Fort Denison

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It’s easy to see Fort Denison as a funny looking little island in the Sydney Harbour, but it has a fascinating history.

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When the Europeans arrived in what is now called Sydney Harbour Fort Denison looked approximately like this.

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It stood  at an elevation of about 75 feet.

For the local indigenous people the island was known as Muttewai. When the First Fleet landed the local indigenous population, the Eora, Guringai and Daruk nations, were forced inland away from traditional grounds and killed, by European diseases such as small pox, in the wars trying to protect their land from Europeans settlers and quite intentionally by Europeans. For more information click here.

I believe it is worth discussing the indigenous history of the area because, even though it doesn’t invalidate the interesting later history of Fort Denison itself, it is essential to acknowledge and understand that the European history of Fort Denison wasn’t built on a nice clean blank slate. [1]

Fort Denison itself wasn’t called Fort Denison by the European settlers to begin with. It was originally known as Pinchgut Island. Pinchgut is a nautical term meaning a narrow passage, but it was also used because the convicts they marooned there as punishment, before a gaol was built, had very little food so they always had ‘pinched guts’.  In the early 1800s a gibbet was also erected on the island to display a convict called Francis Morgan in chains. It was named Fort Denison after the current Governor of New South Wales in 1857.

The island of Fort Denison was levelled in the 1840s, partly with the idea of making it a defensive site and partly to mine the sandstone which was used to help construct Bennelong Point, which the Opera House now sits on. One of the reasons for the levelling of the island to make it a defensive position was the completely unexpected arrival of two American men of war in December 1839. They arrived over night and the locals completely failed to notice their arrival until the morning. The commander of the American ships was quoted as saying

“If [we had been] enemies, it would have been in our power before daylight to have fired all the Shipping and store houses, laid the town under contribution and departed unhurt.”

Developing the island to be a fortification was one of the reactions to this nasty shock. The top was blasted, but the majority of the work was carried out by convicts with pickaxes. By 1842 it was almost completely levelled. No decisions, however,  regarding the island’s use as a defensive structure were made and it was left levelled for a number of years.

The settlers in Sydney Harbour were always frightened of attack and coastal defences were erected, but when the Crimean War broke out in the 1850s there was serious and widespread fear of a Russian attack on Sydney. It was decided definitively that a defensive fort should be built on the island. The fort was built by paid labour with 8000 tonnes of sandstone brought over for the construction of the Martello Tower, gun batteries and barracks. The Martello Tower is the only one in Australia and one of the last of its type of Martello Tower in the world. The walls in the base of the tower are four metres thick.

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Martello Towers are a very particular type of structure and this one, the whole fort was ready for habitation by 1857, is actually one of the later examples of its kind. Martello Towers were built to a specific plan based on a tower on Mortella Point in Corsica, which held off two British warships for two days in 1794. The British were so impressed by the design that they copied it and it was replicated across the empire. Martello Towers were designed to protect the men within from cannon fire and to have cannon on the top and inside to fire back. For more information on Martello Towers click here. In the case of the Fort Denison Martello Tower, it would have originally have had a cannon on the top, but it was removed much later. You can see roughly where the cannon would have stood below.

img_9685The three cannons inside the upstairs room remain because it is impossible remove them. img_9677img_9673They were winched into place and then the roof was finished over them. As you can see from the keystone it was completed in 1857.img_9669

From the top of the tower, just below where the original cannon would have stood, you can see the power that the view from the tower would have commanded. The bell in the photo is the fog bell.

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The tower is also built to withstand cannon fire. You can see the linking keystones in the the photo below. They are made from granite and are embedded in the softer large blocks of sandstone that make up the rest of the tower, to link them together and to hold the tower in one piece in the face of a strike from a cannon.

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The tower also contains the powder storage room, where you can still see the rings left in the floor by the powder barrels, as well as another storage room next door. When men were collecting the powder for the guns they had to take their shoes off as their hobnail boots could cause sparks and set the gun powder off.

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The tower also has musket loupes in the wall as well as the cannon that were mounted around the base of the tower in the battery. You can see a loupe below as well as the view through one of the recesses in which a cannon would have stood in. It is believed that a shot from a cannon in this position could have reached the headland you can see in the photo.

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As well as the guns in the tower there were some very impressive guns in the bastion area of the Fort which can be seen on the left at the end of the photo below. The flag is a navigational aid.

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The semi circular bastion was added as the fort was built and it housed 2 cast iron ten inch shell guns each weighing 4 420 kg, like the guns in the battery these guns were mounted on movable carriages. One covered the shipping channel and one pointed south towards the harbour.

The Fort was built in response to what was seen as a serious threat and the nine massive 32 pounder guns could have destroyed wooden sailing ships. The development of armour plated steam ships and the improvement of the guns on said ships, however,  rendered the Fort obsolete by the 1870s. Fort Denison has never been in a real military battle, although there have been military units quartered there for many years. In the 19th century the Royal Artillery used the Fort for artillery practice as did the NSW Volunteer Artillery. Since the 1890s the main use has been as a light and tide station, and tides as still measured from there today. By 1936 the military units had moved out and a caretaker had moved in. You can see some of the history of the Fort and some of the work of the caretaker in the videos below from 1936. The videos are from the National Film and Sound Archive and can be found here.

The caretakers were not only single men living alone on the island. The first lighthouse keeper, Thomas Wren, and his family arrived in 1869. In the 1950s the island was occupied by Osmund Jarvis, his wife Jessie and their children. They used to show people around the fort and Jessie would make tea and scones for visitors. They grew vegetables and kept animals and were largely self sufficient, though they did bring in supplies from the mainland. You can see a fruit tree in the photo below, which is a relic from when the island was lived on. The longest serving caretaker was Cliff Morris who lived on the Fort for 25 years with his wife and two daughters. The final caretaker, Norman Dow and his family of five, left in 1992.

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In the second video from 1936 you can see the caretaker loading the small cannon that was fired at 1pm from 1906 until 1942 to allow ships to calibrate their chronometers. However the practice was discontinued in 1942 because of World War II, the sound was frightening understandably nervous Sydneysiders. The tradition was reinstated in 1986 and the modern firing can be seen the video below. I apologise for the wonkyness of the footage. I was trying to hold my phone still and cover my ears, as instructed, at the same time.

The firing of the 1 pm cannon might have been discontinued during World War II, but some more modern fire power was installed on the Fort. In the photo below you can see the remains of the concrete block in the bastion area of the fort. In 1942 a 3 inch 20 hundred weight anti aircraft gun was installed here to defend from Japanese attack. It could be lowered to fire at ships if necessary.

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Fort Denison is now an important tourist attraction, the barracks is used as a lovely and informative museum as well as being part of a restaurant with the most incredible views.

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It is a place with a fascinating and complicated past, and is well worth a visit. If you do go I would highly recommend doing the guided tour. As well as supporting the national parks service who run the island, it is also the only way you’ll get inside the Martello Tower, which is absolutely worth it. Apart from anything else, the whole place is in the most beautiful location.

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References:

Site visit 2016 and Sydney visit 2006.

The Fort Denison Museum on Fort Denison.

http://www.fortdenison.com.au/

http://aso.gov.au/titles/newsreels/australia-today-fort-denison-p/clip2/#

http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/historic-buildings-places/Fort-Denison

http://www.geograph.org.uk/article/Martello-Towers

http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/defending_colonial_sydney

The photos are all mine.

[1] Significantly more qualified people have written much better and in more detail about the atrocities committed towards the indigenous population of Australia. I would recommend anyone who wants a broader overview of exactly what was destroyed to read Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe.

Cardiff Castle

 

IMG_4844Cardiff castle is a fascinating amalgam, part Roman foundations, part 12th century shell keep, part 19th century victorian gothic palace and part WWII bunker. It manages to encompass many of the key eras of British history, at the same time as being linked to some of the most interesting stories and people of the medieval period.

For me, naturally, the medieval section of the castle is the most interesting and the most important. I do, however, have a real soft spot for the Victorian gothic section, because it doesn’t pretend to be authentic medieval and it is just so gloriously over the top.

To begin from the beginning though. There is nothing much left of the Roman origins of Cardiff Castle. There were four roman structures on the site between c.54 and 400 CE, the final one was an 8 acre fort with ten foot thick walls. It was a central point for communication for the area. It was abandoned when the Romans left the area at the end of the 5th century CE.

The site was appropriated by the Normans, when they arrived in the late 11th century, to build the original motte and bailey castle. The castle you can see today dates largely to 1140 and was originally built by Robert of Gloucester, the illegitimate oldest son of Henry I of England, though the gatehouse is a 15th century addition. You can see the castle from several angles below.

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This is a classic shell keep, meaning that there would not have been permanent rooms in the interior of the keep. There would have been a collection of timber buildings and the structure would not have been roofed. The holes you can see in the walls are called putlog holes and are where the beams of the timber buildings would have been inserted into the wall.

This particular keep has 12 sides, a moat that is roughly 23 m and 2 m thick walls. The castle has two key claims to fame. Firstly that it was the final prison of Robert Duke of Normandy, also known as Robert Curthoes. He was the oldest son of William the Conqueror and was left Normandy as his inheritance. After various conflicts that are too convoluted to go into here, however, his younger brother Henry I of England captured Robert and took Normandy for himself. Robert spent the last 8 years of his life held in Cardiff castle until he died in 1134.

The other key claim to fame for this castle in the medieval period was the kidnap of its lord. In 1158 Welsh lord Ifor Bach stormed the castle and carried off William Earl of Glamorgan and his family. He was forced to ransom his freedom back.

The castle was also threatened by the Welsh in the 1200s and Gilbert de Clare, who held the castle at that point, had the black tower built in what is now part of the outer wall. It was linked to the keep by a massive wall, the remains of which you can see in the photo below. The wall was demolished by Capability Brown in the early beautification of the castle.

 

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The castle played a role in Owain Glyndwr’s revolt in the 1400s as well. It was severely besieged and almost lost before a relief garrison arrived.

Capability Brown  may have redesigned most the grounds in the 1700s, including filling in the moat, but it wasn’t him who made the castle what it is today. It was a collaboration between William Burges and the 3rd Marquess of Bute in the mid 1800s.

They re-excavated the moat, re-landscaped much of the grounds, uncovered the Roman foundations and built the ridiculously intricate Victorian gothic mansion that you can still see today. The mansion is very much based on medieval design, and a romanticism of the medieval period.

Burges mainly re-modeled exisiting buildings rather than building from scratch, but he did build the 150 foot high clock tower between 1867 and 1875. You can see some of the exterior below.

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It is, however, the interiors which are truly remarkable. The interiors are an amalgam of styles from the beautifully ornate Arab room:

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IMG_5033To the utterly magnificent banqueting hall which depicts key scenes the life and career of Robert Earl of Gloucester on the walls. Incidentally Robert of Gloucester was the father of William of Glamorgan who was captured from Cardiff in the 1150s.

IMG_4903IMG_4902IMG_4904IMG_4905IMG_4906IMG_4909There are beautiful hidden corners all over the 19th century palace, especially in the windows and the ceilings. Below are just a few examples.

IMG_4895IMG_4896IMG_5031After the 19th century the castle stayed in the hands of the Butes until 1947 when it was given to the city of Cardiff by the 5th Marquess of Bute.

The castle wasn’t severely damaged in World War II, through Cardiff was badly bombed. The outer walls however did serve as air raids shelters, which could hold up to 2000 people. You can see one of the areas used in the photo below.

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The castle stands at the centre of Cardiff, both literally and figuratively. The streets of the city radiate out from it, and it has been key to most parts of Cardiff’s long history. It is a truly fascinating place to visit.

References:

Site visits 2012 and 2015.

Welsh Castles and Historic Places ISBN: 9781850130307

Castles in Wales: A handbook by Gerald Morgan ISBN: 9781847710314.

http://www.cardiffcastle.com/

All the photos are mine.

ANZAC Day

I know ANZAC day has come and gone, but it represents something interesting in Australia and I thought it was worth a post.

There has been so much written about ANZAC day I’m not going to retread old ground.

You can see from the list of articles at both New Matilda and The Conversation that it is in many ways a controversial topic. Especially when it comes it Australia’s indigenous population, both in the lack of recognition of their contribution to Australian war efforts and whether the the white occupation of Australia can be considered a war. I am not offering a personal opinion in this second matter because political opinion is not the purpose of this blog.

https://theconversation.com/search?q=anzac

https://newmatilda.com/?s=anzac+day

This year was the centenary of ANZAC. I thought it was worth having a very quick background of what ANZAC day actually is.

ANZAC to start with stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. ANZAC day began originally to commemorate the Gallipoli Landings on the 25th of April 1915.

The purpose of the Gallipoli landings was to draw the Turks away and to stop them over running the Russians in the Caucasus. Russia had suffered a terrible defeat at the hands of Germany and Turkish forces in the Caucasus were pushing them hard. So Russia appealed to its ally Great Britain to launch an attack against the Turks. The British were in favour partly because they saw it as part of protecting the Suez Cannel.

Several tactics were somewhat cautiously tried but ultimately it was decided that attacking the Dardanelles with troops was the preferred option. The ANZACs were training in Egypt and were thus perfectly placed to serve in the attacking force.

For more information and a map of the Gallipoli peninsula see

http://www.gallipoli.gov.au/why-gallipoli/events-leading-up-to-the-landing.php

So on the 25th of April 1915 a mixture of nationalities, it wasn’t all ANZACs, tried to land on the Gallipoli Peninsula.  Many died before they even made it to the beach. There is debate over whether they were sent to the correct position or not, but regardless they were faced with hilly, sandy and scrubby terrain with little cover. The attack on Gallipoli lasted until the 3rd of May 1915 and was a failure for pretty much everyone. The Turks lost a lot of men, more than the allies, and the allies retreated defeated.

The numbers that died at Gallipoli are debatable but a rough estimate is

Gallipoli dead
Ottoman Empire 86000
Australia 8700
New Zealand 2700
British Empire (apart from A & NZ) 27000
France and French colonial troops 9000

 http://www.gallipoli.gov.au/frequently-asked-questions/faq-the-gallipoli-campaign.php

Overall roughly 134 000 died at Gallipoli which is approximately 600 a day.

There weren’t really any winners here.

I think one of the most moving depictions of Gallipoli I have ever seen is Eric Bogle’s song And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda. I learnt it in Primary School and it has stuck with me ever since. A picture story book has been created of it with Illustrations by Bruce Whatley. You can see some of the book here. And the video below shows Eric Bogle singing the song.

The final verse of the song is I think an interesting look at how ANZAC day is seen now.

And now every April I sit on me porch

And I watch the parade pass before me

I see my old comrades, how proudly they march,

Reviving old dreams of past glories.

But the old men march slowly, old bones stiff and sore.

They’re tired old heroes from a forgotten old war

And young people ask, what are they marching for?

And I ask myself the same question.

http://ericbogle.net/lyrics/lyricspdf/andbandplayedwaltzingm.pdf

What ANZAC day has come to mean for Australia is a tricky one. It seems to be all about mateship and Australian identity. Despite the fact that it is based on a defeat, it has somehow come to be seen as the forging of an Australian identity. You have to remember federation was only 14 years before the battle so there isn’t much else that can be seen as a turning point to Australia seeing itself as a nation in it own right rather than an outpost of Great Britain.

ANZAC day has come to be commemoration of those who have fallen in all wars that Australia has fought in, though again some are possibly excluded. It certainly means a lot to a lot of people.

Leading up to ANZAC day it was everywhere from biscuits

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To historical displays. Like this one at the Prahran Mechanic’s Institute.

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To full installations of replica trenches such as those at the Caufield RSL

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There were also installations of knitted poppies across the CBD

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If it is possible to be hagiographic about an event then that is how Australians are about ANZAC day. It is somehow sacred, the holy day for a largely irreligious country. Criticism is not permitted. But even though school children learn the basics of the history the realities are forgotten in the push to canonise the ANZACs. I am not for a moment saying that they weren’t very brave, that what they did shouldn’t be commemorated. I just think the reality of the situation which was in many ways remarkable is being lost in this canonisation. I think in putting the ANZACs on a jingoistic pedestal we are losing their humanity. Two works from Leunig sum it up beautifully.

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http://jasongoroncy.com/2015/04/22/on-war-commemorations/

1429596254834http://www.theage.com.au/comment/the-age-letters/anzac-commemorations-jingoistic-element-is-deeply-alienating-20150421-1mpytk.html

As this year was the 100th anniversary I went along to the dawn service at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance. I was there by about 5:10 am and there were already thousands and thousands of people. It obviously really means something to Australians.

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The weather was horrific, it rained the whole time and it was cold and everyone was standing there for nearly two hours, packed into the crowd. I couldn’t even get close enough to see the speeches. They had screens up everywhere to make sure people could see something.

There was no issues and no loud complaining.

Below you can hear the Ode for Remembrance and the last post as well as the minute’s silence. You have to remember that there were thousand’s of people there and despite this the silence was still absolute.

The Ode to Remembrance that is read out at most war commemoration services is part of a longer poem.

For the Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

http://www.greatwar.co.uk/poems/laurence-binyon-for-the-fallen.htm

I think the stanzas that are read out are by far the best part of the poem. It was written by Robert Laurence Binyon and was published in the Times on the 21st of September 1914, months before Gallipoli and it was written only a few weeks into World War One, so well before the true extent of WWI was really known.

Personally I prefer the war poetry of Wilfrid Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. I’d like to finish on my favourite of Sassoon’s poems.  One I think that sums up the horror of war, better than anything I’ve ever seen or anything I could say. It isn’t a poem about sacrifice, or bravery, or heroism. It’s a poem about the reality.

http://www.eecs.harvard.edu/~keith/poems/suicide.html

Suicide in the Trenches

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

I think I’ll leave it at that.

Point Nepean

Point Nepean: the end of the Mornington Peninsula, one of the ‘heads’ of Port Phillip Bay, a national park, the site of a disappearance of an Australian Prime Minister, a series of army forts, a former army training area and the site of the first shot fired by the British Empire in WWI.

Point Nepean Aerial

Photo from http://www.visitmorningtonpeninsula.org/NewsMedia/PhotoGallery/tabid/216/AlbumID/645-1/Default.aspx

For those who haven’t been there Point Nepean is about an hour and a half’s drive from Melbourne Australia. It is is one of the few places where you can stand on a spit of land with the ocean on one side and the bay on the other. It is also the place that claimed one of Australia’s Prime Ministers. Harold Holt went swimming at Cheviot beach, see the photos below, in December 1967. He never returned. He was officially pronounced dead on the 19th of December.  There have been many theories over the years, ranging from a Japanese submarine to sharks. The last is actually a possibility. I think he just drowned. It is a very unsafe swimming beach with unpredictable currents and frequently a number of rips.

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There are also several of army forts along the length of Point Nepean, from WWI and WWII, such as the Cheviot Beach fortifications, Fort Pearce and the Eagle’s Nest. All of which can be seen in the photos below.

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cheviot I thinkPoint Nepean is probably best known for the role it played in WWI. WWI was declared at 11pm on the 4th of August 1914 in Britain (9am of the 5th Australian time). A German cargo steamer the SS Pflaz, having anticipated a declaration of war, was trying to get clear of the heads of Port Phillip Bay and find a neutral port in South America.

Signal flags were raised at Fort Nepean, at the very end of Point Nepean, and Queenscliff ordering the SS Pflaz to stop. There was no response and a ‘heave to’ shot was fired from the gun emplacement at Fort Nepean. Eventually the SS Pflaz returned to the harbour under armed guard. This shot was the first shot fired in WWI by the British empire. This was the only shot fired in anger from Australian territory in WWI

Incidentally Fort Nepean also fired the first Australian shot from WWII on the 4th of September 1939. The SS Woiniora failed to identify itself as it came through the heads. Once the correct code was signalled the ship was allowed to continue on its way. The remains of the gun below are in the position the shot was fired from and the other photo is the view from the gun emplacement.

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Point Nepean also served as a quarantine station from the 1850s until 1952 when it was taken over by army cadets, with the proviso that it would be vacated if it was needed again for quarantine. Many immigrants were quarantined there from passengers, steerage and first class, from the 1850s all the way through to assisted immigrants in the early 1950s who were kept there while their belongings were fumigated against foot and mouth disease.

1912 saw the largest intake of the quarantine station with 1291 from the ship, the Irishman. They were mainly agricultural labourers. The photos below are some of the quarantine buildings. The final photo is the view along the balcony of one of the hospital buildings.

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Also Point Nepean has been in use as an army base of some form for centuries and there are many of the beaches you still can’t walk on because of unexploded ordinances.

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Point Nepean is a truly beautiful piece of land as well as a fascinating peace of history. If you get the chance to go there, it’s worth it. It is quite lovely and for the moment very unspoiled.