Point Nepean

Point Nepean marks the southern point of The Rip (the entrance to Port Phillip) and the most westerly point of the Mornington Peninsula at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay. It was named in 1802 after the British politician and colonial administrator Sir Evan Nepean by John Murray in HMS Lady Nelson. Point Nepean is within the Melbourne suburb of Portsea. From its narrow mouth at the Rip, on the southern end of the bay, the entrance follows an easterly curve around Point Nepean. Then five kilometres from the Rip, an arc of shoals separates the deep water inside the Heads from the deep water of the bay beyond, with just three navigable channels for shipping. Point Nepean National Park protects the whole of the historic Point Nepean area, which contains many pleasant walks, great fishing sports, views across the notoriously rough Port Phillip Heads to the Bellarine Peninsula, and a century old historic fort that saw wartime action.

Previously closed to the public for more than 100 years, the historic section of Point Nepean was opened to the public in 2005. Its coast and adjacent waters are included in the Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park, while its land area is part of the Point Nepean National Park. Cheviot Beach is located on Point Nepean, where the SS Cheviot was wrecked in 1887 and Prime Minister of Australia, Harold Holt, disappeared on 17th December 1967, presumed drowned. The whole of Point Nepean is now open to the public. The roads and paths built over the years that lead to the various military posts and fortifications are now used by walkers and cyclists to access the tip of Point Nepean as well as the many beaches and vantage points in and around the point.

Fort Nepean

Fort Nepean is built at western tip of Point Nepean and is part of a ring of defences in The Heads area that were built in the 1880s. At that time, Russia was perceived as a threat to the Australian colonies. The topography of Port Phillip Bay formed an integral part of the defence ring. Covering the main entrance were forts on both shores  Fort Nepean and Eagles Nest battery on the eastern side, with Crows Nest battery and nearby Fort Queenscliff on the opposite side  the three locations being able to bring a triangle of fire onto any ships entering or leaving the bay.

Inside the Heads, minefields and three forts (Swan Island Fort, South Channel Fort and Fort Franklin) guarded the shipping channels through the shoals and formed a second, inner line of defence. The ships of any attacker had thus to force a way past the first line of defence at the Heads, in particular the guns of Fort Nepean which dominated the long passage around the point, during which vessels presented a continuous large (side-on) target at close range. Once inside, a raider could expect to find the shipping channels closed by minefields and his ships held under the fire of surrounding forts and batteries. Completed in 1882 to protect Melbourne against naval attack, Fort Nepean was in service until the end of World War Two. In all that time its guns fired just two shots in anger.

Today the tunnels and gun emplacements, ammunition stores, bunkers, and the historic cemetery are open for public inspection. A beach-level engine house at the bottom of 115 steps once housed generators that provided power for searchlights. Until 1941, there was no road to Point Nepean and the only transport was the steam ship Mars, which ran a sort of daily ferry service from Queenscliff. Soldiers served six weeks on with two weeks off. The main gun emplacements are built into a hillside. One, pointing across The Rip from its artificial cavern, could fire six-inch shells about nine kilometres out to sea. The hill is riddled with tunnels, a low-headroom labyrinth linking hallways, storerooms, gun emplacements and observation posts, each with an echo chamber effect, and filled with arms racks, ammunition cases and lamps, old tin hats and plenty of interpretive information. It is 800 metres from Fort Nepean to Fort Pearce and Eagles Nest, beneath which lie the crumbling ruins of an asbestos riddled barracks.

Although far from Europe, the guns installed at Point Nepean are credited with being the first Allied weapons fired in both world wars. On 5th August 1914, on orders from Fort Queenscliff, a shot was fired from Barrel 1489 across the bows of the German steamer Pfalz hours after war was declared; the first shot of World War 2 was aimed at an Australian vessel that attempted to enter the bay without stopping. The 1914 incident involved the firing of a shot across the bow of the German steamer Pfalz as it tried to slip out of Port Phillip heads as war was declared.

After a struggle over the engine-room telegraph control between the ship s master and the Melbourne pilot captain, the Pfalz returned to anchor off Williamstown and the crew was detained. The vessel was refitted as a troop transport and renamed HMT Boorara. It carried Turkish prisoners from the Dardenelles at one stage and, at the end of the war, it brought home Major Welch s father, Sydney, a gunner who had served in Belgium. Fantastic as it may seem, the same gun F1 of Point Nepean Battery which fired across the bow of the Pfalz was later used to fire the first shot in World War II. The freighter Woniora had entered the heads on 4th September 1939 after crossing Bass Strait from Tasmania, without acknowledging the recognition signal. A well-directed 100-pound shell caused her to swiftly establish her identity. The garrison at Port Nepean was on direct orders to prevent any vessel from scuttling itself in the entrance of Port Phillip Bay. This shot was fired in anger  to prevent enemy attempts at this manoeuvre.

Popes Eye

Point Nepean Islands

South Channel Fort, Popes Eye: The South Channel Fort is a reminder of Port Phillip Bay s early history as part of the defence lines for Melbourne. The artificial island was constructed in the 1880s to illuminate the channel at night and electronically explode mines under attacking ships coming through the Heads. A system of antiquated gun emplacements and tunnels are a feature of the island which is now a significant refuge for seabirds. Initially proposed for defence purposed, however Popes Eye partially constructed artificial island was never completed. It has been protected as a marine reserve since 1979 and is now part of the Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park. It is located about 7 km inside Port Phillip Heads, 3 km east of Queenscliff and 5 km north of Portsea. Popes Eye is named after a naval midshipman and has no religious connotations.

Swan Island: A barrier island which, with Duck Island and the Edwards Point spit, separate Swan Bay from Port Phillip. It can be reached via a small one-way vehicular bridge from the town of Queenscliff on the Bellarine Peninsula. The small island is home only to the Queenscliff Golf Club and a strictly off-limits Department of Defence facility. The Department of Defence prefers not to discuss what currently goes on at the island, and information on the facility, aside from its history, is not found on any government website. Current use includes an exercise area where Australia s Special Forces carry out counter terrorism training. The base is shared with the Australian Secret Intelligence Service and includes a small demolition range, used by the Australian Army. Swan Island has a long history of military use, being part of the fortifications built to protect the entrance to Port Phillip Bay from a feared Russian invasion during the Crimean war in the 1870s. The fortifications of Swan Island were controlled by the fire command at Fort Queenscliff.


Evidence of Australian Aboriginal settlement of the area dates back 40,000 years. Point Nepean was a birthing place for women of the Boonerwrung People. There are 70 registered Aboriginal archaeological sites within the Point Nepean National Park. Limestone was mined from the coastal cliffs from the early days of European settlement and two lime kilns were built around 1840. Point Nepean Quarantine Station was opened in 1852 and is the second oldest intact quarantine station in Australia. It contains the oldest buildings erected for quarantine purposes in Australia, four of the main hospital buildings (established in 1857), pre-dating the oldest intact quarantine-related structures at North Head, Sydney, by sixteen years. The Quarantine Station operated until 1980. The former Quarantine Station was opened to the community as part of Point Nepean National Park in December 2009.

Point Nepean Post Office opened on 1 April 1859 but was closed by 1865. Fortifications were built from 1878. Gun batteries were installed at Fort Nepean in 1886 and Eagles Nest in 1888. A gun battery was constructed at Fort Pearce in 1911. With the removal of coastal artillery after World War II, the facilities housed an Officer Cadet School and the School of Army Health from 1951 to 1985.

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