Norah Head Lightstation Group

Go to the Register of the National Estate for more information.
Bush St, Norah Head
Wyong Shire
Norah Head Lightstation, completed 1903, is of historic significance being the last colonial built lightstation on the NSW coast, completing a major program of lighthouse construction. The development of the lighthouse system was for the most part a nineteenth century phenomenon, as a result of a series of inter-related improvements in optical systems, and the development and introduction of oil and electric illuminants. Norah Head Lightstation is significant as having been the last staffed lightstation constructed, having been staffed for over 90 years, and as one of the last lightstations to be de staffed.

The Lightstation is significant as an important element in the establishment of navigational aids along the NSW coast. Marine safety was essential for Australia's commercial and national development, and was a recurring national theme which was reinforced by the creation of the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service in 1913. (Criteria A.4).

Norah Head Lightstation, is significant as a relatively intact complex of buildings constructed of precast concrete block. The lighthouse is one of only three precast concrete block lighthouses in Australia. This method of construction was used by the Public Works Department in an effort to reduce the cost of building in remote areas (Criterion A.4 & B.2).

(Australian Historic Themes Framework 3.8 Moving goods and people; 3.14 Developing an Australian engineering and construction industry; 3.16 Struggling with remoteness, hardship and failure; 7.5 Governing Australia's colonial possessions)

The Lighthouse tower contains one of approximately 21 known Chance Bros. 3700mm lantern houses in Australia with original wind direction mechanism and a possibly rare Chance Bros. 2 panel, 700mm catadioptric flashing optic (Criterion B.2 and F.1).

The Norah Head Lightstation is significant for its association with a number of important people. Edward Hargraves, gold rush publicist, advocated the need for the establishment of a lighthouse at Norah Head. The Lightstation is significant for its association with Charles Assinder Harding, being one of three such lighthouse complexes designed by Harding. The Lightstation is also associated with the work of James Barnet, the design of the buildings being influenced by those designed by Barnet during his period as Colonial Architect (Criterion H.1).

The Lightstation complex is of aesthetic significance. The headland location contrasts with the substantial lighthouse tower and buildings. The eclectic design and size of the lighthouse tower serves as a landmark and contributes to the aesthetic appeal of the place (Criterion E.1).

The Norah Head Lightstation is of social significance to the community, mariners and tourists. Its long occupation, the scale of original construction, its near original condition, its aesthetic appeal and its ongoing public visitation contribute to the high regard it is held in by the community (Criterion G.1).

Norah Head includes a significant proportion of the state-listed endangered ecological community known as low woodland with heathland in indurated (hard-setting) sand. This community is restricted to the local area around Norah Head. The community includes the Commonwealth and state-listed vulnerable species Camfield's gum (EUCALYPTUS CAMFIELDII). A number of significant fauna species have been recorded in the area around the headland. Four species listed as vulnerable under state legislation have been recorded around the headland. These are the squirrel glider (PETAURUS NORFOLCENSIS), white tern (GYGIS ALBA), sanderling (CALIDRIS ALBA) and providence petrel (PTERODROMA SOLANDRI). Two other species, the southern right whale (EUBALAENA AUSTRALIS) and hump-backed whale (MEGAPTERA NOVAEANGLIAE) are listed as vulnerable at both state and Commonwealth level. At least four migratory bird species listed under the international JAMBA/CAMBA agreements have been recorded from the area including the sanderling (CALIDRIS ALBA), curlew sandpiper (CALIDRIS FERRUGINEA), red-necked stint (CALIDRIS RUFICOLLIS), and grey-tailed tattler (HETEROSCELUS BREVIPES).

In the early years of European settlement all ships were bound for Port Jackson but little effort was made to guide them safely into port. In January 1793 a light was used for the first time near the signal station on South Head to guide a ship, the Bellona into the harbour. A flare was maintained until the first lighthouse (Macquarie) was commissioned on South Head in 1818.

Lighthouses followed settlement and lights were erected at Iron Pot at the entrance to the Derwent River in 1832, at Cape Bruny in 1836 and at Shortland's Bluff (Queenscliffe) in 1842.

The partial lighting of the Australian coasts and the granting of self-government to New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia in 1855-6 led to moves to achieve stronger inter-colonial co-operation. Sir William Denison, the Governor of New South Wales suggested in 1856 that an intercolonial board be appointed to erect and maintain lighthouses. The board was formed, and met in Melbourne in 1856, but it was decided that the task was "hopeless". This first serious attempt by the Australian colonies to achieve a national approach to maritime safety by means of lighthouses had failed. None of the colonies was prepared to change its existing arrangements for the common good. This was to remain the situation until the Federation of colonies in 1901 when the Commonwealth government assumed responsibility for shipping and navigational devices.

The Adelaide constitutional convention of 1897 confirmed the previously debated arrangements that Federal legislation was to deal with the construction, maintenance and management of lighthouses, lightships, lightsirens, beacons, buoys and signs for shipping throughout the Commonwealth and over its adjacent seas. It was also to impose and collect dues to be paid by owners or masters of ships which derived benefits from the lights or other navigational devices.

Lack of finance prevented the Commonwealth government from taking action for some years after Federation. At the same time, the states were not willing to commit funds to construct lighthouses which they knew the Commonwealth would take over sooner or later. New South Wales completed the lighthouse at Norah Head in 1903, Western Australia erected on Cape Naturaliste (RNE Registered 016693) in 1903-4 and Tasmania built one on Tasman Island (RNE Registered 016717) in 1906, but the states were otherwise inactive as they awaited developments on the part of the Federal government.

The Commonwealth Lighthouse Service was set up in 1913. On 1 July 1915 the Commonwealth officially accepted responsibility for 104 staffed lightstations, eighteen automatic lights, one light buoy, sixteen unlit buoys, and forty unlit beacons and obelisks.


Australia's first lighthouse, designed by Francis Greenway, was erected in 1818 at South Head under the direction of Governor Macquarie (RNE 002521) and named in his honour. For forty years, it remained the only lighthouse on the coast of present day NSW. By the 1850s, the colonial economy had been boosted by the discovery of gold, and the population of NSW doubled between 1851-60. A period of lighthouse building spanning almost 50 years followed, beginning in 1858 with the construction of the Hornby Light on Sydney's Inner South Head. After 1862, with the appointment of Frances Hixson, NSW embarked upon an ambitious program of lighthouse building erecting some 17 major lights prior to the establishment of the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service in 1915. This saw a lighthouse on average every 33.8 miles along the NSW coast, the highest density in Australia.

Because of a combination of factors including the fact that James Barnet was the Colonial Architect for most of this time (1862-1890), the 1890s economic depression, and Federation in 1901, most of the NSW lighthouses were designed by Barnet. The lightstations built after 1890 are therefore comparatively rare, only the major lights being established between that date and the take over by the Commonwealth in 1915; these lights are Point Perpendicular (1899), Smoky Cape (1891), Cape Byron (1901) and Norah Head (1903).

The construction of Point Perpendicular lighthouse in 1897 brought a significant change to lighthouse construction in the colony. In an effort to reduce the cost of building in remote areas, a standard design was developed using precast concrete blocks and local aggregates. After the completion of Point Perpendicular lighthouse, similar structures were erected at Cape Byron in and at Norah Head.


Mariners were calling for the erection of a lighthouse on "Bungaree Noragh Point" (Norah Head) as early as 1861. Ten wrecks occurred in the area of Norah Head over the years 1894 to 1903, one of the most tragic being the steamer, Gwydir, in 1894, in which three lives were lost. Edward Hammond Hargraves (1816-1891), gold rush publicist, was influential in pressing for the construction of a lightstation. From his nearby residence at Norahville, he had become aware of the growing number of wrecks occurring in the vicinity. Regular agitation by mariners and the public over many years, was unproductive.

One of the last acts, however of the Newcastle Marine Board, prior to its abolition, was to recommend the construction of a lighthouse at Norah Head. Responsibility for lighthouses then passed to the Public Works Department. As a result of the 1887 Board of Inquiry into the Civil Service, the design of lighthouses was partly transferred from the Colonial Architects Office to the Harbours and Rivers Navigation Branch. The plans for Norah Head were initialled by Charles Assinder Harding and signed by Cecil Darley, Engineer in Chief for Public Works. James Barnet claimed responsibility for the design of this lighthouse and for similar structures previously built at Point Perpendicular and Byron Bay, his influence can be seen in the design.

Construction of the lighthouse began in 1901, and was undertaken by day labour. Materials for the lighthouse were brought by boat into Cabbage Tree Harbour and unloaded onto a wharf which had been constructed for this purpose. The lighthouse was completed in 1903. It follows in all essentials the precast block construction method using local aggregates which was first introduced at Point Perpendicular in 1899. It was the last staffed lighthouse constructed in NSW.

Also constructed 1902/3 were: a lightkeepers cottage with garden (concrete blocks with terracotta tiles of the Marseilles pattern on the roof); a small building for a fuel store, workshop and paint store and earth closet (concrete blocks with terracotta tiles of the Marseilles pattern on the roof); Assistant Keeper's duplex (eastern and western quarters) built of concrete blocks with terracotta tiles of the Marseilles pattern on the roof; a signal house constructed as a flag house for the flagstaff (constructed of precast concrete blocks painted, cemented inside, with roof of concrete); a timber flagstaff; a stables constructed of concrete blocks with terracotta tiles of the Marseilles pattern for the roof; and two small fuel stores (earth closet and sink) constructed of concrete blocks, with roofs of terracotta tiles of the Marseilles pattern.

The Norah Head quarters are almost identical in design to those at Cape Byron constructed two years earlier, but significantly different from those at Point Perpendicular. The buildings contain the elaborate stormwater and sullage systems typical of the work of Barnet and Harding.

A lantern, of the type used on the New South Wales coast by Barnet, was fitted with a kerosene burning first order dioptric revolving light system manufactured by the Birmingham firm of Chance Bros. Chance Brothers and Co., Limited, Lighthouse Engineers and Constructors, of Smethweick, Birmingham, England were by the beginning of the twentieth century the sole lighthouse manufacturers. The focal plane of the light was 151ft (46m) above high water mark and visibility horizon was 18 miles (26km).

The light was first exhibited on 15 November 1903. The original light was on 438,000 candle power. The cost of the optical apparatus in 1901was 5,000 pounds. On 13 April, 1923, the concentric wick burner inside the lens was replaced by a Ford-Schmidt kerosene burner and the light power was increased to 700,000 candle power. In 1960 the stables were converted to a garage. On 28 March 1961 the light was converted to electric operation and the power was increased to 1,000,000 candelas. At the same time the staffing of the light was reduced from three lightkeepers to two.

The Lightstation has been a popular tourist attraction since it began operating. In April 1993, Norah Head was one of only 18 staffed lightstations in Australia administered by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). The Lighthouse was automated and de staffed in 1994. The Lighthouse reserve was handed over in 1997 to NSW Department of Land and Water Conservation.


The Norah Head Lightstation is situated mid-way between Sydney and Newcastle on a headland known as Norah Head. The Lightstation complex consists of the signal house; lighthouse tower and base; workshop; head keeper's quarters and associated fuel shed, WC, workshop and paint store; assistant keeper's quarters duplex and associated fuel stores; and stables. All the buildings are constructed of large precast concrete blocks made on site. The lighthouse and the signal house are cement rendered and have 'false' ashlar block lines inscribed to the exterior. The living quarters and stables have remained unpainted since construction.

The lighthouse is a 27.5 m tower with surrounding orthogonal base constructed of precast concrete block using a local aggregate and rendered walls and plinth with deep ashlar coursing. The parapet and entry foyers of the base structure are adorned in solid trachyte block. The lantern room is of metal and glass construction and sits atop this gallery, and has a decorative iron catwalk encircling the glass to allow for cleaning. Fenestration is simple, with windows to the work rooms being 4 pane fixed timber lower sash, with the upper sash, with the upper sash a 2 pane hopper. Windows to the tower are of a porthole style brass framed and of vertical proportions with an arched head.

The interior of the lighthouse is simple in form. The main entry door is made of cedar set with sidelights and fanlight, and leads into a foyer of tessellated tiles. The foyer still has the original desk for the visitor's book. There are two storerooms at ground floor level. The tower contains a concrete spiral staircase with slate treads and cast iron and brass balustrade. The lamp gallery has a painted cast iron floor grate with a cast iron stair leading to the outdoor gallery. The lamp itself is encircled and protected by perspex and aluminium panels.

The lighthouse tower contains the original Chance Bros. 3700 dia cast iron and copper lantern house. This consists of segmental cast iron murette, cast iron framed copper clad dome, precast internal and external catwalks, Trinity (drum) vent, etc. A good example of industrial technology from the early twentieth century. There are approximately 21 other 3700mm dia lanterns known to exist in Australia.

The lighthouse tower contains its revolving mercury float bearing pedestal still operational, together with parts of the original drive shaft. The tower retains its original 700mm focal length 2 panel catadioptric flashing optic. Likely to be rare due to its configuration in two large panels.

The small signal house is constructed to match the lighthouse, in concrete block with rendered walls and plinth with deep ashlar coursing. The roof is solid concrete in a shallow hipped form, notably missing the concrete dome proposed in the original drawings.

The keeper's cottage is a large residence (1902-3) built in concrete blocks which are unpainted. An open verandah surrounds the northeast, southeast and south west sides. All verandah posts are of cast iron in a turned timber form, with curved timber verandah beams. The hipped roof is clad with terracotta tiles and one chimney remains. Several outbuildings are extant in the north corner of the yard being the former fuel shed, the WC, the work shop and paint store.

There is an eastern and western assistant keeper's quarters, a duplex built at the time of the keeper's cottage. The building is constructed of the same precast concrete blocks, unpainted. A number of changes occurred c1970 including the replacement of the roofing with concrete tiles, chimneys have been demolished. Two small fuels stores are located near the assistant keepers quarters, constructed as fuel stores, with earth closet and sink. They are of concrete block construction with terracotta tiles roofs in the marseilles pattern.

The former stables building, which was converted to a garage, is a simple rectangular concrete block building in c1960 the terracotta tiled roof was replaced with concrete tiles. The east face has three timber doors to the former stable, tack and carriage rooms.

Remnants of the Flagstaff, removed at an unknown date, include the concrete and steel base, the concrete apron for the flagstaff, and four concrete and iron anchor points for the flagstaff.

There are a number of original concrete pavings. These take the form of concrete aprons, paving and a step.

In common with most other lightstations of the period, elaborate water retention systems were provided at Norah Head. Remnants of this are sumps, cistern and well heads, and base for water pump.

Some of the roads and tracks at the lightstation appear to be of some age. These may take the form of original or early routes with later paving, evidenced by roads and tracks leading to local geographic features that have probably been used for some time.

Much of the original and early fencing and gates survive and are either post and rail, paling, picket fence, or gates.

A quarry (located to the south west of the former stables) is believed to have been the source of gravel for the aggregate in the construction of the lighthouse and other buildings.

The immediate landscape of the buildings is mostly flat, grasses areas with a few coastal shrubs. Around the residences are more formal grounds with banksia, acacia, Norfolk Island pines and New Zealand Christmas Bush.

The present land formation coincides closely with the original site works plans. This landform is a low headland above extensive flat rock shelves near sea level and contrasts with the well built lighthouse and quarters to produce a scene of visual appeal.

Norah Head is comprised of a small headland of low eucalypt woodland and banksia heath that is substantially contiguous with more extensive natural vegetation to the west on the edge of Tuggerah Lakes. The low woodland with heathland on hard-setting sand at Norah Head is regarded as an endangered ecologically community. The open tree cover is comprised primarily of red bloodwood (CORYMBIA GUMMIFERA), broad-leaved paperbark (MELALEUCA QUINQINERVIA) and Camfield's gum (EUCALYPTUS CAMFIELDII). Beneath the tree cover is a dense cover of shrubs, grasses and graminoids including red bottlebrush (CALLISTEMON CITRINUS), the banksia (BANKSIA OBLONGFOLIA), Sydney golden wattle (ACACIA LONGIFOLIA), she-oak (ALLOCASUARINA DISTYLA), MIRBELIA RUBIIFOLIA and slender rice-flower (PIMELEA LINIFOLIA). Forty nine species of fauna have been recorded on or near the headland, including five marine mammals, the southern right whale (EUBALAENA AUSTRALIS), the hump-backed whale (MEGAPTERA NOVAEANGLIAE), the New Zealand fur-seal (ARCTOCEPHALUS FORSTERI), and the common dolphin (DELPHINUS DELPHIS). Other species present include one frog, the eastern banjo frog (LIMNODYNASTES ORNATUS), the common ringtail possum (PSEUDOCHEIRUS PEREGRINUS) and thirty five bird species including the striped honeyeater (PLECTORHYNCHA LANCEOLATA), and spangled drongo (DICRURUS BRACTEATUS).


Nineteen Lighhouses in NSW are included in the RNE. The lighthouse at Point Perpendicular (RNE 001619), was the first to be constructed using precast concrete blocks. The precast block construction was subsequently used at Cape Byron (1901) and Norah Head (1903).
The Cape Byron complex (RNE 000210) consists of a lighthouse tower with store rooms at base, a head keeper's cottage, and an assistant keepers duplex. Sugarloaf Point (RNE 001467) was the first major lighthouse designed by Barnet.