lake system.
Dawes said he expected there to be a fair bit of interest from lighthouse enthusiasts but wasn’t sure if many would make the trip to Point Malcolm, which is about a two-hour drive from Adelaide, the capital of South Australia.
He said the Coorong District Council and a team of volunteers were playing a crucial role in cleaning up the lighthouse inside and out ahead of the event.
“The Oscar W (paddle steamer) is going to come over from Goolwa and that will be tied up to the Narrung jetty the night the lighthouse is lit and the dance is on so there’ll be a fair bit happening,” he said.
“But we haven’t got a clue how many people are going to turn up.”
Meningie’s 150th anniversary celebrations will also include a sailing regatta, concert, fishing competition, vintage car display, kite festival and a mail re-enactment.
Although the original light was fuelled by kerosene, non-profit organisation Lighthouses of Australia has sourced a suitable battery-operated Pharos Marine FA-250 Marine Lantern for the occasion.
The lighthouse is expected to be lit from dusk till midnight on October 28.
The Lighthouse will be open to the public on the Friday afternoon and Saturday morning (October 29) and while the Oscar W and other boats in the Milang to Meningie Regatta travel through the Narrung Narrows toward Meningie.
It will be re-lit at dusk on Saturday for about two hours.
Lighthouses of Australia archives officer Graeme Davis said the globe would be powered by a car battery on the night because there is no electricity at Point Malcolm.
He said there were many inland lighthouses in the northern hemisphere, mainly around the Great Lakes in North America, but the Point Malcolm beacon was unique in the Southern Hemisphere.
“It’s one of those things that will attract a lot of attention and bring up a lot of inquiries from right around the world,” Davis said.