Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Maat lighthouse heritage catalogue

“We care about the island. Even if we never go there we want to know that the historic buildings are being conserved, the Aboriginal heritage is acknowledged and respected, and the Islands animals, plants and marine environment are protected for future generations” – Friends of Maatsuyker Island (FOMI). Image: James Stone.

Ailsa Fergusson, Caring for collections at ‘Maat’ Lighthouse, Australian National Maritime Museum, 18 October 2018

Ailsa Fergusson is a committee member of Friends of Maatsuyker Island. In 2012, Friends of Maatsuyker Island received funds as part of Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme (MMAPSS) to complete the first stage of cataloguing the heritage objects of the Maatsuyker Lightstation, light tower and from the island. Last year, another grant helped finish the catalogue*.

What does it take to the care for a historic light station?

Maatsuyker Island, or ‘Maat’ as friends know it, lies 10 kilometres off Tasmania’s South coast. This remarkable light station opened in June 1891 and was run as a manned station until 1997, when the light was automated. Following this, management of the Island was handed to the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service and a volunteer caretaker program commenced.

Maatsuyker Lighthouse is Australia’s southernmost lighthouse and it is acknowledged on the Tasmanian Heritage Register for its “historic heritage significance because it represents the principal characteristics of a group of Late Victorian Lightstation Buildings, including the remains of a rare supply haulage system and unusually intact lighthouse.”

Getting involved with Friends of Maatsuyker Island

Friends of Maatsuyker Island (FOMI), a Wildcare group, was formed in 2003 as a partnership with the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service, to preserve the cultural and natural heritage values of the island.

My great-grandfather, Robert Huckson, often recalled how he was rowed out to Maatsuyker Island in an open whaleboat to inspect the building of the light station. As Marine Board Architect (1888-1902), he designed many lighthouses around the Tasmanian coast, including Eddystone Point, Cape Sorell, Table Cape, Low Head, Mersey Bluff and Maatsuyker Island.

With this personal connection to the lighthouse and island, I have been a member of FOMI since it began.

Over the years, FOMI has made great progress with the preservation of historic materials, maintenance and weed management on the island. Much of this work has been dependent on grants from numerous sources.

10 years of cataloguing

Over 10 years, FOMI has been a grateful recipient of three grants from the Australian National Maritime Museum and the Australian Government through the Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme (MMAPPS). Wildcare has also given both financial and on the ground support.

With the first MMAPPS grant in 2008, FOMI worked with John Cook and made a digital archive of photographs. John was a light keeper on several stations for nearly 25 years, prior to automation of the lights.

A second grant in 2012, allowed FOMI to catalogue the historical items still on the island, but time and funding did not see the project completed. In 2017, a third grant allowed this to be achieved. Rosanna Cameron, an ex-Maatsuyker caretaker and a trained Museum Registrar, has worked on the catalogue over the decade and FOMI has been fortunate and thankful for her time and skills.

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Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2020
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