Maatsuyker Island

I dropped in on Maatsuyker Island, a wild and windswept location off the south-west tip of Tasmania, on 22nd April 1987 after a special helicopter flight from Hobart.  We returned after I finished taking the photographs.

Maatsuyker lighthouse and rocks from in front of cottages 1:30pm 22 April 1987 Arca Swiss Monorail 5x4" 150mm Linhof Schneider Technika Symmar  f16 1/30 second + polariser Fujichrome 50

Maatsuyker lighthouse and rocks from in front of cottages
1:30pm 22 April 1987
Arca Swiss Monorail 5×4″
150mm Linhof Schneider Technika Symmar
f16 1/30 second + polariser
Fujichrome 50

The Maatsuyker Island lighthouse was built in 1890-91.  The tower is only 13 metres high because it is located 110 metres above the sea.  A higher location was possible but deemed less suitable because of the prevalence of fog.

The view you see above is from just in front of the keepers’ cottages.  The cottages are 167 metres above the sea but in bad storms the spray could carry even this far.

Needle Rocks (or the Needles) beyond the lighthouse are home to many mutton birds (short-tailed shearwaters) and seals.  Aboriginals never lived here but used to come over from the mainland on hunting expeditions.  They made what must have been a very hazardous crossing of about ten kilometres from the mainland in bark canoes that they then had to reconstruct to return.

Maatsuyker lighthouse and rocks from cliff edge 2:00pm 22 April 1987 Nagaoka Field Camera 5x4" 65mm Schneider Super Angulon f16 1/30 second + polariser Fujichrome 50

Maatsuyker lighthouse and rocks from cliff edge
2:00pm 22 April 1987
Nagaoka Field Camera 5×4″
65mm Schneider Super Angulon
f16 1/30 second + polariser
Fujichrome 50

This image is taken from near the lighthouse at the edge of the cliff.  The keeper’s wife told me how she was taking a cup of tea down to him in a storm when the wind swept her past the railing leading to the lighthouse and she clung to the edge of the cliff for twenty minutes or more until she was located and rescued.

In the beginning of the twentieth century the prime method of communication with the outside world for Maatsuyker, as for Tasman Is, was by carrier pigeon.  They had to send off carrier pigeons at regular intervals, if only to show that all was well.

Social relations were not always smooth sailing at lighthouses.  At Maatsuyker in 1920 there was constant tension between the two assistant lighthouse keepers which also involved the defacto wife of one of them and that was drawn to the attention of the Hobart Office.

Maatsuyker clockwork mechanism 2:30pm 22 April 1987 Nagaoka Field Camera  90mm Linhof Schneider Angulon f32 15seconds + polariser Fujichrome 50

Maatsuyker clockwork mechanism
2:30pm 22 April 1987
Nagaoka Field Camera
90mm Linhof Schneider Angulon
f32 15seconds + polariser
Fujichrome 50

This is the clockwork mechanism from the lighthouse.  The chain you see behind it would have held a weight which slowly dropped inside the tower.  This in turn powered the clockwork mechanism to turn the massive array of prisms around the kerosene lamp (later an electric bulb).  The prisms sat on a bed of mercury for ease of turning and the keepers needed to rewind the weight back to the top periodically.

The colour is likely not quite right here but I think it is mixed lighting sources and I can’t work out what to correct it to, so I leave it as is.

Maatsuyker lighthouse - view from rail 3:00pm 22 April 1987 Nikon FE 16mm Nikkor fisheye lens Fujichrome 50

Maatsuyker lighthouse – view from rail
3:00pm 22 April 1987
Nikon FE
16mm Nikkor fisheye lens
Fujichrome 50

Here is a view from the railings at the top of the lighthouse.  Maatsuyker was the last lighthouse to be demanned in 1996 and it lasted that long due to political pressure from Tasmanian fishermen.  A few National Parks volunteers probably continue to live on the island.

5 comments on “Maatsuyker Island

  1. […] Maatsuyker Is (Tas) […]

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  2. gpcox says:

    Nature manipulates nothing into such beautiful and mysterious creations.

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  3. Andrew Rose says:

    I just happened to come across your website by chance. I have had a copy of From Dusk Till Dawn for years and the Maatsuyker Island double page picture was my favourite shot in the book. I have visited and photographed many lighthouses myself, unfortunately I have not visited this one though. Great work.

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    • Murray Foote says:

      Thanks very much Andrew. I doubt that it’s possible to visit. It’s now run by Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Services. There are regular helicopter visits only every two months and two caretaker families but only limited visitor accommodation. Probably at best an hour or two on one of the helicopter visits if there happened to be space available.

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