Low Head Pilot Station is at the mouth of the Tamar River in Northern Tasmania. It was the first station to operate but is in fact the third oldest group of pilot buildings in Australia after the private operations of Sydney and Hobart in 1805.
The pilot service still operates from this site today.
The Tamar River is a dangerous estuary with a complicated navigation channel which has always required the help of pilots.
Low Head lighthouse, originally built in 1833, is the third oldest light station in the Commonwealth after the Macquarie lighthouse near Sydney, built in 1818, and the Iron Pot lighthouse in the Derwent River near Hobart.
The Low Head lighthouse has one of only two operating foghorns in Australia. In service from 1927 until 1973 it has now been restored and is sounded at noon each Sunday.
Recently we visited the Low Head Pilot Station Maritime Museum. Ken grew up on Flinders Island and recognised many of the Flinders Island people he knew and who are featured in some of the displays.
My favourite story in the museum is the one about Kathleen Cashion, the Girl Signaller. In the early 1930s, Kaathleen Cashion lived with her parents at East Arm, on a property lapped by the waters of Moriarty Reach. When a ship ran aground on nearby Sheeptail Point the Launceston Marine Board installed a light and asked Kathleen if she would look after it. This she agreed to do and it became known as Kathleen’s Light.
Kathleen started waving to the ships that passed and thw wave was returned, usually from the bridge. Thinking it would be good practice for ships’ signallers, Captain Robert Huntley, of the Taroona, suggested that perhaps she could learn to signal. So Kathleen learnt semaphore to signal with flags by day and morse code to signal by night, using a signalling lamp. From then on she signalled every ship that sailed up or down the river.
The story of the Tamar’s girl signaller stirred up good will and admiration around the world. When war started in 1939, despite a strict ban on signalling ships, Kathleen became the only civilian in the British Empire given permission to signal greetings. Her signalling became a war-time assignment, as Admiral Collins approached her to provide young warship trainees with an opportunity to practice their signalling.
Kathleen would stay home for months on end, rather than allow a ship to pass without acknowledgement. On rare occasions when she did leave, her mother would deputise for her. She developed a sixth sense and could tell when a ship was approaching. ‘I could pick up the vibrations like a water diviner and could tell the ship was coming up to an hour before it appeared.’
In 1951, the Cashions moved to Riverside, within hailing distance of passing tugs which continued to give a toot. For many ships’ officers and men, Kathleen’s departure was the end of an era, and they continued to send her letters and cards for the rest of her life.
Unfortunately, these days there tends to be mostly plastic rubbish washed up onto shores but this was not always the case. People benefited in amazing ways when a ship ran aground in the old days.
The Spider band in the photograph was, of course, still attached to the mast when the ship ran aground. A spider band is a metal band around the mast of a ship that is used for attaching ropes. This was attached to the mizzen or aft mast of the Eden Holmes and washed ashore on Greens Beach in January 1907.
It was found by James Squires of “Ivy Lawn” and his ten-year-old son David. The mast was sawn up and used as ceiling supports in the kitchen/dining area of the homestead. The spider band was used as reinforcement in the concrete sidewall of an underground water tank.
Many years later David and his daughter Laura Hardina, while visiting Ivy Lawn, discovered that the tank had fallen into disrepair. The wall had broken open exposing the spider band. David got permission from the new owner to retrieve it and took it back to his own farm at Kelso, where it leaned agains a fence for many years. Years later Laura Hardina donated the spider band in memory of her father and grandfather, who salvaged it from the beach more than a century ago.
I find museums fascinating places and Ken and I try to visit as many as we can as we sail around. The maritime ones are my favourite but I do enjoy local museums that give one a greater understanding of places we visit.