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Keeping Australia’s maritime history alive

Mark Sherriff is a former AMSA lighthouse keeper and recipient of a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his services to community history.

Mark is passionate about lighthouses and since finishing up his final posting at Seal Rocks, NSW in 2006, he has worked on preserving and restoring some of Australia’s most spectacular maritime monuments.  

How did you become interested in working with lighthouses? 

My keeper life began at Sugarloaf Point (Seal Rocks), followed by Booby Island in the Torres Strait as a relief keeper then at various manned light stations along the eastern seaboard.   

Working as a relief keeper was a great chance to experience the maritime legacy of lighthouses and be part of its history.  I was so proud to be part of AMSA. 

A relief keeper often travels far and wide.  They have to be adaptable, get along with everyone, self-sufficient and be a skilled plumber, carpenter, electrician, cook, painter and fond of working at great heights in a southerly bluster.  Talk about living my dream!   

What was the greatest challenge while working as a keeper? 

A keeper’s motto is to expect the unexpected and trust no one.   

I recall waking one morning to the sound of cries from men on a trawler that had jammed on the rocks below the lighthouse.  It had a tragic ending, but life as a keeper must carry on.  There is the light station to run, lawns to mow, chimneys to paint and veranda braces to replace. 

When you leave a station, you pack up your possessions, sweep out the shed and leave no stone unturned before handing over to the new custodian.  There is a feeling of great relief and a sense of accomplishment. 

Are you still involved in lighthouses? 

I began as a lighthouse keeper and finished as a historian.  I’m a keeper of history and still very involved in restoration work.  I’m part of a legacy lost in time and I often hear tourists staying at converted lighthouse cottages say, ‘what a great resort they built us’!

Last updated: 

Thursday 27 June 2019