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Arthur Head

South Mole

North Mole

Woodman Pt

Buckland Hill

Hillarys Boat Harbour

As the first point of European settlement on the west coast of Australia in 1829, Fremantle has a very rich and colourful, though sometimes tragic maritime history.
The commissioning of her lighthouses, reflects the way in which man will always work - using the technology at hand, to solve a problem and meet a need.
In this case the need was safe passage through the treacherous reefs of Rottnest Island on the very doorstep of Fremantle Port, the problem being the loss of cargo, ships and lives. The Solution - a pair of lighthouses - one at Rottnest and one at Fremantle.

 The installation of lighthouses were a newsworthy event of importance to everyone.
Below are verbatim copies of news articles covering such events.

The Morning Herald
Saturday, November 15, 1902

The Morning Herald
Saturday, July 18, 1903.

The West Australian
Perth, Thursday, July 23, 1903

 South Mole Light.- The work of facing off the end of the South Mole preparatory to the erection of the light tower is being rapidly pushed on with, and should shortly be completed. The lantern and the iron tower on which it is to stand has already arrived. The new light will be a dioptric white occulting light of the four order, and will be visible for a distance of 12 nautical miles. The tower in which it is to be fixed will be a circular one, and the focal plane will be 44 ft. above high water level.

 NORTH MOLE LIGHT.-The Fremantle Harbour Trust Commissioners notify in the "Government Gazette" this week that on and after the 20th day of July, 1903, the colour of the light exhibited in the temporary tower at the end of North Mole will be changed from a fixed white light to a fixed green light. This is the colour and character of the permanent light to be shown at the end of this mole in accordance with preliminary notice to mariners dated April 2, 1902, and it has been decided to exhibit this light from the present temporary frame tower rather than wait for the completion of the circular iron tower which is to be erected as soon as the mole is in a sufficiently settled condition to receive it. Simultaneously with the changing of the North Mole light from white to green the fixed green light at present exhibited from Arthur Head will be discontinued. Charts affected - 1058, Rottnest Island to Warnbro Sound: 1700, Fremantle harbour and Gage Roads.

[NB: green (sic) see note below.]

Fremantle Harbour Lights.- It has been found that the new light on the South Mole at Fremantle which was started on Monday, is altogether too powerful for what is required, so much so that there is danger of its interfering with the Woodman's Point light. The centre section of the latter is white, and the one on the south mole, which is also white, can be seen past Rottnest. The Harbour Trust  therefore, has decided to rearrange the lights at the entrance of the river. A fixed green light will be placed in the new tower on the south mole, and a fixed red light on the north mole. These will be in operation on Monday next. There is a similar light on hand to the one now on the south mole which was intended to be put on the north side, when the mole had been proved to be settled, and fit to have a lighthouse built on it with safety, but it is found that they are altogether too elaborate for the service. They were ordered by the former Harbour Master, Captain Russell. With a red light at the north side of the entrance to the river, all the beacons on that side will be of the same colour.

Having spent many years moving in and out of the Harbour, and been taught the phrase that "There's no PORT LEFT in the bottle" = the red light, it amazes me that the north mole would have ever had a green light installed on it in the first place! ...and then you read another newspaper article - this time from the local West Australian, where it would appear the reporter had a better understanding and more accurate details than the Morning Herald! It is a timely point to consider that written resources can contradict one another and an item picked up from one source is in turn copied until it becomes accepted as fact. If something doesn't feel or sound right, then investigate further.

With the construction of the Fremantle Harbour, there was a corresponding development in the installation of permanent lights. As the Arthur Head was being demolished to make way for the Arthur Head Battery, the stone was immediately used to build the groynes to protect the harbour entrance. Initially, the North Mole was constructed to a length that offered sufficient protection for the construction of the South Mole, which was then the first to be ready for the installation of its light tower. 
Two identical cast iron towers, designed by C.Y. O'Connor, had already arrived in 1902. The South Mole light was lit in 1903, and immediately problems were noted. The Dioptric white occulting light of the four order was too powerful and caused confusion with the Woodman Point Leading Light, both of which were visible beyond Rottnest. 
The solution was to install a fixed green light on the South Mole. The North Mole light which had previously displayed a green light, would henceforth carry a fixed red light.

Entrance to the Harbour - 1903 : Photographer unknown
Courtesy of Fremantle Library - Local History Photo Collection

Taken from the vantage point of Arthur Head, this wonderful image shows the new South Mole light in place, while on the North Mole, there is still only the original framework tower holding a red fixed light until the North Mole is sufficiently settled.

Fremantle is known as the Gateway to Australia.  The harbour still has the occasional Passenger Liner visit but you are more likely to see huge container ships or live sheep transport carriers passing through the harbour mouth along with the Rottnest Island ferries and a variety of pleasure crafts.. During the war, an observation post and gun emplacement was situated at the very end of the mole. You can still see the remaining buildings. Also visible are the cement slipways where the anti submarine nets stretching across the harbour between the two moles would be lowered by steel cables to enable shipping to pass through the harbour. Once through, the nets would be winched back into place.

With the harbour visible in the background, these markers are part of a chain which mark the safe passage into the Fremantle Harbour and down to Cockburn Sound.

C. Y. O'Connor, the Engineer in Chief from 1891 to 1902 had a huge impact on the State of WA. In that time, he designed and constructed the Fremantle Harbour, the Goldfields Water Supply and all the Railways and other Public Works.

He was also responsible for the design of the cast iron towers which were built in Birmingham and sent out in pieces to be constructed in situ on both the North and South Moles. He also designed the stone tower for the Woodman Point Lighthouse.

The Fishing Boat Harbour, on the other side of the South Mole, is the home base for a major fishing industry including prawns, sardines (pilchards) and crayfish.