CAPE Nelson lighthouse balances a lonely 50 metres above a sea that regularly boils and smashes against the cliff at its foot.
It is beautiful and forbidding. The tower's beam reaches miles out into the Southern Ocean, announcing to shipping from the west that Bass Strait is right ahead. Here is the far edge of Victoria's shipwreck coast.
Some starlit nights, the aurora australis – a ghostly curtain of wavering colour – flares over the horizon way out to sea. Often there are torn clouds and gales. Those seeking the extremes of nature, or in search of birdlife and echidnas and koalas in coastal scrub, or yearning for seascapes that transcend the word stunning come here to bless themselves that such a place exists.
In the early morning dark of Monday, August 31, however, a modern horror visited Cape Nelson.
Steve Campbell lives in one of the old lighthouse keepers' cottages, around 10 minutes out of the town of Portland. He runs the cafe there called Isabella's, popular with locals and tourists and named for a ship that lost its bearings and smashed into the cliffs below in 1837 – 47 years before the lighthouse first flashed its warning.
The captain, a fellow named John Hart who later became Premier of South Australia, managed to get all 25 passengers and crew into a lifeboat and away to safety in Portland, then a whaling village.
Steve awoke around 4am on August 31, ready to set his bedside radio murmuring. He likes to photograph the sunrise. But the radio and his lights were dead. When he peered out his window, there were no lights visible anywhere.
He phoned the power company and was told electricity was still pumping down the lines. Maybe it's a fuse, he figured, and shrugged on clothes, a beanie and gumboots. It's often cold at the cape. Steve grabbed a torch and stepped out his front door, intent on checking the switchboard.
There was no wind. A full moon was shrouded by cloud. Right away he saw the lighthouse was dark, too. No light to alert shipping. Never happened before. He shone his torch at the soaring stone structure.
And out of the night, he recalls, came a voice.
"I'm f---in' comin' to get you!"
"That voice just boomed, echoing off the lighthouse," Steve says.
He turned and ran back into his cottage, slamming the solid wood door and bolting it.
Within seconds he heard the screen door splintering and something heavy slamming into the door. Whoever was out there, he would discover, had a wood splitter.
Lighthouse keepers' cottages were built tough. Thick granite walls. Doors that held against the wildest storms. But this assault? Could the door withstand whatever it was that was smashing against it?
Steve shakily dialled triple 0. Thanked the universe the phone still worked. Called for police. Help. Now. Please. The police will come, he was told. He groped in the dark for his car keys.
Suddenly he heard hands scratching and banging at the screen on his bedroom window.
Another voice. "Come on, come out, come out."
It was a high, keening voice. A woman's voice. Not like the deep gravelly tone he'd heard first.
Steve knows about voices. He'd left Portland as a teenager to make his name as a singer. He was in the original Australian production of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar in 1972, and toured with the show. He sang in the stage production of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Appeared in Let My People Come, and starred at the old Bull and Bush theatre restaurant in Sydney.
Voice and face like an angel.
And here he was back in the territory of his boyhood, all those theatres and his 60th birthday behind him, isolated and under attack from ... whom? There must be two people out there. If there's two, could there be more, circling around?
Steve waited. No more pounding at the door. Only the pounding of his heart, No more scratching at his window. Hours seemed to pass, he says. It was only 20 minutes, he'd discover.
He felt caged. Needed to move. He ran from his back door, fearing attack every step of his 100-metre dash, still in gumboots. Climbed into his car.
Headlights blazed up the road. The lighthouse is at the end of the road from Portland. Once you are there, there is nowhere to go but back the way you came.
It was the police. They had already been, they said, and had found a man sitting alone in a car. A Ford Focus. They'd approached, and the man had floored the accelerator, roaring away back towards Portland.
Victoria Police have a no-pursuit policy. They'd had to watch him disappear, and followed a bit later, but had lost his trail.
Plenty of evidence of a night's frenzy was revealed by the dawn. The pipes to Steve's new 80,000 litre water tank had been severed, emptying it. A pump had disappeared. Another tank near the cafe had been attacked. An air-conditioning system had been demolished. An axe, its handle broken, lay nearby.
The wood splitter was left behind, too, its handle intact.
A large rock had been used to smash through a door into the cafe. The fridge was open. Bizarrely, Steve's customer reservation book and a pile of paper napkins seemed to be the only items stolen.
A fire smouldered behind the cafe. The napkins had been used to kindle it, and wood tossed on to give it the heat to melt heavy electrical cables that carried power to the lighthouse buildings.
A window to the lighthouse itself had been smashed and inside, the power to its light had been torn asunder. Behind a fence topped with barbed wire, the meteorological bureau's weather station was in such disarray that no weather reports from the cape would be beamed out for days. The satellite gear was smashed and dirt had been poured into the rain gauge.
What about the woman, Steve wanted to know? Where is she?
There was no woman. Just a man, it would be ascertained, using a creepy falsetto.
It needed only Jack Nicholson to be a replay of the 1980 horror movie The Shining. "Come out, come out, wherever you are," taunted Nicholson, wielding an axe and defining screen terror forever.
Pretty soon the police had to postpone their investigation at the lighthouse. Reports started to come in of a one-man rampage back in town.
A farmer on the outskirts had found the gates to his paddock swung open, a car in the paddock, cattle out on the road. The farmer would tell police he'd tried to stop the driver, but he'd simply rammed his Ford Focus into the farmer's ute and driven away. He'd left behind a cattle trough all smashed up.
Soon there were reports of further weird happenings.
A man had been seen trying unsuccessfully to steal a dog on a street.
Someone had broken into a house, dripped blood over the carpet, taken a shower and made himself lunch. He'd apparently supplemented lunch by drinking cooking oil from a bottle.
A man had broken into another house, assaulted the owners when they came home and defecated right at the back door. A Kia car had been stolen. More house owners reported break-ins. A man was seen running across a lawn.
Finally, police arrested a man after he had allegedly broken a window, entered a house and taken another shower. He wasn't local.
Steve Campbell, when he finally got to see the man in court, had never laid eyes on him before. The man was 26, and he'd driven his mother's car, according to his police interview, almost 400 kilometres through the night from the suburb of Melton in Melbourne's west.
He'd driven clean through Portland and stopped only when the road ended at the Cape Nelson lighthouse.
According to Detective Sergeant Jason von Tunk, in charge of the Portland Criminal Investigation Unit, the man – named in court as Zachary Thomson – admitted to around 50 alleged offences.
He also allegedly admitted to using a mate's utility the previous day, Sunday, August 30, to ram his way through gates into a secure area of the Port of Melbourne in Spotswood.
The long night-time journey to Cape Nelson, the detective believes, was "purely random".
"It was," said Det-Sgt von Tunk, "The most extreme example I've ever seen of what the drug ice can do."
When Det-Sgt von Tunk had asked why Mr Thomson had tried to destroy a lighthouse "he rambled about wanting to stop the Germans invading".
A pipe for smoking crystal methamphetamine (ice) had been found in Mr Thomson's possession, and he had admitted to smoking "a lot of the stuff".
"Ice is a big problem everywhere," said Det-Sgt von Tunk.
"What we've seen here is what can happen."
Mr Thomson was refused bail. His case has shuttled from Portland to Warrnambool, where he indicated his intention to plead guilty. Though he has not yet entered a formal plea, he is due to appear again on Monday in the Melbourne magistrates court.
Calm has returned to Cape Nelson.