Althorpe Island

Althorpe Island lighthouse is about 110 or 120 kilometres west and a little south of Adelaide (in South Australia) and 8 kilometres south of Yorke Peninsula in the Great Australian Bight.  It is also about 30 kilometres north of Kangaroo Island and it is tiny compared to Kangaroo Island.  I flew in by helicopter on 18 May 1987.


Althorpe Island lighthouse and wind sock
18 May 1987
Arca Swiss Monorail 5×4″
150mm Linhof Schneider Technika Symmar
f16 1/25 second + polariser,
Fujichrome 50

As I wandered around the island I had to be very careful where I trod.  It was nesting season and there were something like 22,000 mutton birds (shearwaters) sitting on nests on the ground with eggs.  This must have been a popular visiting place for the local Narungga people for thousands of years.


Althorpe Island lighthouse and winch
18 May 1987
Arca Swiss Monorail 5×4″
150mm Linhof Schneider Technika Symmar
f22 1/5 second + polariser,
Fujichrome 50

There was an abandoned winch, probably near the cliff above the jetty.  This looks like a two-man hand winch.  Until the advent of air travel , the only way onto the island was by sea via the jetty and either using the flying fox or climbing the cliff.  Visits were infrequent and in the early years one keeper was sick on the island for eight months until he could be taken to Adelaide.  The keepers in those days ran 300 or 400 goats on the island to supplement provisions.

Althorpe Dock Mamiya 645

Althorpe Dock
Mamiya 645

Here is a view of the jetty from the top of the cliff.  The land in the distance is the Yorke Peninsula.  The lighthouse was built in 1879 and is 20 metres high, sitting 90 metres above the sea near the top of the cliff.

At one stage in a construction phase, there was a certain amount of industrial dispute and the workers slept at night on the “beach”.  One morning the foreman was found dead, hit in the head by a rock fallen from the cliff.  This was written off as an accident but may or may not have been so.

Six ships went down near the island from 1877 to 1982, notwithstanding the presence of the lighthouse.  Eleven men drowned on the Pareora in 1919.

Althorpe Island by Air and Dock (inset) Low res scan from book.

Althorpe Island by Air and Dock (inset)
Low res scan from book.

The dock is inset above, as seen from the top of the cliff, with the flying fox wire rising from it.  The V-shape is due to a man-made cutting.  In the larger view you can see the runway and the lighthouse is almost hidden in the crease between the pages.  You may have to click on the image for a larger view to see it, but the jetty is below the wide cliff to the right of the lighthouse, below the cutting which goes much of the way down.

The helicopter pilot told me an interesting story about transport to the island.  In the 1960s, before the advent of helicopters, there were two ultralight planes that flew in and out of the island from Adelaide.  One pilot was very careful and conservative; the other was more gung-ho.  There was an interesting technique to land the aircraft.  The pilots headed straight for the cliff, which must have been quite unnerving for the passengers.  At the last minute, a thermal which ran up the cliff face would lift the small plane up and onto the landing strip (I don’t know whether that was the same strip as in 1987).

One day the more gung-ho pilot miscalculated.  The plane flipped up the cliff, sailed through the landing zone and dropped over the cliff on the other side of the island.  He just managed to pick the plane up.  Without further ado, he turned the plane round, flew back to Adelaide and immediately resigned.  He never flew that route again.

5 comments on “Althorpe Island

  1. enmanscamera says:

    excellent information and perfect images.


  2. Julia Derrick says:

    I lived on the island from 1960 until 1963

    Liked by 1 person

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