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Lighthouse Caretakers in Tasmania

Maatsuyker Island Lighthouse GFDL photo by Jeff JenningsWho wouldn’t want to live on an island as a volunteer caretaker (and paid weather observer) for a gorgeous lighthouse on Australia’s southernmost lighthouse? The only requirements are passing a psychological exam, being first aid certified, complete weather observation training and enjoy mowing lawns. For a nearby Hobart couple, it was exactly what they wanted, a chance to escape the rat race for a few months.

ABC News Australia has a delightful story about the couple, who had to have a psychological exam before being accepted for the four month stint. The main determination of fitness from that exam was the burning question, “How do you feel about mowing lawns?” The island of Maatsuyker has an average of 250 days of rain each year, and the grass grows so fast you can hear it. The main caretaking duty is mowing the grass on this 2.5 kilometer long and 1 kilometer wide (about 1.5 miles by .52 miles) island, as the lighthouse was automated in 1996.

Rachel Parkinson and Griff Snell are a few short weeks into a four month stint as island caretakers for the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service. One requirement is self-sufficiency however, as the only way supplies can be brought into the island is by helicopter. Previous storms and neglect have torn away the landing pier.

The weather is wild on this tiny outpost, with near constant gale force winds of 50-60 knots, with the highest recorded gust being 112 knots. It’s suspected, though, that this may have been exceeded, but the instruments didn’t survive the storm. It is interesting to note an entry from one of the keeper’s logs that there were five continuous days without rain one month in 1907.

Early emergency communication between the island and mainland was actually by carrier pigeon, and in bad weather at least three birds would be released in the hope that at least one would make it to the mainland. The birds would only take three hours to reach Hobart and their owners would receive a fee for delivering the messages.

The ABC story notes that the next helicopter is due to land on November 11. Besides bringing in food and other necessities, it will also deliver two mail-in ballots for upcoming elections. That just goes to show that even on a small, windswept island on the ends of the earth, you can’t escape from politicians and electioneering! Actually, voting is a requirement in the country,

For more information on Maatsuyker Island along with beautiful photographs, visit Lighthouses of Australia.

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