From Portland, I drive out to the Cape Nelson Lighthouse.
It was first lit in 1884 and is still operational today. I understand why it is needed – the Southern Ocean violently smashes the cliffs on this cape. In the past, unsuspecting ships arriving from Europe regularly came to grief here. It’s called the Shipwreck Coast, and the weather is notoriously unpredictable. The winds are so intense a wall protects the small door at the lighthouse’s base.
I wasn’t expecting the strange topography. It’s like a lunar landscape consisting of sharp limestone bleached and eroded by saltwater. The waves pounding below compound a sinister uneasy feeling – I don’t feel safe.
I walk along the cliff and come across a solitary cairn erected in memory of Alan William Barr, lost at sea in 1970. No more information is given, just this lonely memorial in this desolate place.
Who was he, and how was he lost at sea, what is his story? It wasn’t easy to find, but an online search eventually reveals, a March 1970 edition of the Canberra Times which sheds some light.
Alan Barr and his mate Paul Hill, two Portland lads, were abalone diving when a giant wave capsized their boat. It took them two hours fighting the high seas to get to a rocky ledge at the bottom of the cliff. Alan was in poor shape, so his mate wedged him in a crevice and piled rocks around him to stop him from being washed away. But the waves kept pounding, and they clung on as night fell. Hours later, at about 11 pm, in the darkness, Alan disappeared into the sea.
The following day, Paul was spotted by a local fisherman and swam 100 meters through the rough to get to the fishing boat.
The story adds to the eeriness; Cape Nelson is an unsettling place.