For centuries watery sirens have lured sailors and their vessels onto Mermaid Reef 10 kilometres off the coast of Crowdy Head creating sadness and destruction. In 1878 the government fought these forces by erecting a lighthouse to warn ships of their impending doom. Colonial Architect James Barnet designed a series of lighthouses along the coast of NSW including the tiny one that sits on Crowdy Head.1
Next to the lighthouse are the ruins of the lightkeeper’s residence. The first keeper was George Whitnall who had been a boatman at the Harrington Pilot Station. He lived here with his wife and three daughters who created an orchard around the residence. Originally there was no road between Crowdy and Harrington and for the first eight years of the lighthouse’s existence officials were unable to inspect it due to its inaccessibility. When they finally arrived they were amazed at the tropical undergrowth and its abundance of staghorns and ferns. They were equally amazed at Whitnall’s ingenuity in creating a chariot-like vehicle to move goods from Harrington to the lighthouse.2
One of the lighthouse’s unique features is the blood-red glass panel inserted into the lantern whose gleam illuminates the position of Mermaid Reef.3 Captains who find themselves bathed in red know they need to manoeuvre swiftly out of the sirens’ spell.
1920 finally brought the end of an era with the lighthouse becoming fully automated and the signal station discontinued.4 Today the beam of this lighthouse can be seen 20 kilometres and the call of the mermaids can be heard from as far.