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Seals and eagles witness Maatsuyker Island lighthouse keepers' engagement

Georgie Burgess, Saturday August 10, 2019 - 12:08 EST
ABC licensed image
Mr Ryan popped the question at sunrise. - ABC licensed

On Maatsuyker Island the day begins at 5:30am when the caretakers brave the icy winds to check the weather.

It's then time for a hot cup of tea and breakfast, before checking in with maritime radio and doing further weather tests.

The island's lighthouse keepers Grant Ryan and Hannah Sutton have been living on the remote south-west Tasmanian island since the end of February.



The couple's routine was a little different on Thursday morning — with Mr Ryan choosing sunrise to pop the question.

"It's been very hard throughout the whole process to try and hide the ring," he said.

"I'd been trying to work out the right time."

Mr Ryan, 31, said it was witnessed by seals playing nearby, and some eagles and kites also watched on.

He admits it would have been a bit awkward had 27-year-old Ms Sutton turned down the offer.

"We would have been living at opposite ends of the island I reckon," he said.



Wild times on a remote island

The Perth pair chose a winter stint on the 186-hectare island, which is home to one of Australia's southernmost lighthouses and 5.5 kilometres off the coast, keen to embrace its renowned dramatic weather.

Access is only by helicopter flight at either end of the stint, which is always weather-dependent.

"We were attracted to the wild weather and the changing of seasons," Ms Sutton said.

"We quite like being outside when it's a bit wild.

"It wakes you up. It's refreshing at times."



Mr Ryan said there was an indicator when the weather turned.

"When you see rain going upwards you know it's a pretty crazy time," he said.

The island has faced winds of 176 km/h, but a 'normal' day might be winds of 55 km/h.



'Let's shake it up a bit'

The pair saw the popular volunteer program advertised and decided to throw their hats in the ring.



"We looked at each other and Hannah was like 'Yeah, let's apply, let's shake it up a bit'," he said.

They each bring different skills to the island — Mr Ryan has a background in mechanics and ran a fire sprinkler business.

"There's a lot of maintenance on the island and because it's so isolated they ask you to have experience in a similar isolated position," Ms Sutton said.

"I've done a lot of sailing, so that kind of lends itself well to the provisioning and isolation aspect of the program."

They received a handover from former caretakers Diane and David Masters.

The couple gave them a range of tips, including how to bake bread properly and stay warm.

There's a keepers' convention that involves brewing a beer and leaving it for the next pair.

The Masters' beer got the tick of approval.

"It was fantastic," Mr Ryan said.



While the job is colloquially known as lighthouse keeping, the main light on the island is now automated and uses solar panels.

The original lighthouse is no longer in service, but still required some maintenance.

"We run the lighthouse just to keep the mechanisms working," Mr Ryan said.

"It's a beautiful piece of heritage."



Date nights and a light show

Mr Ryan and Ms Sutton were treated to the aurora australis this week, as the southern lights put on one of the biggest shows of the year.

"We were really lucky," Mr Ryan said.

"We heard there was a strong solar flare happening, so we got our camera and tripod and camped out a bit.

"There were some showers going through, so we had to hide out in the lighthouse.

"It was a beautiful glow on the horizon that was flying up in between the clouds."



The caretakers have got creative with date nights, such as setting up an outdoor cinema by projecting movies onto the lighthouse.

"We don't have to worry about weekends or crowds," Ms Sutton said.

"It does make for some little fun activities."

Ms Sutton said they had been keeping their eyes peeled for whales, but had not seen any yet.

But there was plenty of birdlife to keep them entertained.

"As winter caretakers we get to see the amazing migration and mass leaving of all the shearwaters," she said.

"They are really nice companions; we loved it when they were here."

The currawongs were the cheekiest residents on the island, she said.

"They like to steal our pens from the [Bureau of Meteorology] office and drop them along the path and they pick the pegs off the line," she said.

Mr Ryan said the island experience would shape a lot of the pair's future decisions.

"It's a beautiful experience," he said.

They will hand over to the next couple in mid-September.

Summer volunteer opportunities are available for the Cape Bruny light station, Bruny Island Quarantine Station, Mt Field National Park Campground, Cockle Creek, and Melaleuca.


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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