THE entire nation of Australia was left reeling after more than 350 lives were lost when the Cataraqui founded on reef off King Island in September 1845. In the face of public outcry, newspaper editorial comments, and widespread condemnation, the New South Wales Government was forced to commission a string of lighthouses in Bass Strait. Cape Otway soon became a favoured site, but decades of logistical challenges lay ahead for the builders, lightkeepers, assistants and their families - not to mention the scores of people who were shipwrecked after the light was operational.
Life at the Cape
CAPE Otway Lightstation's first keepers and their wives had to be dedicated, hard-working and incredibly resourceful people to cope with the demands of an arduous and isolated lifestyle with supplies delivered just twice a year - by boat. They kept the light lit, rescued and fed shipwreck victims and raised their families in between maintaining the Beacon of Hope for the thousands of ships which traversed Bass Strait.
PRESSURE to improve communications grew exponentially as the number of ships making landfall at Cape Otway grew. An overland telegraph line had been built between Melbourne and Geelong by 1854, and the Tasmanian Government soon agreed to the commercial advantages of laying a communications submarine cable between the two colonies, via King Island. The Telegraph Station was built in 1859 and housed operators, their families and the telegraph operations rooms. The submarine cable failed within six months of the station opening. Soon the grand Italian villa-style house was turned into a Lloyd's Signal Station - responsible for telegraphing to Melbourne the details of all vessels passing Cape Otway. The Telegraph Station has recently been refurbished and houses the story of the station and its people.
World War 2
ALTHOUGH Cape Otway Lightstation had an important role to play in terms of World War Two coastal defence, little is known about the history of the radar station. The station, which was manned by Royal Australian Air Force personnel, was one of only four bunkers of this design in Victoria and is the only surviving example of its style. The Telegraph Station and the Lighthouse too, played a role in defending Australia's vast coastline during the War.
THE western coast of Victoria has claimed more shipwrecks than any other stretch of Australian coastline. The treacherous seas, reefs and hostile weather conditions saw hundreds of lives lost. The sea floor is littered with what remains of the wrecks whose cargoes included migrants, hopeful gold miners and convicts. The ships foundered due to human error, bad weather, lack of local knowledge and as shipping lines vied for the lucrative migrant market - lives were undoubtedly lost due to companies taking cost cutting measures.
The Gadabanud, or people of the King Parrot language, belong to the forests and coastline of the Cape Otway peninsula.
The Gadabanud people's traditional country is rich and diverse in plant and animal life, and has been a gathering, ceremonial and feasting place for thousands of years.