Convicts, cannons and a coastal fortress—discover the little-known heritage parks of Moreton Bay
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Did you know you can experience echoes of our colonial past within a stone’s throw of our capital city? Living history on our very doorstep!
At the little-known heritage-rich national parks of Moreton Bay—Fort Lytton and St Helena Island—you can explore a nineteenth century fortress surrounded by a water-filled moat (sadly, no drawbridge!), discover ‘disappearing’ guns, watch cannon firings, or become a ‘convict for a day’ among the ruins of Queensland’s first penal settlement. Explore on your own or take a guided tour—the choice is yours. Either way, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover a novel way to spend a free day on your weekend or weekday schedule.
Hidden fortress waiting to be discovered
Fort Lytton National Park ruins | © Tourism and Events Queensland
Discover a slice of history concealed behind grassy embankments at the mouth of the Brisbane River. The scenic ruins of Fort Lytton lie in open grassy surrounds and make for a fun-filled day trip with a difference, for all the family—oldies and young ‘uns alike.
Fort Lytton was a major training ground up until WWII and the spectacular military manoeuvres and ceremonial displays attracted much interest from the locals. While the parade ground might conjure images of Dad’s Army, it was a far cry from Godfrey, Pike and company bumbling through their paces!
Among the fort structures you’ll find remains of search lights, lookouts and gun emplacements. Built in 1881 during the days of the British Empire to protect Brisbane from invasion, the fort’s armaments are impressive. As Lance Corporal Jones would have said, ‘Don’t panic!’
Discover the cannons (64 pounder guns, technically) and the ‘disappearing gun’ (or 6-inch 5-ton breach-loading Armstrong, for those in the know) that could be raised to fire above the fort’s ramparts then lowered again. Venture into the dark tunnel beneath the fort—it was from here that the controlled minefield in the river mouth was once operated.
The fort is open every Sunday (and most public holidays) and entry is free. Bring a picnic to enjoy after an eventful morning’s exploration. Fort Lytton makes a great day visit for your extended family—grandparents and grandkids alike will enjoy this experience.
History comes alive
Cannon firing, Fort Lytton National Park | © Queensland Government
Forget the (boring) history books—at Fort Lytton history truly does come alive in many fun and exciting ways!
- Join the fort’s free guided tours on Sundays and public holidays to hear the stories that make this place special.
- Visit on a day when the big guns roar! Cannon firing events are held throughout the year, presented by costumed colonial re-enactment groups.
- Immerse the kids in the drama and fun of the unique ‘Holding the Fort’ holiday programs run by professional actors. What better way to learn about history in a real-life setting?
- Step back in time to WWI with ‘Fort Lytton at night’, a live theatrical tour and performance that tells a lost story from the Great War, an unforgettable historical journey.
These events (and more) are part of the ‘Go Back in Time’ program offering exciting and innovative ways to visit our heritage sites. Not to be missed!
Escape from Alcatraz?
St Helena Island prison ruins | © Tourism and Events Queensland
When you visit St Helena Island these days, you know you can go home again. But, in the late 1800s, the island was Queensland’s first penal colony…and the ‘guests’ of Her Majesty Queen Victoria were going nowhere! St Helena was a ‘model’ prison—security was tight and escapes were few. Queensland’s very own Alcatraz?
Things are more relaxed today. You can explore part of the island on your own, following short walking tracks to the old quarry, lime kiln and cemeteries, then enjoy a picnic on the island’s scenic shores. As you gaze over the idyllic surrounds, muse over the fate of those long-ago prisoners—they had to clear the native vegetation, plant crops and construct buildings, quarrying quaystone and moulding bricks from clay…
If you want to explore the prison grounds, you need to book into a ranger-guided tour, held on weekends. You’ll tour the museum, warders’ accommodation and cemeteries, and hear fascinating stories from the island’s darker past.
Alternatively, you can join a commercial tour to the island—both day and night trips are offered.
Ready to step back in time?
Now you know about our heritage parks, you just have to visit! Check out Fort Lytton National Park for information on booking for guided tours, special events and school holiday programs. Visit St Helena Island National Park to find out how to book a ranger-guided tour of the prison ruins.
Last updated: 04 November 2020