2015 Centenary of Commonwealth Management of Lighthouse $1 PNC

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Transfer of control from the states the Commonwealth took place on 1 July 1915 when the Lighthouses Act 1911 came into effect.

The Australian continent has 37,600 kilometres of coastline and countless potential hazards, such as reefs, sandbars and strong currents, for ships approaching landfall. Foundering vessels and the consequent loss of life and goods created the need for manned beacons built on harbours, islands, coral reefs and beaches, warning mariners of the dangers. The first lighthouse to be erected in the colony was completed in 1818 at South Head, Sydney at the entrance to Port Jackson. Known as Macquarie Light was designed by convict architect Francis Greenaway, who was emancipated by Governor Lachlan Macquarie after the success of the project.

The responsibility for constructing lighthouses remained with the separate states until Federation in 1901, after which the administration of lighthouses became a Commonwealth responsibility. However transfer of control did not actually take place until 1915. When the Commonwealth of Australia officially accepted responsibility for all landfall and coastal lights around Australia it comprised 167 lighthouses including 103 manned lights. The individual states retained responsibility for all harbour lights.

The responsible department has had many names, but since 1991 the aids to navigation function have been the responsibility of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). Today there are some 388 aids to navigation sites controlled by AMSA. Because the design of lighthouses was managed by the states until 1915, the architectural styles of Australian lighthouses, particularly from the 19th and early 20th centuries, are quite diverse. Building materials include concrete, locally quarried granite, sandstone and limestone, and fabricated iron work, timber or galvanised iron.

The lamps in early lighthouses were powered by kerosene. When Gustaf Dalén invented the Dalen Flasher and Sun Valve in 1907, kerosene was replaced by acetylene. This allowed the lights to be unmanned, so that many new lights were erected in previously inhospitable places. It also meant that the demanning of lighthouses started back in the 1920s. Once solar power became available all the “off grid” beacons were converted to electricity.