The lighthouse is a beacon of hope and source of protection for ships navigating the treacherous Cape waters but for Kate and Harriet this desolate outpost is a dreamy idyll where their youthful friendship is allowed to blossom untainted by the dangers and temptations of city life.
In nineteenth century Australia the infrequent visits of a supply boat represents a fragile and weather dependent lifeline to the outside world which by necessity elevates the role of the lighthouse keeper to one of both overseer of the waves and the voice of law and reason to an often forgotten community struggling to deal with the vagaries of nature and the challenges of isolation.
Kate Mildenhall captures the ebbs and flows of coastal life by evoking the bewitching beauty of the sea reflected in the blinding light and eerie shade of the weather’s unpredictable fluctuations which both entrance and illuminate the emotional canvass of sun soaked memories.
The arrival of the itinerant McPhail upsets the equilibrium as his presence stimulates nascent feelings in both girls which they strive to suppress but only at the potential expense of their friendship. The watching presence of an Aboriginal girl gives the story an unexpected spiritual heartbeat as she demonstrates emotional and physical empathy with her surroundings which is anathema to the uninvited guests whose natural habitat is both urban and transient.
The Aborigines are physically peripheral figures in this outback location gradually being driven into extinction by the ignorance of so-called western civilized society and in the violent twist that underscores the climax to the plot you realise that without love and friendship material possessions and aspirations amount to nothing.
The setting and narrative are elemental in their extremes and ultimately reflective of man’s brittle hold on life in the presence of unexpected dangers, both natural and self-inflicted.