A point in time
Close your eyes and stand at the tip of Point Nepean National Park’s former rifle range and imagine the action, sounds and smells of an important chapter in Australia’s military history. The 400m range, with its six shooting lanes and control tower still intact, was once surrounded by unexploded ordnance, but a painstaking clean-up operation cleared the area, making it safe to visit. This range area and its surrounding scrub is where cadets once learned to use rifles, pistols, grenades, mortars and rockets. The rifle range is accessible through a 1.8km walking trail which traces the original paths used for field exercises by more than 3000 young army officers who heaved packs and guns around as part of the Officer Cadet School training for three decades until the 1980s.
Jutting into the water at the tip of the Mornington Peninsula, the wild coastline has Bass Strait on its western side and Port Phillip to its east. It is close to Melbourne – about 90km – but isolated at the same time. This 560ha finger of land was used for thousands of years by the Boonwurrung people, who left shell middens dotted about the peninsula.
In late 2009, the historic Quarantine Station opened to the public after it was transferred to the Victorian Government from the Commonwealth. The station contains the oldest surviving quarantine buildings in Australia – spanning back to 1859, just seven years after the station was established.
The peninsula’s isolation, access to shipping, deep-water anchorage and security made it an obvious choice as Victoria’s first permanent quarantine station. It was at a time when crowded conditions aboard ships led to outbreaks of cholera, smallpox, typhoid, influenza and measles. At the quarantine reserve, luggage was fumigated with formaldehyde gas and passengers were bathed with antiseptic soap.
While tourists have been enjoying Point Nepean since 1988, when 265ha of the site became a national park, the Quarantine Station remained locked until 2009. Since its opening, and that of the range area, there has been a steady flow of former officer cadet students visiting. Meanwhile, first-time visitors are blown away by the landscape and the view into the bay. Sometimes visitors are treated views of the city and the odd bottlenose dolphin out the front.
The beach can be seen from a lookout on Cheviot Hill, Point Nepean’s highest point. For nature-lovers, large tracts of Moonah woodland stretch across the park. Its isolation has also made it a refuge for local fauna, like the White Footed Dunnart, Long Nosed Bandicoot, Black Wallaby and New Holland Mouse. Birds include Singing Honeyeaters, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters, Blue-winged parrots and Hooded Plovers.
With its fascinating history, Quarantine Station, rifle range, wildlife and rugged coastline Point Nepean truly is an exciting day out.