Tasman Island volunteers making light work of weathered buildings with helicopter commute
Heritage experts have touched down on Tasman Island to assess decades of weather damage on the island’s Federation-era buildings.
Work began on the island’s lighthouse in 1904 and 114 years later, a group of Friends of Tasman Island volunteers have just completed their 27th working bee.
With no financial backing from the Government, the group’s long-term project to restore the buildings is entirely crowd-funded.
Heritage engineer Peter Spratt has travelled Australia assessing old buildings for 50 years and visited Tasman Island this month for the first time.
He said its unique climate had contributed significantly to the slow disintegration of the island’s main homestead and outlying buildings.
“The early steels that they used are very different to the steels that they use now,” Mr Spratt said.
“Cast iron, wrought iron, copper, and the properties of timber. To that you add environmental conditions of wind, of rain and weathering and you also look at the problems caused by temperatures.
“Tasmania is a very, very aggressive climate in the buildings. High winds, a lot of sea spray and the crystallisation pressures of sodium chloride. We’ve got site specific conditions that alter around Australia, and in Tasmania they all come together in a very, very interesting way.”
Building works coordinator David Davenport said the buildings on the island had been deteriorating since the lighthouse station was abandoned and the island became uninhabited in 1977.
“I came out of here a couple of years ago to help do the restoration and noticed the brickwork is being affected by the salt environment,” he said.
“The rust is expanding and blowing the brickwork apart.”
Volunteers stay on the island for a week at a time, twice a year.
A former plumber and general tradesman, Ron Fehlberg and his wife Glenda, the island’s chef, have been to Maatsuyker and Tasman Islands many times in retirement to volunteer their services.
“How many people have an opportunity to wake up in the morning to sunrises, sunsets on a place like this,” he said.
Things on the island have certainly changed over the years.
When construction was underway in the early 1900s, everything including building materials and people, were winched 300 metres straight up the island’s dolerite sea cliffs, inch by inch.
The heavy loads were initially pulled by horses and took up to eight hours to reach their destination, but this was later streamlined by motorised trolleys.
Carol Jackson’s father was a lighthouse keeper. She was almost born on the island and lived there during her childhood, including her teenage years.
“Us lighthouse kids were a pretty wild bunch. Mum used to say we grew up with far too much wind in our heads,” she laughed.
She can still remember inching up and down the cliff face.
“Coming up the haulage was always a really exciting part of our childhood,” she said.
“It’s about a thousand feet up, it was like the big dipper.”
Nowadays, the trip is a bit easier — an eight-minute helicopter ride — and while not many people have the privilege of visiting, that could change one day.
As president of the Friends of Tasman Island, Ms Jackson said she was humbled by the work done by volunteers.
“It inspires you to achieve the seemingly impossible,” she said.
“Little project by little project, we have a growing community of support.”