Cape Byron Lighthouse

Go to the Register of the National Estate for more information.
Lighthouse Rd, Byron Bay
Byron Shire
Cape Byron Lighthouse, opened in 1901, is significant as an important element in the establishment of navigational aids along the New South Wales coast, and is important for its association with east coast shipping since the beginning of the twentieth century. (Criterion A.4) (Themes: 3.8.1 Shipping to and from Australian ports, 3.16.1 Dealing with hazards and disasters)

The lighthouse is technically important for its early concrete block construction, for its having been the first Australian installation of a mercury float mechanism pedestal, and for being the only Henry-Lepaute optic in Australia. (Criteria F.1 and B.2)

The lighthouse is dramatically located on the top of a windswept cliff and is a dominant landscape feature free of modern intrusions. It has notable aesthetic values. (Criterion E.1)

The place, located at the most easterly point of the Australian mainland, is visited by large numbers of people each year and has a high profile in the public imagination. It is well known as a key whale-watching spot. Its social value is considerable. (Criterion G.1)

Cape Byron was named by Captain James Cook after fellow navigator Vice Admiral John Byron, commander of HMS Dolphin's worldwide voyage of exploration in 1764-66. The first European exploration of Byron Bay was made in August 1826 by Captain Henry Rous, commander of HMS Rainbow. Although the construction of lighthouses along the NSW coast quickened in the second half of the nineteenth century, a light was not constructed at Byron for many years because the Cape was considered to be clearly visible to mariners anyway.

Finally, at the end of the 1890s the decision was made to proceed with a Byron light and the site was levelled in October 1899. The lightstation was designed by Charles Harding (architect with the Harbours and Rivers Navigation Branch), and in July 1900 contractors Mitchell and King began work. The project cost over 18 000 pounds and the light was first exhibited in December 1901. In 1914 the original concentric wick burner was replaced by an incandescent vapourised kerosene burner with a subsequent increase in the light's intensity from 145 000 to 500 000 candelas. The installation of improved apparatus in 1922 doubled the power of the light. In 1959 the light was converted to electric operation and staff reduced from three to two keepers. Following automation, the station lost its last keepers in 1989.

Today the tower is the main element still in Commonwealth hands. The keepers' quarters are available for tourist accommodation. The complex receives large numbers of visitors each year.


Cape Byron is the most easterly point in Australia, and the lighthouse stands at the top of a cliff about 122 metres above the sea. The white-painted, circular tower is constructed of cement-rendered precast concrete blocks. The structural method employed in the building is noteworthy as it was only the second light tower to be built of these blocks (the first was Pt Perpendicular RNE 1619). The use of concrete blocks eliminated the traditional dependence on quarrying on site. The tower stands 22 metres high (including the first order lantern) and is tapered, with an internal spiral staircase with stairs made of concrete with slate treads. The optical apparatus consists of a 920mm focal radius lens on a mercury float rotating pedestal driven by an electric motor. The lens was manufactured by Henry-Lepaute of Paris. This was the first Australian installation of the mercury float mechanism, and the Henry-Lepaute is now the only one in Australia. The light source is a 1000 watt 120 volt tungsten halogen lamp. The apparatus gives a character of flashing every twenty five seconds with an intensity of 1 000 000 candelas resulting in a nominal visible range of 26 nautical miles. The lantern room has an iron floor and iron dado walls, and the roof is domed and covered in sheet metal surmounted by a ventilator and wind vane.

At the base of the tower there is an entrance porch, lobby and two service rooms. The porch has a trachyte floor and steps, a cedar entrance door and etched glass panels and sidelights. The lobby has a tiled floor and trachyte steps, and the other rooms have asphalted floors and cedar windows. All the ground floor rooms have crenellated parapet walls.

The other buildings of the complex - a signal house/flag locker, head keeper's residence, assistant keepers' cottages, a store and workshop - together with fencing, are all located outside the current Commonwealth boundary.

The lighthouse is dramatically sited atop the cliff and is a dominant landscape feature; it clearly has strong aesthetic values. Both as an attractive destination in itself, and due to its location at Australia's most easterly point, the Cape Byron Lighthouse attracts large numbers of visitors each year (many of whom watch for migratory whales), giving the place social significance.