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drawings of the lighthouse

clarence river lighthouse


A Pilot Station was established in 1854 to aid vessels in crossing the river bar. Up until then it had been a major obstacle to navigation.


A pilot station is an onshore headquarters for maritime pilots (a mariner who maneuvers ships through dangerous or congested waters, such as harbours or river mouths) or a place where pilots can be hired from. To get from a pilot station to an approaching ship, pilots need to use fast vessels to arrive in time, i.e. a pilot boat.

Captain Francis Freeburn was appointed the first Pilot at Clarence River Heads.


By 1862 when the Department of Harbours and Rivers commenced the river mouth improvements a fixed signal to passing ships was created using a kerosene lamp attached to a pole near the signal staff on the easterly part of Pilot Hill.

The original pole from which a kerosene lamp hung is now standing in Story Park adjacent to Yamba Museum.

the first lighthouse was a pole
pole sign

"Yamba's original lighthouse" - pole from 1854.

signal mast
signal mast sign

Signal mast

James Johnstone Barnet was Colonial Architect from 1862 until 1890. One of his briefs was the design, construction and supervision of lighthouses and he was commissioned with his assistants to design one at Clarence River Heads. The style was derived from that of Francis Greenway, designer of the first Macquarie Lighthouse at South Head, Sydney.


Sailing masters made a deputation in 1865 to the Colonial Treasurer for a better system. The Legislative Assembly then approved £120 ($240) for erection of a beacon in the same position as the lamp pole. Comprising a large fixed red kerosene light placed on a bench in a small wooden sentry box whose shutters could be opened at night to dispense the rays, were visible 10 to 13 kilometre out to sea. One of the Pilot Boatmen, William Walker, continued supervision of the light. The pilot's daughter, Jane Freeburn, also tended the light as a child making her way through the brush on the headland with an Indigenous guard to protect her from possible dangers.


In 1877 moves were made to construct a proper lighthouse which lead to an inspection tour of the North Coast in the following year to identify potential sites. In the early to mid 19th Century the main contact for the coastal towns of the north coast of New South Wales was sea transport. There were no roads and the railways were only just beginning.

James Barnet (1827-1904)
James Barnet

James Johnstone Barnet was born in Scotland in 1827. He moved to London in 1843, where he was apprenticed to a builder and studied drawing, design and architecture. Upon completing his studies, he became the clerk of works. In July 1854, he married Amy Gosling of Hockey, East London and in December that same year, he migrated to Sydney under the auspices of the Family Colonisation Loan Society. The society was a ship chartering and small loan service established by Caroline Chisolm to help families emigrate to Australia. 

In 1860, Barnet joined the Colonial Architect’s Office and, by 1862, had risen to the role of Colonial Architect – a position he held until his retirement in 1890. 

A notable influence of Barnet’s architectural style was the Italian Renaissance. In turn, he had a significant influence on pre-Federation architecture in NSW.


Barnet oversaw 12,000 projects during his career.

Barnet’s influence on architecture endures and many of his buildings still stand in Sydney and wider NSW. These include the GPO in Martin Place, Customs House at Circular Quay, Callan Park, Bathurst Courthouse, the State Library of New South Wales, Berry Courthouse, Darlinghurst Courthouse, the Mortuary Station near Central railway, Customs House, new wing of the Australian Museum, Garden Island Naval Precinct and Admiralty House Sydney.


Clarence River Lighthouse is one of five similar lights designed by Colonial Architect James Barnett build on the NSW coast, including Fingal Head, Ballina Head, Tacking Point and Crowdy Head. The five lights were built with adjoining rooms. 


Clarence River Light - plans for proposed position light, by James Barnett: NSW Colonial Architect, 1878

Tenders were called in April 1878. A Grafton building contractor, William Kinnear was awarded the contract for £1097 ($2,194) and completed the structure in 1879. It was first exhibited in 1880. 


1879 opening of lighthouse

First lighthouse keeper

William Walker was appointed first lighthouse keeper and held the position for 40 years. Quarters were constructed for him adjacent to the lighthouse in 1905. The keepers' job was a demanding one as lives depended on the correct functioning of the light.


In 1920 the lighthouse was automated and unmanned.


In 1934 the Pacific Hotel was built in Yamba, and the light was somewhat obscured. In addition, a water reservoir was to be built at the location. 


A new lighthouse was built in 1955, and the old lighthouse was demolished in 1956.

replica lighthouse project


A "temporary" 2.5 million litre water tank was built in 1957, which required the demolition of the original lighthouse. Blocks from the lighthouse were used to construct a retaining wall, which still exists today along the lower side of Campbells Lane and Yamba Street.

repurposed blocks

Campbells Lane retaining wall


When the 10 million litre reservoir was completed in April 1988 the temporary one was removed.

In 1988 as part of the Bicentennial celebrations permission was given (but no money) to build a replica on the base of the temporary water tank.

As funds could not be raised, local volunteers self-funded and built the replica, but without the lantern.

John Matthaei managed the project. He also made and laid the concrete bricks, rendered the building and raised money by publishing "Off the Record", Yamba's first free newspaper.


The north east wall of the replica is aligned with the south west wall of the original. The building became the home of Community Radio Station 2TLCFM, but the replica remained incomplete. 

1995 station

Lower Clarence Community Radio station - 2TLCFM 1995-96

replica lighthouse restoration


In 2009, a project began to fully restore the lighthouse again, with support from local individuals and businesses.


In 2011 Howard Hall and Yannick Martin decided to complete the replica and successfully obtained the necessary approvals. They then teamed up with John Ibbotson to finance and complete the project. While Howard and Yannick organised the completion of the building and the tower base, John - through his association with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and Australian Maritime Systems (AMS) - set out to obtain a lantern room and lens.


AMS donated an NAL-I lantern room from South Neptune Island in South Australia and AMSA provided a magnificent, nineteenth century, third order fresnel lens from their Head Office in Canberra. John has since had the roof of the building replaced.

As the elevation of the replica and new 1955 lighthouse were the same the light cannot be displayed as it may cause confusion with the new light.

Lower Clarence Community Radio

The replica of the original lighthouse was started in 1988 and although incomplete at the time, TLCFM began broadcasting and the lighthouse has been the home of Community Radio Station TLCFM ever since.

Replica project
restoration showing light housing
restoration sowing side
close up of light housing
crane lowering a worker
2TLCFM mural

Gary Brisbane, Peter Finucan, Pat Riordan from 2TLCFM 2011

Roland Smith and John Ibbotson

Roland Smith, of Brisbane and John Ibbotson, of Gulmarrad
Picture: Deborah Novak 2011

Howard Hall and Yannick Martin

Howard Hall and Yannick Martin
Picture: Deborah Novak 2011



Many wonderful individuals and businesses were involved in the replica lighthouse project to whom we sincerely thank, including:

John Matthaei, Howard Hall, Yannick Martin, John Ibbotson, Roland Smith, Yan Talbot, John McCredie, David Leaning, High Profile Architectural Moulding, Tony Berry, All Terrain Scaffolding, Yamba Redi-hire, Bill Collingburn, Nuway Glass, Beamer Tree Services, Peter Dickson, local plumber Gary Brisbane, Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Australian Maritime Systems, Clem Rhoden at Clarence Valley Council and TLCFM's Peter Finucan.

The replica lighthouse project was a labor of love that has given Yamba's Pilot Hill a historic building and a story of following a vision, pushing through obstacles and the power of Community.

Thank you

yamba a little history

Tim The Bream Comp in Yamba 1958 (World of Boats)

Narrated by Jack Davey
Photography: Bill Grimmond, Bob Gould, Keith Loone
"Going Down To Yamba" written & sung by Ron Peters
Uploaded by Mark Pirie

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