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About Fort Lytton
Fort Lytton is one of several coastal fortifications built along Australia's coast in the 19th century to safeguard shipping lanes and ports from possible enemy raids.
From 1881 until the 1930s, Fort Lytton was Brisbane's front line of defence and is regarded as the birthplace of Queensland's military history. Regular training camps in military warfare were a highlight of Queensland's political and social calendar.
This classic example of a coastal fortress was surrounded by a water-filled moat, and its heavy armaments were concealed behind grassy ramparts connected by underground passages. After World War II, the fort had outlived its usefulness and fell into disrepair until petroleum refining company Ampol took over the site in 1963. The fort became a national park in 1989 which today protects this important link with our military past.
- Read more about the culture and history of Fort Lytton National Park.
Hear Ranger Daley Donnelly talking about the fascinating heritage of little-known Fort Lytton, and what you’ll experience when you visit. (Courtesy ABC Radio).
The further we move in time from the Great War, the more likely it is that we may lose some of the stories of the courageous men and women of that time. Fort Lytton National Park is a living reminder of our military history. And its Ranger, Daley Donnelly, doesn’t just keep it alive by keeping the grounds and buildings up to scratch. He goes well above and beyond. You’ll find out how in a few moments. Hello Daley.
Daley, where is Fort Lytton National Park?
Fort Lytton National Park is on the south bank of the Brisbane River, just before the port of Brisbane.
What can I see there in terms of man-made structures?
There’s the remains of the fortifications that were built in the 1880s, there’s a few Second World War structures still standing, and there’s quite a fair part of Lytton Quarantine Station, which is also part of the national park.
Tell me more about the Quarantine Station.
The Quarantine Station was built in the First World War, and when the Spanish flu broke out in 1919 it was log-jammed with people, and it’s one of its most interesting phases of history. The Quarantine Station lasted right through until the 1980s. Human quarantining stopped when aeroplanes became the mode of transport.
Ranger Daley Donnelly is my guest, we’re talking about Fort Lytton National Park. What about the natural features of the park?
Well, it’s a man-made landscape so we maintain paddocks and fields and gardens and things. So, its quite different to your average national park.
What do you love most about it?
The park itself is great. I’m looking out at the river right now, it’s gorgeous. We’re in the middle of an industrial area but when you’re here in the park, you feel like you’ve gone back in time.
Take me back in time. What does it mean? What is its reference to military history here in Queensland?
It’s really important. It was built as the main defence for the capital of colonial Queensland back in the 1880s. It became the main training ground for Queensland soldiers. Most of Queensland’s soldiers were not professional, they were militias, they were volunteers. Queensland has this wonderful history of a volunteer movement, which really influenced the fighting style of the Australians who went with the Australian Imperial Forces. And maintaining of volunteering right through the war, so that in the last year of the war, 1918, the only fully volunteer army was the Australians.
Who is Raymond Augustus Stanley?
If you’d asked me that 7 or 8 years ago, I would have said I have no idea! He came here as a cadet when submarine mining was the main defence for Brisbane, bombs in the river. That was disbanded when the Australian Navy took over all things to do with water and he became a signaller. He trained young men here at the Fort and when the war was declared he signed up straight away. He led a troop to Gallipoli and then he led the 5th Division Signals Company through the Western Front. When he came back, he continued to support returned servicemen. He was the Chairman of the building of South Brisbane Memorial Park. And he became Lieutenant-Colonel for Signalling, the highest-ranking soldier for signals in Queensland in the 1920s. He died in 1930, young, he was only 47 years old, due to what he’d gone through in those years of the war. And he got forgotten. But, 7 years ago, his granddaughter turned up here at the Fort, with documentation, memorabilia, loads of photographs of about him, and we just knew we had to tell his story. And that’s how the Night Show got developed, the desire to tell this amazing story.
So this woman has just wandered in and brought this treasure trove of material to you. Were you there when it happened?
Yes, Ranger in Charge, Roland Dowling, and myself were here in the office when she turned up. Her name’s Christine Purvis, she was an ex-history teacher, and she was passionate about documenting the stories that she had of her family for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And we were just blown away. Especially when we realised in learning more about his story that he’d been at all those major battles on the Western Front—Fromelles, Villers-Bretonneux, Amiens, so many. And what we learned was 2 of the soldiers that we always highlighted in our museum here at the national park, they were signallers too and they had served in the 5th Division Signals Company under Raymond Augustus Stanley.
I wonder how his name got edited out of history?
Probably not edited out, but there’s so many stories, and I think time (like in your introduction to this segment) time sometimes covers and layers, and those details do get lost, unless people keep it alive. And Christine Purvis had this passion to tell her grandfather’s story.
My name’s Cat Davidson, you’re listening to Ranger Daley Donnelly, we’re talking about Fort Lytton National Park. A lot of the time, Daley, when we talk national parks, they’re beautiful, they’ve got these incredible walks you can take, there’s waterfalls, it’s all about the natural landscape. This is a very different national park. And it also has a different personality at night.
It certainly does. We’ve started the Night Show again, the first one was last night. A couple had come a few weeks ago in the day time, and the first thing they said was, ‘It’s so different at night!’. And it is. The ambience of the fortifications with lighting and projections and sound, it comes to life in a very different way. And we use the Fort not only to tell the story of the Fort, because Ray Stanley was here, but we use the Fort to go to Gallipoli, to go to the Western Front and return after the war. So we use the site, we adapt the spaces to tell the broader story of the Australians in the First World War.
How do you tell the story?
It’s just two actors, however we do use lanterns that provide ambient sound and lighting. There’s projections that capture the moments of history in photographs that are very poignant, looking back over one hundred years ago at these young, young men and boys. We tell the story of the Australian nurses as well. They’re not to be forgotten. Over 2,000 Australian women volunteered to go and serve with the Imperial Force. And not to forget that many of them risked their lives and many were killed as well. So we’re telling this story, it’s very broad, but it all connects back to the site that we’re in.
And you’re hedging around this, Daley, but I’m not going to let you. Who are the actors in this story?
OK, we have a very talented young Brisbane actress called Zoe de Plevitz who is also passionate about history, so she really takes on the role of the nurse and passionately communicates that story. And I get to play Ray Stanley.
Hooray! Is this your first foray into acting Daley or did you have acting in your resume beforehand?
For quite a few years. I studied drama at college in the UK and worked in theatre and education, community theatre, and when I came here I was an actor for a long time before I decided I’m doing enough acting doing the interpretive programs here at the Fort and at St Helena Island, and other places, so I decided I’d keep my acting to my job as a ranger interpreting sites.
How did you switch from actor to ranger? What appealed to you about that work?
Because with the heritage sites, and we are the Heritage Parks unit, interpretation is really high on our agenda. How do you communicate the importance of cultural heritage? Unless people can connect with its significance, it is just a lot of old buildings and park land. You have to be able to engage with that history, connect with that history, and the best way of doing that, that I’ve found in my life, is to bring people back from the past, to take people into an era where they can feel the constraints, the desires, the dreams, the energies of that time. And I get a big kick out of being able to do that at these wonderful sites.
So tell me about the logistics of Fort Lytton National Park. How do I need to prepare to be there for a day or an evening? Do I need to book if I want to come and see you in full flight? How does it work?
The Night Show you definitely have to book. We’ve just got a Brisbane number 3393 4647 and we can get you booked onto a night. You don’t have to book for a Sunday, we’re open on a Sunday and we have a wonderful community volunteer group, they will provide information. In non-COVID times, they provide free tours as well. We have the Queensland Military Historical Society here as well and they have a museum here on site, which is wonderful. It’s been open for a year now. And they have the most significant collection of historical items pertaining to Queensland’s military history than any other place. If you’re into military history, that’s a gold mine. Even if you’re not the stories are just amazing. We’ve got diaries from Gallipoli, and men who served in the Second World War, we’ve even got personal items from General Blamey, and Sister Kenny. So its all great stuff. You need to book if you’re coming to the Night Show but you don’t have to book to come on a Sunday. We are open Monday to Friday, we are a work base, the site is open and we do have self-guided brochures so you can walk around the site and learn the history without having someone tell you about it.
I’m very aware that we are state-wide at the moment so people are listening some distance from Brisbane. Do you find that people come from far away to come see Fort Lytton?
Yes, people from Perth, Cairns, abroad as well. We get a lot of people who find us, because Fort Lytton was built as a secret defence area, and it seems to have remained a secret. There are many people in the local area who say, ‘I never knew this place existed’. So we’re tucked away, we’re only a very small national park, but it is a unique site so people seek us out, they find us on websites, and things like that and give us a call and say, ‘How do we get there?’
Hopefully as the school holidays approach and many of us are staying within the state, we might come down and pay you a visit Daley.
That would be excellent, thank you.
Daley Donnelly is his name, Fort Lytton National Park is the site we’re speaking of. You can look it up, there is lots of information available on the web site. If you look up Fort Lytton on your favourite search engine, you’ll find out all the information you need to know.
- Barricades are for the protection of structures and people—please stay behind them.
- Fort structures have suffered from environmental factors such as weather and fire. Please help preserve them from further damage by not sitting, standing or leaning on any fort structures.
- Fishing is not allowed in the park.
See Caring for parks for more information about protecting our environment and heritage in parks.
The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) manages Fort Lytton National Park to conserve its natural and cultural resources, to present these resources and their values, and to ensure that use of these resources is ecologically sustainable. A management plan for Fort Lytton National Park will be prepared in the future.
For all educational enquiries, please contact:
For more information about the history, activities and tours of Fort Lytton, please contact:
- Fort Lytton Historical Association
- Queensland Military Historical Society
- Brisbane’s Living Heritage Network
For more information about activities, tours and accommodation in the Brisbane region, please contact:
- Brisbane Visitor Information Centre
Queen Street Mall, Brisbane Qld 4002
ph (07) 3006 6290
fax (07) 3006 6250
- Wynnum Manly Tourism & Visitor Information Centre
1 Wyvernleigh Close, Manly Qld 4179
ph (07) 3348 3524
For tourism information for all regions in Queensland see Queensland Holidays.
Fort Lytton National Park
South Street, Lytton
PO Box 293, Wynnum QLD 4178
Ph (07) 3393 4647
The Go Back in Time program offers exciting and innovative ways to visit and experience some of the premier heritage sites in Moreton Bay.
The Go Back in Time program has a strong educational focus with many activities using theatre-in-education (TIE) techniques designed to engage students' imagination. To ensure a high quality program, all activities and tours below are accredited and developed in conjunction with Education Queensland.
The natural, cultural and historical significance of Fort Lytton