Montague Island lighthouse building renovations: GoPro PHOTOS

MONTAGUE Island’s beauty is all about its isolation and pristine offshore location.

But being 9km offshore is also throwing up all sorts of challenges to the planners and builders tasked with making it even more pristine by replacing the asbestos roofing.

A band of tradesmen from the Narooma and Eurobodalla area are about three weeks into the $1.1million roof renovation and asbestos removal project being overseen by NSW National Parks and funded by the State Government’s Heritage Asset Revitalisation Program.

The Narooma News visited the island on Wednesday afternoon with editor filming the trip on his GoPro camera. Stay tuned for more footage to be added later…

Back on the island, most of roof has been replaced on the main lighthouse keepers’ building that once served as the house of the head keeper and is now a luxurious but still authentic tourist accommodation.

Next the workers will move on the larger main part of the keeper’s quarters that now serve as accommodation and office space for the current day National Parks rangers that live on the island.

Project manager Rob Bennett said up to 19 tradesman and parks workers had been living on the island in up to 10-day shifts.

“We’re on track time wise but the biggest challenge is the logistics and transport of material and people on and off the island – it takes a lot of time and is very expensive.”

Removal of asbestos also added complications, but National Parks was keen for the island to be taken off the asbestos register and similar operations were being completed at other heritage light stations.

Living on the island has also proved challenging for the local Narooma tradies, including for Unto Holopainen from Narooma Plumbing, proud to make up the “A-shift” roofers together with fellow locals including Gene Willis from Narooma and David Crooke from Unique Carpentry at Mogo.

Scheduled to do long 10-day on, three-day off shifts, they have been working long 12-hour days followed by a meal and a light beer and bed.

“It’s been challenging,” he said.

Also making the day trip on Wednesday was a couple of young electricians from Narooma Electrics.

For those living on the island there have been little rewards such as the vintage matchbox found stashed in the rafters.

David Crook on Wednesday proudly handed over the fragile but still colourful box to Narooma ranger Cass Bendixsen who went out for day trip.

The Mogo carpenter, whose brother is also working on the island, also found a newspaper from 1981 but that had to be destroyed because of asbestos contamination.

Because of the sea conditions and sheer amount of material, it was decided to use a helicopter instead of boats to do the bulk lifting.

The Touchdown Helicopters’ AS350 out of Wollongong last month did a 30-lift day last month taking out supplies and stainless steel Colorbond sheeting from a staging point at Mystery Bay out to the island.

Bennett said there were two more helicopter exercises planned one in two to three weeks to bring out the new sheeting for the larger assistant lighthouse keepers’ building and then one final lift to remove the remaining asbestos and material.

In the meantime, charter company Island Charters with skipper Chris Smith driving the vessel Dallas had been supplementing the NSW National Park vessel the MV Shearwater, also based in Narooma.

Also working on site on Wednesday was a heritage officer from National Parks, while David Stephenson from remedial construction consultancy Diagnostech made the trip down from Sydney.

Meanwhile also out on the trip on Wednesday and making regular trips were two officers from the Eurobodalla and Eden WorkCover offices, who checked occupational health and safety issues on the site, paying particular attention to the asbestos issues.

The 20-tonnes of bonded asbestos from the old roofs and inside the buildings will be packed in specially designed and sealed orange bags and transported out by boat and helicopter.

The history of the buildings built and designed in the 1880s by renowned colonial architect James Barnett is quite intriguing.

There have been four or five roofs starting out with corrugated iron, then shingle tile, followed by the bonded asbestos being removed and replaced with stainless steel in a matching light-grey colour.

Amazing the structural timber underneath amazingly appears as pristine as it was when first built.

The whole project is slated to wrap in August but assuming weather conditions hold and things continue to run smoothly, it could be more like July with the National Parks office in Narooma keen to reopen the island to tourism as soon as possible.


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