The ‘Point Nepean National Park’ was opened to the public in 1988 following some 90 years of active military defence, and, another 40 or so years as intermittent training grounds. Reminders of its military past are dotted all around the landscape including numerous gunnery bunkers, forts, subterranean infrastructures, signage warning visitors not stray from the formal path at risk of discovering unexploded bombs . . .
Stretching all the way from the western tip of Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula which overlooks the notorious ‘Rip‘ some 5 km eastward – surrounded to the north by Port Phillip Bay, and, the south by the wild ocean waters of Bass Strait, the views are expansive and breathtaking. Walking trails meander through the vegetation which is peaceful and rings with the sound of birdlife – then suddenly, a surprise opening will reveal a stunning vista, historical monument, sandy beach . . .
Being a national park, conservation is first and foremost. Remnant flora and fauna – both on land and in the sea are protected. On land, sadly, much of the original She-Oak woodlands were culled to fuel the lime kilns – the She-Oak did not recover and the landscape has since been predominantly vegetated in Coastal Tea Tree. Patches of Coastal Moonah Woodlands, Coastal Dune Scrubs, grasslands and some threatened orchids, have survived to be enjoyed until this very day supporting some of Australia’s native birds and animals.
The surrounding ocean and bay are also a national marine park. The ‘Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park’, displays an abundance of sea life that inhabits the underwater landscapes and gorges.
Point Nepean was named as such by Governor King in 1802:
” . . . The Lady Nelson, under Lieutenant Murray, was the first ship to enter the bay of Port Phillip. On 5th January 1802, Mr. Murray was driven from the Heads by a storm, after having noticed that there was a practicable entrance. Mr. Bowen, his mate, however, safely entered in the vessel’s launch, and the ship was able to follow on the 15th of February. The flag of the old country was hoisted on the 9th of March, when Mr. Murray took possession on behalf of his Majesty George the Third. Governor King named the bay Port Phillip, and the rocky point on the east side of the entrance Point Nepean . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘Illustrated Australian News’ – Article “A Holiday Tour Round Port Phillip” – published 18th December 1886
Some Insights into the Military Threats of the late 1800’s . . .
Until 1988, Point Nepean was cordoned off from the public for defence purposes.
Melbourne was only founded as recently as 1835.
From this time efforts were naturally concentrated on exploring, mapping, claiming land, organising law and order, building cities, setting up farms, infrastructure, etc. Then came the ‘Gold Rush’. The 1850’s were consumed with the ‘Gold Rush’ which brought a huge and sudden influx of hopefuls into the Melbourne and beyond, however, on the other side of the world, the ‘mother country’, England, was involved in the ‘Crimean War’ which ran from the October of 1853 to the February of 1856. Russia was to lose against the alliance of France and the England, however, the threat of war with Russia continued to simmer, with major scares c 1877 and c 1885.
One has to consider that until 1872, when the telegraph link between Europe and Australia was established, news of war could take around a month to reach Australia, leaving her open and vulnerable in her ignorance. Coupled with the fact that Australian shores and cities remained fundamentally undefended, and that Australia’s military relied upon the emergency service personnel of the time such as the Police and Fire Brigade. Volunteers also formed part of the military . . . Public anxiety levels were high – a factor upon which the media capitalised. Daily news via the new telegraph link did nothing to appease this as reports of ‘scares’ were now reported more often – much as is the case today, with the internet providing instantaneous news and sensationalism . . .
The following article published in the ‘Geelong Advertiser’ puts forward a rational argument for a review of defences at Port Phillip Bay: 18th December 1876
Another article published in the ‘South Australian Advertiser’ discusses the possibilities of war: 7th May 1877
During 1885 the ‘Russian Scare’ re-surfaced as the following articles demonstrate:
The structure of Port Phillip Heads, together with the treacherous ‘Rip’ formed a natural barrier and deterrent to invading sea vessels of the time. The fortifications located on both sides of ‘The Heads’ – ‘Fort Queenscliff’ c 1861, Swan Island c 1870’s and ‘Fort Nepean’ c 1878 – were the sole defence until many new gunnery bunkers were added from 1889 onwards. An additional fort, ‘The South Channel Fort’ was also added to the repertoire during the 1880’s . . .
Today, the park provides the most stunning, historical, and interesting variety of points of interest and things to do – with kilometres of walking and cycling tracks, vistas over both Port Phillip Bay and Bass Strait, and once at the end of the promontory, the intriguing and treacherous passage into the bay known as ‘The Rip’. Estimates of some 180 ship wrecks lie along these shores and into the bay . . .
The historical Quarantine Station provides a fascinating insight into the many obstacles international passengers once endured. Some of Victoria’s oldest, surviving buildings can be found here.
Walking & Cycling Trails in Point Nepean National Park (Map)
Map Key: Red = Defined Walking Track, Green = Shared Walkable Road, Orange = Shared Walkable & Rideable Road, Blue = Deviation from Main Track
Walking & Cycling Tracks:
– Coles Track
– List of Points of Interest on Coles Track
– Walter Pisterman Heritage Walk
– Defence Road Walking & Cycling Tracks
The facilities at ‘Point Nepean National Park’ service a variety of points of interest including: Military Artifacts, Monuments, Lookouts, and remnants of the former Quarantine Station, coupled with the natural beauty of the park – it is no wonder it draws so many visitors…
– The entrance to the park is located some 3.5 km North-West of the Portsea Town Centre
– obtain Directions here
– Access via Point Nepean Road
– Multiple Car Parks are provided within the National Park
– Facilities available at Portsea include:
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- Public Toilets
- Bike Riding Track
- Mobile Data 3G - 4G
- Mobile Reception
- Walking Track
- Waterway Access
- Drinking Water
- Picnic Tables
- Rubbish Bins
- Bicycle Parking
- Off Street Parking
- Shuttle Service
- Sealed Road