The things conservators get up to

If you’d been at the Maritime Museum last Friday, you might have been wondering what the fire brigade was doing at the top of the lighthouse. No, it was not on fire!

Penny at top of lighthouse

Conservator, Penny Nolton on the aerial lift platform with the lantern room in the background. In the past, to clean the windows, the lighthouse keepers would have to stand on that very narrow red-painted walkway and hold onto the handles on the window frames.

As a senior conservator at the museum, one of my tasks is to develop a conservation management plan for the lighthouse. As part of the planning and preparation for a new weathervane and repainting the lighthouse, I need to get up close and personal to carry out a very detailed condition report of the entire building from top to bottom, inside and out.

Top of Lighthouse

Bird’s eye view of the museum from the top of Cape Bowling Green Lighthouse

To inspect the attachment point of the weathervane and take detailed photos, I needed to get 22 metres into the air and swing in as close as possible to the finial (the red ball). Because of its position on the wharf, it’s very tricky to get up to the top of the lighthouse. There’s not a huge amount of space. This is where the fire brigade comes in handy.  I was very excited to have the opportunity to go up in their aerial lift and get a bird’s eye view.  I got to wear a fireman’s hat and harness and go skyward to document the condition of the top of the dome and the weathervane attachment.

The lighthouse’s position on the wharf means that it’s exposed to a harsh marine environment so we need to be vigilant about its maintenance. We do regular cleaning and inspections inside the lighthouse and look for corrosion and other signs of wear and tear on the exterior. Because it’s open to the public, it’s also inspected by engineers from time to time to make sure it’s safe.

Lighthouse and crane

Fireman lending a hand to inspect the lighthouse.

When planning for maintenance and repairs, I carry out detailed research to determine appropriate materials, methods and design. The repairs must be sympathetic to the object, must last, and the work processes must be safe.   For example, I have been researching historic plans of the lighthouse and records of other late 19th century Queensland lighthouses to assist in the design and fabrication of the new weathervane.  But once it’s made, how we will get up there and attach it?  I wish I could say I’ll be bunging jumping from a helicopter – now that would be exciting!  But this is not the movies. So we need to come up with a plan that meets modern safety standards. We have a few ideas. If you look up, you might see an abseiler on the roof sometime in the future.  Stay tuned.

For more information and specs on the lighthouse visit our website.

Also, in my research I came across this great article online about the stealthy operation to dismantle the lighthouse at Cape Bowling Green, North Queensland in 1987.

Penny Nolton
Senior Objects Conservator
Australian National Maritime Museum

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