This is an excerpt from a diary written by Mrs Butler – The Lighthouse keeper’s wife – way back when it all first began.
…. VLAMING HEAD. NORWEST CAPE. EXMOUTH…. These names send memories back many years. Back to 1914. The First World War was just a few weeks old, when like many others my whole way of living changed.
My husband was tally clerk for the Harbour and Lights, Onslow, and at that time all lighthouses came under the Department, Captain A. A. Airey in charge, Fremantle. Out of the blue came word for S. A. Butler to proceed at once to ‘Vlaming Head Lighthouse until further notice. Within 48 hours we were packed and set off in a ketch manned by Harold Johaunsen and a small Malayan crew. It was a wonderful trip, but unsuccessful. The naval reserve keeper refused to return to Onslow, so there was nothing for it, we had to go back for official report. I remember how sorry I felt for him, he didn’t even know there was a war on. In those days Vlaming Head Lighthouse had a mail service once a month. Saddle mail at that. Which meant if you were lucky enough to have a parcel it got very rough treatment by the time it came from Carnarvon. An aboriginal brought it and just stayed long enough for “smoko” so there was never much time for “urgent replies.” We had no wireless, no cars, no fridges, no electricity, but we did have a telephone from the quarters to the lighthouse which if I remember rightly that they were about a mile or so apart. I do remember it was a terrific drag to get up to the Lighthouse on a stormy night. Some parts of the track were very narrow, with the chance of a dangerous fall. I had that experience several times.
I used to be very scared when the natives some how or other, would procure OP Rum. They would be quite mad and hold a regular corroboree and I would make for the Lighthouse. Many a broken head and many cuts have I dealt with when it was over. I was the only white woman there. The department usually sent only single men as it was so isolated.
A Mr Campbell had a station about 20 odd miles from the light, however he was single to, so my nearest white woman was at Point Cloates. As a matter of fact it was nearly two years before I saw another white woman again.
There is a lot being written about condensing sea water and that was how the men got their water when building the Lighthouse and quarters. The apparatus was still there in my time in case of emergency. But, we were lucky we pumped our water from a huge underwater rain tank.
The quarters were excellent with large rooms and verandahs. Unfortunately it was rarely that one could use the verandahs in the evening, the crabs used to come up from the beach in their thousands cleaning up everything in their path. The men used to just kick through but I couldn’t bear them. My preparations were made to avoid coming in contact. I had learnt by experience what to expect. The first evening of our arrival I decided to rest on a couple of rugs with my 5 month old baby, thinking too, how lovely and cool the verandahs would be in the summer months. All at once I heard myself screaming madly, I had two wretched crabs hanging on to my foot and dozens of others coming on. No one ever traveled quicker than I did to the safety of a bedroom. It took some time to pick out the pieces of pincers and claws, evidently their motto “What I have I hold.”
There was no jetty or landing stage, one’s goods were just dumped on the beach and the Lighter went on as soon as it had unloaded. There was a narrow rail track from the beach to the Lighthouse, also a float was drawn by our one and only horse (Captain), a huge Clydesdale. It took him a long time to plod backwards and forwards, so slow in fact it would take a couple of days before all the supplies were carried. Naturally the oil etc. and feed for Captain had to be put away carefully and as soon as possible. We were fortunate if the Lighthouse Boat called within months and rations were always short by the time it did arrive.
I drove to the station a couple of times for fresh meat and never failed to be amazed by the kangaroos. Huge boomers by the dozens would stand up and watch us go by, they weren’t a bit frightened, would hop a little and eat then stand up and have another look. It is a sight I have never forgotten.
We used to visit the wreck of the Mildura and my husband would swim out and go aboard leaving me with my heart in my mouth, it seemed such a dangerous thing to do, however he was happy about it and secured enough beautiful teak to make a prized desk and a gun rack.
Turtle eggs too, were very plentiful. I prized them highly they are just like billiard balls only the so called shell is soft and tough. You can push it about anyhow and they make excellent cakes, custards and omelettes. The white however can’t be used. One had to get to the beach at daybreak to find them, there might be only as many as 80 in a sandy hollow.
I have seen the natives dive from a boat into the sea and come up with a big turtle which they would ride onto the beach. I have also been with them when they killed a turtle and ate the liver warm from it, they consider this a delicacy.
At one time a huge dugong got into shallow water and Captain (our Clydesdale) came in very useful. We had to sling ropes around the dugong and watch the waves. With every big wave Captain would pull staunchly and after a long terrific struggle we got our dugong. The meat of the dugong is just like the best pork. We roasted it, fried it and we pickled all we possible could and it was delicious eating weeks after. It was amazing too the quality of the oil we secured from it. Everything was melted down and we received a very nice cheque months later from Fremantle in exchange for it. What an enormous creature it was.