Shedding light on Eden’s past

Eden Killer Whale Museum volunteer guide Barry Smith has spent over ten years accumulating a wealth of information he loves to share with visitors.

Originally from Victoria, a family tragedy saw Barry take early retirement from Telecom and move permanently to Eden.

“I sold up all my stuff down in Victoria and I moved up here. To be quite honest, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.  It certainly improved my lifestyle, it certainly improved my health. “

Barry decided to volunteer to help out at the museum, thinking he could do some painting or mow the lawns.

“Before I moved here permanently I had no concept of community work at all. I was a Telecom technical officer.  Volunteering here has improved my life no end,” he said.

Barry can spend every second day during whale migration season (October/November), volunteering at the museum.  He is also on the executive panel of the management committee, and on the curatorial committee.

Today, he is opening up the lighthouse and giving me a personal tour.

“The lighthouse was constructed in 1999 to 2000 and officially opened on January 1, 2001, to mark the centenary of the Commonwealth,” Barry explains.

“We built it because we had lots of 19th century gear to try and display. The primary piece is these stairs you see in front of you. The treads came from the Gabo Island lighthouse when the basement was decommissioned.  They are over 150 years old. We actually found them on the tip at Gabo Island and one of the fishing trawlers brought them back for us.

“This was the catalyst that really started the whole idea of putting in the light house because the only way you can truly display them is to assemble them, and the spiral staircase predetermines the height and diameter of any lighthouse, you can’t change that.

“We were only given 20 steps, so it’s not as high as you might expect.”

Height aside, the lighthouse is built according to lighthouse principles.

“It was constructed on true lighthouse principles by a lighthouse builder and conforms to all the regulations, even bedded down on bed rock like all lighthouses should be,” he says.

“It conforms to a design that was prevalent in the early – mid 19th century.”

Barry patiently explains the equipment in the lantern room, including the Fresnel barrel-type lens invented by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel in the early 19th century.

Above the lantern room a dome provides ventilation, which would have been essential to vent fumes from the timber, fat, oils and other combustible material burnt to provide the light source.

“The reason lighthouses are generally round or octagonal is so the weather can pass around them. It also makes the vision much easier.  This particular slit (window) points due north and this one points due east,” Barry explains.

At this point my personal tour becomes a public one as visitors realise the lighthouse is open and an expert guide is on hand.  In the space of minutes, some sort of bush telegraph draws in families and couples to the lighthouse and they are coming up the stairs and taking in the view from the balcony.

The lighthouse may not be that high, but it’s enough to scare one little girl visiting with her family from Wodonga, who grips her mother’s leg, keeping as far from the balcony’s edge as she can possibly get.

I leave Barry to enthral them with his knowledge, willingness and ability to bring the past to life.

Making my way through the museum galleries, it is packed with tourists, taking in Eden’s timber and whaling histories, and enjoying the Strike! exhibition that tells the story of Eden’s tuna pole fishing days.

It may be a dreary day outside, but with a resource like the Eden Killer Whale Museum open every day during the year, this award-winning attraction ensures every visitor to Eden can enjoy 

one of the most progressive and innovative museums in regional NSW.

Volunteer guide Barry Smith on the balcony of the lighthouse at the Eden Killer Whale Museum.

Volunteer guide Barry Smith on the balcony of the lighthouse at the Eden Killer Whale Museum.