When you are a volunteer caretaker at Sandy Cape Lighthouse, your notebook tends to look a little different to a regular diary of appointments and reminders.
Part 1: 8 July 2020
Don and I (Nancy Haire) are the first volunteer caretakers here since the lockdown started in late March. We walk and drive the different tracks to find where trees block the way, or the sand erosion is too deep to drive. Only dingos and bandicoots have left their tracks in the sandy road. We have less ducking to do when we drive. Fat golden orb spiders have stretched their complex webs across the tracks and get captured across the windscreen – or our faces.
With school holidays upon us from 26 June and the state border closed to outsiders, all the families and couples and young blokes carrying their beer stubbies who come puffing up the steep hill seem to be from Brisbane and the Sunny Coast. Queensland for Queenslanders! In the past winters, the Victorians and Germans seem to have outnumbered other tourists.
One day, two men with shirts announcing Marine Rescue had walked up the hill. “Is there a problem?” I ask? No, they have their equipment and were doing maintenance on the VHF repeater communications. When we offered them a lift down the track, they couldn’t pack things up fast enough! Their boat had anchored out, ready to roar back to Hervey Bay.
This ride-on mower speeds up the job. Some lighthouse caretakers have found that the push mower was a struggle on the hills. This one was ready for disposal by rangers, so they delivered the cast-off up here after a refit. Police and ambulance vehicles arrive just as Don finishes mowing their car-park-with-a-view. It’s a beautiful day. Why not show the new ambo driver where the helicopter pad is at this end of the island?
We don’t have photos of the more mundane tasks performed during our month of caretaking at Sandy Cape Lighthouse: cleaning the cottages and the grease traps for the grey water, pushing through dense undergrowth down steep sandy hills in search of targeted weeds, and brush-cutting around the buildings.
We all take pride in leaving the light station looking well-cared-for.
Contributed by Nancy and Don Haire
Part 2: 12 July 2020
We set forth on our tour of duty at Sandy Cape – what a beautiful day. The “Sand pit” (Ngkala rocks cutting) is not as challenging as usual, and whales are close to the beach on arrival at the gate to the lighthouse.
We followed Don and Nancy, the first caretakers to go to Sandy Cape after the station was shut down on 23 March because of COVID 19. We enter a lovely clean house, welcomed by a shell table decoration and “vase” of banksia brushes.
We noticed the hand-me-down ride on mower from Dundubara which will make the job of mowing the precinct much easier – with Don gradually mowing edges where ride-on can’t reach
Checking on the turtles, seven nests remained in the cages unhatched before shut down. It was difficult to do an absolute correct shell count as the eggshells had been in the sand too long (the number of empty shells indicates the number of hatchlings that make it out of the nest and hopefully out to sea. Whole eggs are an indication of whether fertilised or didn’t develop to hatchling stage). We note lots of roots in the egg mass. Roots hinder nesting success so one of our jobs will be to spray in and around the cages before we leave.
Remember, weeding is not a sprint but a measured walk! Ten years on, we are concentrating on the second level of invasive weeds – coral berry and corky passion, but keeping an ever-watchful eye out for climbing asparagus fern and Easter cassia, which the weeding teams have managed to get down to small numbers.
Our first job is to clear away the weeds from the native plants, e.g. seedlings rainforest giants, native grasses, delicate orchids (nodding greenhoods), more sturdy bushes red chainfruit (Alyxia ruscifolia) and midjim, taking much care not to spray (Glyphosate) on native species.
Volunteer Marine rescue contacted us. VMR466 Hervey Bay assists VMR Bundaberg and Tin Can Bay Coast guard in keeping mariners safe on local waters. Channel 22 was not broadcasting, but under their instructions, we entered the radio room, swapped a couple of plugs over and success, Channel 22 is back on the air again.
The guys from the Bureau of Meteorology are visiting the lighthouse precinct 29-30 July to repair/replace equipment, check set-up, iron out any problems that caretakers might have with sending weather reports each day 9:00 am.
Maintenance – there are always little tasks to do to fill in a few minutes like cart sand and fill in bumps in the track, administration and clean, oil, and repair tools.
We made time for a few fishing sessions, although most were unsuccessful. We just enjoyed the time out and beautiful surrounds. But never one to rest, it also gave us a chance to spray around Brown’s Rocks nesting cage to eliminate roots in the cage. One very blustery late afternoon threatening rain. Don caught tea, a 51cm tea-leaf trevally.
Matt Palmer, Park Ranger Dundubara, visited us at the lighthouse. He took back some equipment that needed repairing or replacing, trained us in the use of the ride-on mower; and informed us that the next volunteer caretakers were unable to fulfil tour of duty.
We decided to stay a week longer to fill part of the gap. Oh well, another week in paradise!
Contributed by Don and Lesley Bradley, Sandy Cape Lighthouse Conservation Association