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Fingal Head Lighthouse and Coastal Reserve

Home > Gold Coast > Beaches | Free | Parks | Places of Interest | Walks
by Anaya Carroll (subscribe)
Since retiring from teaching I have written 4 books to encourage children to love and accept themselves and develop emotional resilience. They are available as e-books from www.TheNewChildrenSeries.com
Published August 20th 2016
If you love history, you'll love this lighthouse
Many people are fascinated by lighthouses; they seem to shout of a romantic, although more dangerous, seafaring era of long ago. However many vessels and the lives of those on them, are still saved today by their flashing lights.

One ship that came to grief before there was a warning light was the Ebenezer, which was wrecked on treacherous reefs near Fingal Head in 1859.

Captain Cook noted the dangerous reefs in 1770 and named the small island 500 metres out to sea, after himself. Some historians believe he also named the area Point Danger although current maps show it about 5 kms. north at Coolangatta.

Fingal Head Lighthouse and Coastal Reserve, NSW, history of the lighthouse, historic building, Tweed Shire, tourist destination, Fingal Beach, native vegetation, Dreamtime Beach, shipwrecks, Fingal Head
A view of Cook Island from the Fingal Head Lighthouse


However, it wasn't until 1870, in response to the rising number of shipwrecks in the area that a kerosene lamp was mounted on a platform, supported by poles on the site of the present Fingal Head Lighthouse. It was manned by a group of pilot boatmen, who for seven years took it in turns to row from Tweed Heads Pilots Station, to be on duty through the night to ensure the flame didn't go out.

Fingal Head Lighthouse and Coastal Reserve, NSW, history of the lighthouse, historic building, Tweed Shire, tourist destination, Fingal Beach, native vegetation, Dreamtime Beach, shipwrecks, Fingal Head
William Arnold, the first lighthouse keeper at Fingal Head, protected ships by keeping the flame burning for 34 years. Photo courtesy of Tweed Regional Museum.


Letters in the Tweed Regional Museum written by William Arnold's daughter reveal her father was one of the boatmen and he went on to become the first lighthouse keeper at Fingal Head (or as she says in her letter Fingal Headland). He was born in England 5th November 1877 and was apprenticed to the Merchant Navy at 16. Just prior to working at the Tweed Head Pilot Station he was a crew member on the Survey ship 'Edith'.

Fingal Head Lighthouse and Coastal Reserve, NSW, history of the lighthouse, historic building, Tweed Shire, tourist destination, Fingal Beach, native vegetation, Dreamtime Beach, shipwrecks, Fingal Head
The Fingal Head Lighthouse is the oldest public building in the Tweed Shire.


In 1879, the present lighthouse was built of sandstone and painted white. It was fueled by kerosene and had to be lit ten minutes before sundown and tended until morning. It is only 7 metres tall; quite short by lighthouse standards but it's positioned on a tall cliff and the total elevation is 24 metres above sea level.

Originally the lighthouse had an enclosed porch, a keeper's duty room and annex attached which served as an oil room. Sadly these structures and the keeper's house were demolished in 1923 when the light became unmanned and the last lighthouse keeper left.

Fingal Head Lighthouse and Coastal Reserve, NSW, history of the lighthouse, historic building, Tweed Shire, tourist destination, Fingal Beach, native vegetation, Dreamtime Beach, shipwrecks, Fingal Head
The Fingal Head Lighthouse. Photo courtesy of Tweed Regional Museum.


At the same time the new lighthouse was built (in 1879), a four bedroom house with kitchen and underground water-tank, was erected nearby for the lighthouse keeper, his wife Henrietta and their family. There were seven children when they arrived and four more were born there. Their daughter Mary born in 1880, was the first white child born at Fingal Head. They lived there for 27 years until Mr. Arnold retired in 1906. There is still evidence of the foundations of the house, which look remarkably small for a family of thirteen

Fingal Head Lighthouse and Coastal Reserve, NSW, history of the lighthouse, historic building, Tweed Shire, tourist destination, Fingal Beach, native vegetation, Dreamtime Beach, shipwrecks, Fingal Head
The first lighthouse keeper standing outside his home. Photo courtesy of Tweed Regional Museum


The family must have felt isolated at times. A document in the Tweed Regional Museum written by William Arnold's great granddaughter states gales were common but in mid 1889 the cyclones and floods were particularly bad. She noted it wasn't until 1903 that there was telephone connection between the lighthouse and the Tweed Heads Pilot Station.

She also states the children went to school in Tweed Heads and were reared and schooled under tremendous difficulties. Each school morning the children walked along the beach to the mouth of the river and waved a red flag to attract attention, waited for the boat and were rowed to the Pilot Station and returned again after school.

Even though there were many hardships, I can't help thinking the children would also have had fun playing, exploring and enjoying the natural beauty of their surroundings. And perhaps things became easier as the children grew older because there are accounts they held parties and danced on their verandah, to music from a wind-up gramophone.

There are also records that the Aboriginal Elder King Comi, was a frequent visitor to their home so they must have interacted with the local Aboriginal tribes, many of whom still call Fingal Head home.

As a grandmother, I can't help wondering how the young children were kept away from the many natural hazards such as the cliffs, snakes and the sandy beaches that can be treacherous with their numerous rips. All eleven children survived infancy and childhood, quite a feat for those times.

Fingal Head Lighthouse and Coastal Reserve, NSW, history of the lighthouse, historic building, Tweed Shire, tourist destination, Fingal Beach, native vegetation, Dreamtime Beach, shipwrecks, Fingal Head
A wonderful view from the lighthouse and a great playground for the children with many potential hazards.


After William Arnold retired there were three other keepers until 1923 when the light was converted to an automatic acetylene gas system. In 1970 it was converted to electricity; it now flashes every five seconds and can be seen for 17 nautical miles.

The lighthouse is set in a beautiful coastal reserve. The flora is maintained by a local group, Fingal Dune Care which is gradually restoring the native vegetation.

Fingal Head Lighthouse and Coastal Reserve, NSW, history of the lighthouse, historic building, Tweed Shire, tourist destination, Fingal Beach, native vegetation, Dreamtime Beach, shipwrecks, Fingal Head
The native vegetation is being restored by Fingal Dune Care Group.


The Fingal Head Lighthouse can be accessed from Dreamtime Beach and from Lighthouse Parade and a number of other sandy paths that lead off the main one. The walk through the native vegetation is beautiful; you can hear the surf in the distance but it's like you are in another world.

Fingal Head Lighthouse and Coastal Reserve, NSW, history of the lighthouse, historic building, Tweed Shire, tourist destination, Fingal Beach, native vegetation, Dreamtime Beach, shipwrecks, Fingal Head
The sandy path is quiet and idyllic with the vegetation forming an archway overhead.


If you are visiting the Fingal Head beaches for the day, I highly recommend a walk to the lighthouse. It's an easy walk; just follow the signs but there are steps if you take the access off Lighthouse Parade.

Fingal Head Lighthouse and Coastal Reserve, NSW, history of the lighthouse, historic building, Tweed Shire, tourist destination, Fingal Beach, native vegetation, Dreamtime Beach, shipwrecks, Fingal Head
The ascent to the Fingal Head Lighthouse


If you'd love more than a day to explore Fingal Head there is the Fingal Holiday Park that backs onto Fingal Beach. Phone (07) 55242208 Sheoak Shack is a quirky café that has great coffee and food and live music Saturday nights. Phone(07) 5523 1130

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Why? Enjoy the beauty and the history of the Fingal Head Lighthouse
When: Any time
Where: Lighthouse Pde. Fingal Head NSW
Cost: Free
Your Comment
A nicely writtern article Anaya :)
by RC (score: 3|1218) 284 days ago
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