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Low Island and Low Islets Lightstation, Low Island via Port Douglas, QLD, Australia

Photographs None
List Commonwealth Heritage List
Class Historic
Legal Status Listed place (28/05/2008)
Place ID 105367
Place File No 4/00/192/0003
Summary Statement of Significance
Constructed in 1878, the Low Islets Lightstation was the first lightstation in the north of Queensland, and its location inside the Great Barrier Reef represented the first attempt to address the dangers to shipping approaching newly established ports from the north, including Cairns and Port Douglas which developed in the 1870s as a result of the discovery of gold in the region. The establishment of the Low Islets Lightstation gave increased certainty to shipping in the Inner Passage inside the Great Barrier Reef, and improved safety of access to these developing northern ports.
 
Low Islets Lightstation occupies an integral part in understanding the establishment of maritime navigational aids along the Queensland coast and reflects the growth and development of Queensland after its separation from New South Wales (Queensland Heritage Council, place ID 601795).
 
Low Island has heritage significance to Kuku Yalanji and Yiriganji as part of their dreamings.
Official Values
Criterion A Processes
Low Islets Lightstation was built in 1876, offshore from Port Douglas and inside the Great Barrier Reer.  It was the first lighthouse constructed in the north of the colony of Queensland, and its location inside the Reef represented the first attempt to address the dangers to shipping approaching the northern Queensland ports, including Cairns and Port Douglas.  It is significant in Australian cultural history as it occupies an integral part in the establishment of maritime navigational aids along the Queensland coast which allowed overseas trade to be developed in Queensland’s northern ports.  This trade was important for the growth and development of Queensland.
 
Criterion I Indigenous tradition
Low Island has heritage significance to Kuku Yalanji and Yiriganji as part of their dreamings. Kuku Yalanji believe the Low Islets and Snapper Island ('Minya Gambyi'), the mouth of the Daintree ('Binda') and Cape Kimberley ('Baku') were once part of a united landmass that became separated during the creation period (the Dreamtime). Traditionally, these three sites were visited regularly by Traditional Owners to maintain contact with important Dreaming sites and stories and the local Aboriginal community continues to maintain a strong spiritual connection to these places (Laurence, Danvers and Lucas, 1993).
Description
The Low Islets are part of a geographic complex, which includes Snapper Island, the mouth of the Daintree and Cape Kimberley, bearing the marks of the Dreaming to the Kuku Yalanji people and which in Aboriginal lore was originally together. (Laurence, Danvers and Lucas, 1993: Appendix 7.5, Values).
 
The Low Islets Lighthouse was the fifth to be built in Queensland using the iron-clad timber-framed method first used at Lady Elliott Island in 1873 (Laurence, Danvers, Lucas, 1993: 54). However, the cladding was galvanised iron, instead of black iron plates (Laurence, Danvers, Lucas, 1993: 8). Round, timber-framed towers clad with galvanised iron sheets were unique to Queensland and incorporated Queensland resources (Queensland Heritage Council, place ID 601795).
 
The lighthouse is a truncated 21-metre conical tower, and the timber frame construction sheathed with iron is in the typical fashion of Queensland lighthouses. The tower is painted white with a red dome, stands on a concrete base, and was the first to have porthole windows (http://www.lighthouse.net.au/lights/QLD/Low%20Isles/Low%20Isles.htm).
 
The tower is similar in design to other Queensland lights including Booby Island, Dent Island, Double Island Point, Lady Elliott Island, Pine Islet and Cape Bowling Green (Department of Transport, 1983). Dent Island and Lady Elliott Lightstations are on the Commonwealth Heritage List, Booby Island and Double Island Point Lightstations are listed on the Register of the National Estate, and Pine Islet is on the Queensland Heritage Register.
 
An internal timber staircase gives access to the lantern room. The optical apparatus consists of a Chance Brothers Third Order revolving lens supported by a roller bearing rotating pedestal, driven by an electric motor. Solar conversion was undertaken at the lightstation in 1993 (Queensland Heritage Council, place ID 601795). The beam source is a 120-volt 1000-watt tungsten halogen lamp and solar array (http://www.lighthouse.net.au/lights/QLD/Low%20Isles/Low%20Isles.htm.
 
The grouping of the buildings of the lightstation follows a generally radial pattern with the lighthouse as the axis, rather than the more common lineal layout found on many other lightstations. This radial layout may have been determined by the physical size of the island, giving more privacy to keepers and maximising the use of the limited space on the island (Laurence, Danvers, Lucas, 1993: 53). The cottages and sheds are built in a compact arrangement around the lighthouse, forming one physical precinct combining both service and residential functions, and are surrounded by thick vegetation. The original cottages were demolished and replaced by new keepers' residences, timber framed and clad with fibro, in the early 1960s (Queensland Heritage Council, place ID 601795).
 
The elements which make up the lightstation are the lighthouse; the head keeper's house; the assistant keeper's house; the relieving quarters; the old power house; the old fuel store; later service structures including a bulk fuel store, a power house and a boat house; and a toilet block constructed to meet the needs of tourism. There is also an unmarked grave on the site.
 
Low Islets is part of a geographic complex, which includes Snapper Island, the mouth of the Daintree and Cape Kimberley, bearing the marks of the Dreaming to local Aborigines and which in Indigenous lore was originally together. There is a legend that a down-welling stream inland from Mossman Gorge exists undersea near Low Isles (Laurence, Danvers, Lucas, 1993: Appendix 7.5, Values).
 
There is evidence for the past activities of the Kuku Yalanji people from the presence of shell midden sites and the lower-woody mangrove which is still used for hunting practices (Walker, pers comm., March 2006).

History
About 30,000 years ago Aboriginal people occupied the continental shelf of what is now the Great Barrier Reef (Beaton, 1973). Much of this area was inundated by rising sea levels at the end of the Pleistocene. Archaeological research on larger reef and continental islands in the Great Barrier Reef show evidence of Aboriginal use from at least the middle Holocene. This is represented by artefact scatters and shell middens (Beaton, 1973; Rowland, 1996).
 
The Great Barrier Reef has important continuing cultural, spiritual, economic and social values for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders from the Great Barrier Reef coastline. In particular the islands and reefs have many important creation stories that are expressed through dance and song (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, 2006).
 
The Low Islets exist within the boundary of the Kuku Yalanji (Horton, 1994:563).
 
When the colony of Queensland separated from New South Wales in 1859, it became responsible for all navigation lights and harbours along its 5200 kilometres of coastline (Laurence, Danvers, Lucas, 1993: 7).
 
There were few marine safety features in place, and the only lighthouse which existed had been built at Cape Moreton by the New South Wales Government in 1857. New ports were developed in the north, including Mackay in 1860 and Bowen in 1864. To reach them ships had to negotiate the dangerous waters inside the Great Barrier Reef (Reid, 1988: 96).
 
In 1862, the Queensland Government passed the Marine Board Act and appointed a Port Master, Commander George Heath, who later led the development of the Queensland lighthouse service. In the next two years, due to a lack of funds, marine safety expenditure was concentrated on pilots and harbour lights. A Legislative Assembly Select Committee appointed in May 1864 to report upon the state of the harbours and rivers in the colony widened its own charter to include the question of lighthouses.
 
The select committee recommended that four lighthouses be built, at Point Danger or Cape Byron, both just south of the Queensland border; at Sandy Cape on the northern point of Fraser Island; at Cape Capricorn; and on Bustard Head, south of Gladstone. The committee said that lighthouses were also desirable at Double Island Point and Lady Elliott Island, south and north, respectively, of Fraser Island. At the same time a Legislative Council committee noted the more serious task of lighting the Inner Passage within the Great Barrier Reef because overseas shipping from India, China and countries to the north would be kept away from the northern ports due to the dangers (Reid, 1988: 96-97).
 
Although a lighthouse had not been recommended there, George Heath sought approval in 1876 for a lighthouse on Low Isles (Low Islets), offshore from Port Douglas and inside the Great Barrier Reef. Expenditure was approved, the specifications for a tower and cottage were ready in May 1877, and the light first burned in November 1878 (Reid, 1988: 102). During Heath's time as portmaster (1862 – 1890) twelve major lighthouses were built along the Queensland coast and Low Islets was the tenth lighthouse built by the Queensland government (Laurence, Danvers, Lucas, 1993: 53).
 
The tower on Low Islets is similar in design to other Queensland lights including Booby Island, Dent Island, Double Island Point, Lady Elliott Island Pine Islet and Cape Bowling Green (Department of Transport, 1983). The oil burners in the original 1.5-metre diameter lantern were converted to vaporised kerosene in 1923, and the illuminant and the light's intensity increased from 13,000 to 100,000 candelas, as recommended by Commander Brewis in 1912 (Laurence, Danvers, Lucas, 1993: 8-9).
 
The light was again upgraded in 1963 to electric operation (http://www.lighthouse.net.au/lights/QLD/Low%20Isles/Low%20Isles.htm). Solar conversion and installation of a 16 nautical mile self-contained beacon was effected in 1993 (Laurence, Danvers, Lucas, 1993: 9).
 
The Low Islets Lightstation was transferred from the Queensland Government to the new Commonwealth Lighthouse Service in 1915 (http://www.lighthouse.net.au/lights/QLD/Low%20Isles/Low%20Isles.htm), and in 1994 the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) transferred ownership to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, although AMSA retains the lease on the tower (internal documents, file no 4/00/192/0003).
 
A head keeper and two assistant keepers manned the lighthouse until it was automated in 1993 (http://www.lighthouse.net.au/lights/QLD/Low%20Isles/Low%20Isles.htm).
 
Traditional Indigenous folklore holds that the Low Islets, the mouth of the Daintree and Cape Kimberley were originally together but became separated during the Dreamtime. Each site was traditionally visited to maintain tribal contact with the Dreaming. Low Islets was used for traditional hunting and gathering but Torres Imperial pigeons were a local totem and not collected (Laurence, Danvers, Lucas, 1993: Appendix 7.5, Values).

Condition and Integrity
The integrity of the lighthouse is high. No major architectural elements have been added to or removed from the building internally or externally, with the exception of the addition of aerials and other small equipment on the external balcony (Laurence, Danvers, Lucas, 1993: 55).
 
The glazing to the lantern room has been altered at some stage, as has the roof, possibly after the 1911 cyclone or to accommodate the new pedestal and clock mechanism and increased candle power recommended by Commander Brewis in 1912 (Laurence, Danvers, Lucas, 1993: 8-9).
 
The light has been changed several times. It was common practice in many lighthouses around Australia to replace lanterns and lenses to enable the use of new technologies in illumination (Laurence, Danvers, Lucas, 1993). The light source today is a tungsten halogen lamp and solar array (www.lighthouse.net.au/lights/QLD/Low%20Isles/Low%20Isles.htm).
 
The lighthouse tower and the original cottages and sheds were prefabricated elsewhere and transported and assembled on site. The cottages and other buildings were compactly arranged in a radial arc around the lighthouse due to the size of the island www.lighthouse.net.au/lights/QLD/Low%20Isles/Low%20Isles.htm).
 
The combination of the prefabricated nature of the buildings on the lightstation, and the degree of exposure to which they were subjected necessitated the replacement of the three residences. For similar reasons this has also occurred on lightstations such as Sandy Cape and Lady Elliot Island (Laurence, Danvers, Lucas, 1993: 55). The residences were replaced in the early 1960s. The new keepers' residences are nearly identical to the originals with only minor adaptations (www.lighthouse.net.au/lights/QLD/Low%20Isles/Low%20Isles.htm).
 
Although the later buildings have generally followed the original layout of the station, their construction has meant the demolition or removal of earlier or original buildings. Additive intrusion, such as the construction of the Power House and Bulk Fuel Store has detracted from the integrity of the lightstation (Laurence, Danvers, Lucas, 1993: 55).
 
A new boat house was built in 1963, replacing an earlier structure built in 1920 (Laurence, Danvers, Lucas, 1993: 54).
 
 
Location
About 15km north-east of Port Douglas, comprising the whole of Low Island to high water mark, the western most island of the Low Islets group.
Bibliography
Beaton, J.M. (1973). Archaeology and the Great Barrier Reef: a report on the archaeological findings. The Royal Society and University of Queensland Expedition to the Great Barrier Reef, Phase II, 1973. Department of Prehistory, Australian National University
 
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (2006). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People and the Great Barrier Reef Region. Fact sheet, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Australian Government
 
Horton, D (Ed.). (1994). The Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia Vol 1 A – L. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press
 
Laurence, Danvers, Lucas, (1993). Low Isles Lightstation Queensland. Prepared by Ron Danvers Architects, Adelaide, for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority,
 
Rowland, M.J. (1996). Prehistoric archaeology of the Great Barrier Reef: retrospect and prospect. Tempus vol. 4:191-212
 
Reid, G, (1988) From Dusk Till Dawn A History of Australian Lighthouses, Australian Government Publishing Service and The Macmillan Company of Australia.
 
Queensland Heritage Council (2006) Historic Inventory Record, place ID 601795, Queensland Government Environmental Protection Agency.
 
References from Laurence, Danvers and Lucas, (1993):
Thorburn, J H, Major Lighthouses of Queensland, Queensland Heritage, Vol 1, No 6, May 1967
 
Department of Transport, (1983) Lightstation Inquiry, Canberra, 1983
 
Winston-Gregson, J H, (1988) Lighthouses Type Profile, Report to the Australian Heritage Commission, Access Archaeology.
 
Gott, K D (1984) Survey of Queensland Lighthouses, Australian Heritage Commission.
 
Australian Heritage Database, place ID numbers 105364, 105368, 105369, 105415, 105458
 
Internet sources:
Queensland Government, Queensland heritage snapshots,
http://www.epa.qld.gov.au/cultural_heritage/places_and_meanings/queensland_heritage_snapshots/
 
Lighthouses of Australia Inc, Lighthouses of Queensland, September 2003
http://www.lighthouse.net.au/lights/QLD/Low%20Isles/Low%20Isles.htm
 
Port Douglas History in brief,
http://www.barrierreefaustralia.com/port-douglas/port_douglas_australia.htm
 
Cairns Connect, Cairns history,
http://www.cairnsconnect.com/cairns/cairnshistory.asp
 
Personal communication:
Mr Bennett Walker, a Kuku Yalanji man, March 2006.

Report Produced  Fri Sep 19 16:25:17 2014