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The Great Ocean Road – Cape Otway Lighthouse

The sea is treacherous along this coastline as wind and currents are variable and the shallow, 80 meter average depth of Bass Strait makes it a graveyard for ships. There have been 55 recorded shipwrecks between Cape Otway and Point Lonsdale since 1853. The Cape Otway Lighthouse made it a lot safer from 1848 but storms and human error have always dogged the region.

Today the Lighthouse is proudly open to the public for tours and adventures into the past. Emily and I were able to view the lighthouse from along the Great Ocean Road Walk at Lighthouse Lookout.

The most serious wrecks occurred in the nineteenth century with some loss of life. Rescues were made by brave local men in small boats or by firing a rocket onto the ships from land but survival was often a chance of luck. In 1940 the 5883 ton ‘MS City of Rayville’, hit a German sea mine just off Cape Otway and was the first American Ship sunk during the Second World War, even before the Americans had joined the war. The noise of the explosion alerted the nearby fishing town and local fishermen helped rescue the crew. Amazingly only one crew member died as he had returned to his cabin to collect his personal effects.

Getting supplies to the Cape Otway Lighthouse was always a dangerous challenge. Most of the supplies for the lighthouse keeper and his family were brought in by boat before there was passage across the mainland. Unfortunately due to the treacherousness of the coast three brave men lost their lives on this quest and they are commemorated at the lighthouse where they were laid to rest.

Next to the lighthouse stands a telegraph centre. This telegraph centre was a poineer in that it was the link, for a short time at least, to communications with Tasmania. They laid underwater cables which ran across the bottom of Bass Strait all the way across to Tasmania allowing telegraph messages to be sent to Australia’s colony. Unfortunately the rough seas and coral put an end to communications, destroying the cable but the telegraph centre stayed as a means of sending messages to major ports like Melbourne and Sydney to make them aware of incoming ships that would be arriving imminently.

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