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Lighthouse families share stories

Norma McCabe of Mullumbimby lived at the Byron Bay Lighthouse cottages with her husband John between 1973 and 1980.
Norma McCabe of Mullumbimby lived at the Byron Bay Lighthouse cottages with her husband John between 1973 and 1980. Marc Stapelberg

A NEW book is shining a light on the families who lived and worked in some of the state's most remote and isolated lighthouses.

"Life Under the Light: Lighthouse Families of New South Wales" was launched by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service at Cape Byron Lighthouse yesterday.

More than 30 people, light keepers and their family members were interviewed for the book, including Norma McCabe, 84, of Mullumbimby.

Ms McCabe raised four children in lighthouses with her husband, light keeper John McCabe.

When her husband applied for the job, Ms McCabe was also tested to see if she could adapt to life in isolated conditions.

She said their first posting at the South Solitary Island off Coffs Harbour came as "a shock" but she "loved" living in Cape Byron lighthouse from 1973 to 1980.

"The view was wonderful, but I guess it always is from a lighthouse," Ms McCabe smiled.

In the days of kerosene burners her husband was on duty throughout the night ensuring the light did not go out.

But the creation of automated lights in the 1980s replaced the need for lightkeepers and tourists also began to flock to the Cape Byron lighthouse.

"Once it became automated some of the romance went out," Ms McCabe said.

"We had a lot of visitors coming to see the lighthouse but my husband had joined up to be a lightkeeper not a tour guide."

The book includes historical photographs of family life at seven of the 10 lighthouses managed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Historian and writer Dr Jo Kijas said family partnerships played a key role in keeping the light alive.

"On the whole it seems the men and women who lived on the lighthouses were the sort of characters who learnt to live in their own family units and be independent," Dr Kijas said.

"Until now this story hasn't been told but it was the family partnerships that made life in a lighthouse what it was."

Topics:  book, cape byron lighthouse, families


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