Exmouth s historic guardian
Vlaming Head lighthouse is the only lighthouse in the world that still runs on kerosene fuel. Picture: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

Exmouth may be well-known within the State for its picture-perfect weather, great fishing spots, the Ningaloo Reef and Cape Range, but everywhere else it is known for something else.


Exmouth is home to the Vlaming Head Lighthouse, the only lighthouse in the world that still runs on kerosene fuel.

This December, the historical artefact marks 100 years of lighting up the beautiful North West town and with this, comes a week-long celebration.

Originally named the North West Cape Lighthouse on Vlaming Head, the lighthouse's story began five years before it was opened.

In the early 20th century, the Federal government made a decision to take away the control of all lighthouses from the State and instead manage them nationally.

Concerns that this would bring the construction of lighthouses in WA to an end, resulted in the decision for three new lighthouses to be built.

On March 10, 1907, the night before the locations of the new additions were to be announced, the SS Mildura, a cattle ship, was wrecked when it hit the North West Reef.

This was the spur for two more lighthouses to be built, one of these being the Vlaming Head Lighthouse.

Standing at 12.2m high on an elevation of 73.2m above sea level, the lighthouse was originally run by lighthouse keepers who resided in the keepers' house next door.

They led strenuous and isolated lives, with supplies being dropped on the beach by a boat before being taken to the lighthouse in a horse- drawn carriage.

Between December 1942 and March 1946, during World War II, the men from Exmouth 31 Radar Station took over the responsibilities of running the lighthouse.

The radar station was an operation which was established to send warnings of enemy aircraft heading towards Operation Potshot, the American submarine refuelling base in Exmouth Gulf.

The Vlaming Head Lighthouse stood tall through World War II but struck a bit of trouble in 1953 when a cyclone hit and even more trouble in 1999 when another cyclone, Vance, struck the lighthouse and the store, located 7m north-east.

Severely damaged, Palassis Architects was commissioned to repair the lighthouse in 2000, and along with these works, also added a concrete pad and solar panels 25m away from the store.

To this day, the lighthouse is a much-loved, iconic attraction in the town of Exmouth.

It is commonly visited by people to look out for humpback whales during their annual migration season or to watch sunsets over the Ningaloo Marine Park.

However, rarely is anyone allowed inside for tours. That is until this year's celebrations in the first week of December

The Shire of Exmouth is pulling out all the stops to commemorate the 100-year life of the lighthouse, with a number of activities taking place from December 3-10.

A former lighthouse draftsman will conduct tours of the Vlaming Head Lighthouse from December 5-7.

These excursions will give people an insight into the differences between the original interior and the reconstructed one, and will allow people to see the kerosene apparatus.

An art exhibition showcasing the work of local artists, a family "camp-out" on the grounds of the keepers' house and a 1912-period themed ball will also take place for all to join in on.

But probably the most exciting event will be the Light Delights.

This will be the official birthday party for the lighthouse on December 8 and will see the kerosene lamp lit.

The crowd will then be able to watch the shaft of light do a full 360-degree turn for the first time in 50 years.

There will also be live music, storytelling, projection art and a lantern parade, really bringing together the community to acknowledge and celebrate this wonderful and original historic artefact.


The West Australian

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