Fort Queenscliff - An Intriguing Local History

Fort Queenscliff - An Intriguing Local History

Written on Monday, August 5 2019

The township of Queenscliff is a much-loved destination, adored by both locals and holiday makers alike. It is a coastal town brimming with a mix of beautiful wide tree-lined streets, dotted with many historical homes and cottages. It is also abundantly rich in history which has been well preserved over the years.

When permanent European settlers arrived in 1836 and the sale of land proceeded this in 1853, it quickly erected itself as a fishing village as well as a pertinent trading location. However, this was soon followed by the renowned gold rush era around 1860, when a huge number of immigrants desperately seeking their fortunes, made Queenscliff their temporary home.

The origins of Fort Queenscliff also date back to that time, with construction commencing in 1862 to defend the entrance to Port Phillip Bay as a response to the Crimean War in the Northern Hemisphere and any future wars that may prove of threat through Port Phillip Bay. It also provided much needed security throughout the gold movement of which gold was being consistently transported between Bendigo, Ballarat and through to Melbourne.

Fort Queenscliff continued to develop through the 1870’s and 1880’s when it became headquarters to a multiple chain of forts around Port Phillip heads and contributed to forming the most protection to any waters at that time, within the British empire. From 1883 – 1946, its primary purpose was to act as a major coastal defense installation carrying it through two major world wars, however not once needing to fire a defensive bullet or cannon in view of this, however, with one exception to the rule….


Fort Queenscliff houses the second oldest telegraph station in Victoria, and as a result of this were quickly made aware that World War 1 had officially commenced. At this time a German trading ship was desperately attempting to escape Port Phillip Bay who clearly were also aware that war had begun and needed to get far away from the enemy. But the ship swiftly stopped when artillery was fired across the bow. Soon after, the ship was relinquished and sent to Melbourne. It was later utilized as a mode of transport for active soldiers throughout the war to the Middle East.

Artillery was certainly not fired on this occasion, but historical records detail a visit by a Japanese Submarine in Bass Strait in WW2, that very surprisingly carried a light aircraft on board. When the submarine entered the water’s surface, the plane embarked on a pre-determined journey of photographic footage being taken to share with the Japanese government in planning their Australian takeover. They flew past ‘The Fort’ to Melbourne, return. So, Darwin, was certainly not the only destination the Japanese had eyes for as they no doubt, viewed Queenscliff solely on geographic location, due to representing a major entrance into Australia.

In the early days of The Fort, there was an onsite post office, a small hospital, a telegraph station and when the doors closed each day, it was designed to be completely self-sufficient.

By 1946, the Fort became home to an Army staff college. Army Officers would come for a 12-month tenure, where they would learn to become Commanding Officers of various units within an administrative and tactical context. This also included officers from other countries. However, in 2001, due to commercial reasons the college was relocated to Canberra.

From 2001 it became a facility involved in army administration. Later, defence archives for soldiers, airmen and sailors were added to the portfolio, and the monumental information task converting to digital commenced.

Today, there are still uniformed Army Reserve members, administration staff and also some air cadets who use the fort as a base and utilize it for ceremonial activities including the Anzac Day service annually.

The main features of the fort include a variety of above ground cannons, some costing up to $38,000 to maintain. Underground storage tunnels were dug out with the view to storing the fort’s supply of ammunition. The storing of black gun powder in particular, posed the need for a daily check that was well safe from any sparks, cannon balls were placed in rows and stored in old fashioned coits. A moat was dug out around the perimeter of the fort, by pick and shovel to provide protection from potential land invasion from Geelong.  Concrete bunkers were built on the shoreline which held search lighting that was utilized to determine friend or enemy ships, as they passed through day and night. A signal tower, was able to signal by flag or sun flash to other forts any concerns or impending dangers.

Today the fort is a really popular local attraction with an average of 14,000 people passing through its gates per annum. Tours are offered each day at 11am and on weekends and school holidays at 11am and 1.45pm. Group bookings are also welcomed.

Fort Queenscliff provides an incredible legacy to our colonial days and a past where war was a reality and protecting our country was a priority. Tours are informative and intriguing and the in-house museum is a thought-provoking journey displaying the lives and artifacts of a variety of soldiers who fought to ensure the safety and protection of our country as we know it today. Fort Queenscliff is a must visit destination for both locals and tourists of all ages and is the perfect school holiday leisure activity.