The Book

"Sail on!" it says, "sail on, ye stately ships!
And with your floating bridge the ocean span;
Be mine to guard this light from all eclipse,
Be yours to bring man nearer unto man!"

This short final stanza from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, The Lighthouse, epitomises the roles of both the lighthouse keeper and the lighthouse itself. A hand written copy of it is pasted to the inside of the entrance door to the wonderful Sugarloaf Point lighthouse on the coast of New South Wales and is annotated “from keepers standing orders”.

Australia’s vast 60 000 km coastline was first sighted by Europeans in 1606 and from that time onwards was often the site of shipwrecks with tragic loss of life and valuable cargo. A fire was first utilised to guide a ship into Sydney Harbour and thirty years after colonisation, in 1818, a majestic lighthouse was first lit to guide settlers and traders to the new British colony.

First Order – Australia’s Highway of Lighthouses documents the extraordinary history of Australia’s greatest lighthouses – those bearing a first order lens, measuring up to twelve feet high and six feet across. Painstakingly researched First Order presents in chronological order, the motivation, history of design, construction and function as well as the technical details of each lighthouse.

Juxtaposed is the intimate human saga; that of the architects, engineers and builders facing hardship and danger as they toiled on remote, windswept sites; the soul of each lighthouse – the keepers and their families; vignettes of isolated family life and tales of tragedy, of illness, death and lonely graves; stories of a harsh climate, shipwreck and survival but also of love, romance and triumph over adversity.

Lavishly illustrated with archival images as well as the author’s breath-taking photographs, First Order is a milestone in Australia’s lighthouse history as it presents Australia’s finest lighthouses in all their magnificent glory over two centuries.


The Author

GARRY SEARLE has been fascinated by lighthouses for many years – stemming from his youth, growing up in the seaside city of Wollongong, New South Wales, a port that has two lighthouses.

Over the past 15 years Garry has participated in the relighting of a number of decommissioned lighthouses on special occasions such as International Lighthouse weekend and he serves on the committee of Lighthouses of Australia.

Garry is delighted to share his interest of lighthouse photography with his son William, and the two of them can often be found in the cold darkness of pre-dawn waiting for that perfect image. Together with a photograph taken by Garry’s father in the 1970s, three generations of Searle photos appear in the book.

First Order is the result of Garry’s passion for photography, his captivation by the ingenuity and artistry of lighthouse lens design, a respect for the dedication of the keepers and families and his curiosity about the history surrounding this part of Australia’s maritime story. All of these aspects have been moulded together to give an appreciation of a history that needs to be preserved for future generations.

The photography and research for First Order has taken Garry to all of the sites covered in the book, an adventure in itself. Research was conducted not only in each of the states of Australia, but also in England and France.