Lake Macquarie History

Redhead Shark Tower

Research by Chris Conrick

The shark look-out tower at Redhead Beach is a unique example of the methods used to protect surf beachgoers from shark attack prior to the introduction of shark meshing on the Newcastle and district beaches in 1949.

photo: shark tower at redhead beach

In 1922 the Surf Life Saving Association instructed all surf life saving clubs to provide an observation tower equipped with a bell or siren for their beach. The tower was to be manned by lifesavers as part of their patrol duties (usually weekends and public holidays), so that surfers could be quickly warned should a shark be sighted in or near the bathing area.

During the 1920’s and 1930’s towers were constructed either by clubs or councils on many beaches along the NSW coast. Some were built of steel and concrete (Manly), others with timber (Redhead, Dudley, Black Head, Crowdy Head.) Some clubs utilised the roof of their surf pavilion as a lookout. A portable tower designed and built by William Hammer, a member of the North Bondi Surf Club was also popular.

The Redhead tower was constructed in 1929, during the Depression, by relief labour for unemployed local men. The timber came from a local disused coalmine, and the four vertical posts supporting the lookout platform are original and could be well over 100 years in age. The materials were transported from the mine site by surf club members using a bullock cart, a distance of more than one km of which about 300m consisted of sand dunes.. The vertical posts were inserted into holes cut into an elevated outcrop of sandstone rock which projects into the surf zone approximately 100m south of the high cliff of Redhead Bluff. The structure is six metres in height but the lookout platform is approximately 9-10 metres above sea level.

photo: lifesaving practice redhead beach

Because of the effectiveness of the shark meshing program the use of the shark look-out tower diminished as the years went by. Steel structures rusted quickly and were removed. Timber structures , unless maintained regularly also became unsafe and were demolished.

The Redhead tower is thought to be the only remaining purpose built structure on the eastern Australian coast. Although it is now rarely used for its original purpose, it still can be used if emergencies arise (e.g. prolonged & difficult surf rescues where its height can provide better observation).

In recent time the Redhead shark look-out tower has become a popular icon with photographers. Pictured with the Redhead Bluff as background, both commercial and amateur photographers have taken thousands of shots of what is an incredibly beautiful part of our coastline. One local commercial photographer described the Bluff as the ‘Ayers Rock of the Hunter region’ and agrees with other photographers that the Tower provides an excellent historical feature which adds both interest and enhancement to their photographs.