On 1 July 1915, the Commonwealth of Australia officially accepted responsibility from the State Governments for all landfall and coastal lights around Australia.
Lighthouses have played a vital role in coastal navigation and safety since the earliest years of settlement. Within just a few years of the colony’s founding in 1788, convicts built Australia’s first marine light on South Head at the entrance to Sydney Harbour – a simple iron brazier suspended from a tripod.
A few years later, convict architect Francis Greenway designed Australia’s first proper lighthouse for the site. Named after the influential fifth Governor of New South Wales, it was an imposing design known as Macquarie Tower.
The ‘Macquarie Tower’ Holey Dollar
On 11 July 1816, Governor Lachlan Macquarie placed a prime example of Australia’s first coinage – the Holey Dollar – under the foundation stone of his tower, which was completed two years later. Alas, due to poor quality of the locally mined sandstone from which it was built, Macquarie Tower had to be replaced by a similar lighthouse (above) in 1883. Its untimely demolition revealed the existence of the famous coin, which now reside in the collection of the Australian National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour.
More lighthouses were subsequently built around the Australian coast in direct response to shipwrecks in the treacherous waters of the Southern Ocean and the Tasman Sea. The King Island coastline in the Bass Strait, for example, claimed at least 60 vessels and 800 lives before the construction of lighthouses during the nineteenth century.
Prior to Federation in 1901, the six Australian colonies were responsible for the design and construction of their own lighthouses. Resulting in a variety of styles built from local materials such as granite, limestone and sandstone as well as concrete, the new Australian nation had a rich heritage of lighthouse architecture by the time the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service took over responsibility for the lights in 1915.
Today, Australia has more than 350 lighthouses along its coastline. On behalf of the Commonwealth Government, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority maintains more than 300 operational lighthouses and a further 200 other aids to navigation. In addition, AMSA seeks to preserve historic lighthouses and related marine artefacts for the community’s benefit.
Issued by Australia Post, this superb Stamp and Coin Cover marks the centenary of the Commonwealth’s responsibility for lighthouses. Including an uncirculated Australian $1 coin struck by The Perth Mint, it features four official 70c stamps depicting historic and architecturally diverse Australian lighthouses.
- Cape Byron Lighthouse, NSW – constructed in 1901 from concrete blocks; Australia’s most easterly lighthouse and also its most powerful.
- Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, WA – constructed 1895-1896 from limestone; situated on the most south-westerly point on the mainland.
- North Reef Lighthouse, QLD – completed 1878 from timber sheathed in galvanised iron; situated on a shifting sand bar.
- Tasman Island Lighthouse, TAS – built in 1906 from cast iron plates; at 276 metres above high water, one of Australia’s highest lighthouses.
The coin’s reverse depicts a lighthouse set on a rocky cliff with waves lapping beneath it. From the lighthouse, a beam of light shines into the night sky. The design also includes the inscription CENTENARY OF THE AUSTRALIAN LIGHTHOUSE SERVICE and The Perth Mint’s ‘P’ mintmark.