No Stranger to Isolation
Shining the spotlight on Augusta's lighthouse keeper
At a time when most of us are rushing into a new way of being – establishing new routines, negotiating boundaries, and holding virtual conferencing with kids and dogs in the background (the mute button is a saving grace) – there’s one person who seems a little more transitioned to this new way of life. Paul Sofilas lives and works at Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse in Augusta and is no stranger to isolation. He was recently interviewed by Sammy J on ABC Radio Melbourne for a segment called – ‘Crisis. What Crisis?’ In light of this, we are revisiting a blog about Paul written last year, when he celebrated 20 years at Cape Leeuwin.
There’s a slim chance of becoming a lighthouse keeper in Australia. Based on the fact that there are around 350 lighthouses across the country and a population of 24 million, it’s not a career one would encourage the kids at school to pursue.
But Paul Sofilas, Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse Interp. Officer (and site manager) was clearly unperturbed by the figures when he applied for a role at the lighthouse back in 1999. Paul had trained in accounting then worked in the mining sector but found himself spending an increasing amount of time in Augusta – walking and mountain-biking the Cape to Cape. He heard through friends about a job at the lighthouse, was interviewed for the role at Lake Cave and got a call that night that he’d been successful. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Paul’s career at the tallest lighthouse in mainland Australia.
Paul grew up in Bunbury but frequently holidayed with his family in Augusta. Growing up, Paul didn’t really think about a long-term career, but he always had a fascination with storms and loved nature. Paul clearly remembers one of his first childhood books being Tintin’s ‘The Black Island’ – which had a lighthouse on the cover set on a rock in Scotland.
“It was my first Tintin story which I loved,” he says. “My godmother bought it for me and it’s kind of funny because it was one of my favourite books and years later I end up living at a lighthouse.”
In the early days at the lighthouse, before Paul first moved in as the caretaker, he didn’t own a car.
“I rode to work each day and in winter got to experience seeing the whales in the bay, and ride against pretty strong headwinds,” he says. “I suppose I got a real feel for the whole environment.”
When he first started, Paul recalls feeling there had been a loss of connection between town and the lighthouse, partly from when the last official keeper retired. From the beginning, he made a conscious effort to rebuild the relationship with the community. He began having open days with local groups catering, celebrated events around shipwrecks and International Lighthouse Day, and really gave the ownership of the heritage asset back to the community.
Being one of the most unusual jobs on the planet, I had to ask the clichéd question: what is it that you love about your job? Paul’s answer –the natural environment and the people he meets.
“I get a real energy from the storms, the whales, the sunrise and sunsets,” he says. “I also get to meet and talk to really interesting people.”
Paul has met Oscar winning film directors, sailors, and just regular people with great stories.Some days Paul still pinches himself that he is the caretaker of such an important piece of land.
“Sometimes I walk out at night and see a ship passing, the lights on at the top of the tower and I think, I’m at the corner of the continent,” he says. “I used to surf and I love the coast but I never thought I’d live at a lighthouse.”
The name Paul means small and humble in Latin – and up against the lighthouse he is just that. Small in stature, humble in his achievements. Paul was nominated for and won the Golden Guide award in 2009 and continues to hold community events at the lighthouse year round.
Congratulations Paul – you are an inspirational beacon of light to Augusta’s community and beyond.
Images: Paul Sofilas today beneath the lighthouse, Paul (20 years ago) with Doopa Dog, and Paul’s favourite childhood book -Tintin The Black Island.