The sand is so white it is almost blinding and the water so clear and blue. I could be dreaming, but thankfully I am not. I am at Booderee National Park in Jervis Bay at the beginning of a two and a half week trip exploring the NSW South Coast and around to Wilsons Promontory in Victoria.
The morning has dawned bright and sunny after a restful night’s sleep in our cabin at Huskisson Beach Tourist Park and I am itching to get out and explore Booderee. I have been intrigued by the stories I have heard about the Cape St George Lighthouse ruins being haunted so this is where we start.
Cape St George Lighthouse
During the 1800’s many ships were wrecked along Australia’s rocky coastline, this region included. In response to the numerous wrecks occurring in the area it was proposed a lighthouse should be erected. In 1857 a colonial architect, Alexander Dawson and an assistant surveyor explored Cape St George for a suitable place to build a lighthouse. And this is where the curse of this place seems to begin. Inadequate research and no consultation with anybody with maritime expertise led to this present site being selected based largely upon the presumed ease of construction of a lighthouse at this location.
The lighthouse was commissioned in 1860 but it soon became apparent that it had been built in the wrong place and instead of being a navigational aid it was anything but. The ships could not see the light from the northern approach and the ship wrecks continued. Eventually in 1899 a new lighthouse was built over at Point Perpendicular, but problems continued. On a moonlight night even with the light unlit, the reflection of the Cape St George Lighthouse was so bright that it confused passing ships. The only thing to do in the end blow up the Cape St George Lighthouse and be done with it. In the early 1922 the place was blown up by the navy.
The lighthouse itself wasn’t the only entity to have its life cut short, with 7 deaths occurring here during the short time the lighthouse was in operation. In 1867 the lighthouse keepers daughter, Isabella Jane Lee died from typhus fever and in 1882 pleurisy claimed the life of 13 year old George Gibson. 11 year old Florence Baily also succumbed to typhoid in 1885.
The deaths become a bit more grisly from here on. The father of poor Florence, Edward used to supplement his income by fishing for sharks on the rocks below the lighthouse. In 1895 he was fishing with his son when he was washed from the rocks. The story goes that he became entangled in his lines, drowned and was taken by sharks as his poor son watched.
William Markham the assistant lightkeeper from 1878 -1883 died after being kicked in the head by a horse and then there was poor 9 year old Francis Henry Hammer. Francis was fond of pushing rocks off the top off the cliff for a bit of fun, until he himself took a ride over the cliff with his rocks one day.
And lastly there is the story of Kate Gibson and Harriet Parker, the daughters of the lightkeeper and lightkeepers assistant. They were mucking about with a loaded firearm one day in 1887 when the gun discharged, hitting Harriet in the head and killing her instantly.
So from this delightful bit of history the lessons I have learnt are: Planning is everything (do not build a lighthouse where ships can’t see the light properly!), get your children vaccinated (so many little ones lost from now preventable diseases), don’t fish for sharks on rocks, don’t push rocks off cliffs, be wary of horses and don’t play with guns.
Despite the tragedies that have occurred here it is a beautiful spot with great coastal views. Harry has a great time walking about and looking at the lighthouse, cottage and latrine ruins and asking questions about what the buildings were for and about the people who lived here. I don’t think I have to worry about him getting too close to the edge of a cliff now I have told him about poor Francis and his rocks.
We walked back to the car and drove on a bit further. I have seen a place called Moe’s Rock on the map but there is no other information, so I decide we should stop and check it out. A 400m walk from the car park leads to Moe’s Rock. I have no idea who Moe was but he knew a good rock ledge when he saw one. Bright green moss covers some of the rocks and the sound of the waves smashing against the rocks keeps us well back from the rocks edge. We wander around the ledge, looking at the rock pools and interesting erosion patterns. I later find out that this is a popular spot for fishing, but also a treacherous one with some people having been swept off the rock and drowned.
Back in the car again and we are off to Stony Creek. This is a popular place for snorkeling and we get chatting to a German tourist who has just come up from the creek. She has seen sea urchins and star fish and says this national park is one of her favourites so far in Australia. We walk and talk with her on the way down to the viewing area. Stony creek is aptly named with is rocky banks going right out to meet the sea.
It has really begun to heat up now so we decide to head back to Huskisson for a picnic lunch and save the walks I want to do at Booderee for tomorrow morning. We have a lovely lazy afternoon walking along the coastal track leading into town, stopping off to access the beach and rocks in various spots. After an early dinner at the Husky pub we walk back to our accommodation and enjoy the last rays of the setting sun by the beach. Jervis Bay we may have only just met but I like you already.
At a Glance
Booderee National Park
2 1/2 hr drive south of Sydney, 15 minutes from Huskisson
Cape St George Lightstation
Approx 400m from the Cape St George Lightstation carpark Booderee NP
Approx 400m from the Moe’s Rock carpark Booderee NP
Approx 500m from the Stony Creek carpark Booderee NP
Huskisson Beach walking track
Many access points along the beach at Huskisson
Huskison Beach Tourist Park