Aerial view showing geology and buildings of Nobbys-Whibayganba headland

open to the public 8am – 4pm Saturday and Sunday
open to creatives Monday-Friday – learn more

Lighthouse Arts is a multi-arts activation of Nobbys-Whibayganba headland cottages to support the region’s unique and diverse local arts, culture, and tourism. 

We seek to protect and celebrate Awabakal culture, historic and maritime heritage and provide a safe and collaborative space for local artists, while celebrating the region’s iconic landmark and supporting local tourism and cultural businesses.


Seeking information about the history of the region? Visit the digital home of the special collections held by the University of Newcastle’s library: Living Histories

Cultural History 

The Nobbys-Whibayganba headland site is iconic to the Hunter region and is one of Newcastle’s best vantage points with 360-degree views of the city and the sea. 

The headland was an island for millions of years and highly significant to Aboriginal people.

The Awabakal people are the Traditional Custodians of this land. 

Take a virtual tour of the area with Aboriginal Elders – Niiarrnumber Burrai (Our Country) courtesy of the Guraki Aboriginal Advisory committee.

Read a comprehensive cultural history of the site by Joel Grogan from the University of Newcastle.

In 2009, an archaeological excavation was conducted 3 kilometres from Nobbys-Whibayganba headland. Over 5000 artefacts were uncovered, providing physical evidence of three waves of Aboriginal occupation across 6,700 years on the site. Learn more. And this link takes you to 3D scanned images of some of the artefacts. 

Nobbys-Whibayganba dual naming: since June 2001 the government has supported a dual naming policy for geographical features and cultural sites. Learn more.

Geological History

Interview with Roslyn Kerr, geologist. Learn all about the formation of Nobbys-Whibayganba, its special properties and the importance of silicified tuff for tool making by Aboriginal people. 

Walk the Newcastle Geotrail

Go back in time to learn of major volcanic eruptions, river floodplains and swamps that were covered by ancient forests more than 250 million years ago. Hear the story about the opening of the Tasman Sea during the age of the dinosaurs and the changing sea level over the past 100,000 years. Watch the Newcastle Coastal Geotrail.

Colonial Newcastle

Stories of Our Town has produced this film about the establishment of Newcastle with a focus on painter Joseph Lycett.

Macquarie Pier, the Lighthouse and the Cottages

Between 1818-1846, Macquarie Pier was built by convicts and the island was joined to the mainland. Originally about 53 metres high, the island was regarded as a safety hazard by early mariners because its height caused ships to lose wind and risk being carried onto the oyster bank when entering the harbour.  In 1836, part of the headland was quarried and the stone used to construct Macquarie Pier. The whole headland was also reduced to 27 metres above sea level and, in 1857, its top was flattened for the construction of a lighthouse, a small signal station and two houses.

Read more about the government’s plan in the 1850s to blow up the headland and the Novocastrians who protested and won! 

The lighthouse is listed on the Commonwealth heritage register and is one of the oldest operational lighthouses on the east coast of Australia, replacing the earlier coal fired beacon that existed on Flagstaff Hill—Tahlbihn (Fort Scratchley) in 1804. It was also the first to be installed in conformity with the Trinity House codes after the Commission of 1856 reported upon Australian lighthouses. It is one of two of the earliest surviving lighthouses in Australia and is associated with the work of colonial architects Edmund Blackett and Alexander Dawson. Read more about the lighthouse at Lighthouses of Australia inc. and listen to this interview from ABC Newcastle 1233.

In September 1916, the Lighthouse keepers were withdrawn when the light was converted to automatic acetylene operation which was superseded by electric power in 1935.

During the Second World War, the operations of the lighthouse and signal station were controlled by the military authorities and construction of the cottages was completed in 1942. Read about the lost gun powder chambers that lie within the headland.

During construction, No.1 Cottage was hit by a shell fired from a Japanese submarine but the shell did not explode.

The military vacated the cottages in January 1945 and they were subsequently occupied by signal station staff until the late 1990s.

The existing signal station was built in 1953 to control shipping movements. 

The site is part of the working port and is currently owned by Port Authority of New South Wales. PANSW is a corporation owned by the State Government of NSW. The Port Authority acts as harbourmaster managing shipping movements, safety, security and emergency response. Port Authority NSW and the City of Newcastle are partners of Lighthouse Arts. 

Newcastle Museum has interviewed people who lived at the cottages.

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