The Last Lighthouse Keeper A memoir

Reviewed By  Grasshopper2       September 6, 2020


Author  John Cook with Jon Bauer

Distributor:      Allen & Unwin
ISBN:                 9781760875381
Publisher:         Allen & Unwin
Release Date:   July 2020  


If you have an interest in Lighthouses and fancy you could cope with the isolation that caring for them brings, then this is a story for you. It relates the life story of the John Cook and the changing times in tending Lighthouses that he has witnessed. John has the honour of being one of the last “Traditional kerosene light-keepers in Australia.” The Last Lighthouse Keeper” is a story of historical significance, looking at the different technical stages that Lighthouses have gone through, and the experience and knowledge that the keepers needed to maintain them.

John’s personal story is interwoven with his compelling descriptions of fierce winds, lashing rain, and a dark and silent landscape. Animals had to be guarded to prevent their falling off cliffs, or from being blown off the headland. On the first tiny island he worked on, there was no place to land a boat, so the people and their goods had to be winched up the cliff to flat land. Getting up in the middle of the night to tend the light was just one of the many chores that needed completing. The prisms of the light had to be polished, and other machinery had to be maintained.

The relationships that develop on the isolated islands were varied. Some people could not cope for the length of time they had to serve. Any newcomer to the tiny community was scrutinised and held at arm’s length until a trust was established. In this situation pets became remarkably close and important. Dogs were much closer to their owners, and when John began to document the bird life he began to appreciate and care for them.

The descriptive language gives a real picture of the beauty, ruggedness, and isolation of these islands in the sea. The people who tended the lifesaving lights were tough, reliable and aware of the great importance of that light across the dark and heaving seas.