Friday, June 7

Fort Denison

Where do you take a regular international visitor for new and interesting experience of Sydney harbour?  As the years pass, this challenge grows each time my mother comes into town.  Over the years we’ve taken scenic luncheon cruises, climbed the Harbour Bridge and enjoyed lunch at Aria, on the edge of Circular Quay. However, there’s one spectacular venue, I’ve never tried.

Fort Denison is an island fort situationed in the middle of Sydney Harbour.  It offers unrivaled views of the harbour from its battlements, most notably an elegant Martello Tower.   I booked lunch for Mum and my Auntie Pam, taking a chance that the weather would be suitably warm and sunny on Friday afternoon.
My gamble paid off.  We awoke to clearing skies and increasingly bouts of sunshine.  A short harbour ferry ride took us directly to the island.  We arrived shortly before noon, just in time to join the daily Park Ranger’s tour.  As luck would have it, there was only one other couple on the tour, making for a intimate experience.  The ranger regaled us with a series of amusing anecdotes, including the only time the fort was fired upon in war.
This anecdote is best told once you understand the fort’s origins.  In 1839, two American warships entered the harbour at night and dropped anchor.  The fledging colony was stunned that vessels, even those of a friendly nation, could enter the harbour undetected.  The Government reviewed the inner harbour’s defenses and decided to fortify Pinchgut Island, a rocky outcrop off midway between Garden Island and the North Shore. 
Fortification of the island began in 1841 but stalled when funds ran out. Construction resumed in 1855 during the Crimean War as the nation feared a Russian naval attack.  The fort was completed in late-1857.  However, it never saw action until the Second World War. 
In 1942, three Japanese mini-submarines ventured into the harbour.  One was sighted by an American warship berthed a nearby Garden Island.  The Americans fired on the sub.  One charge skipped across the water’s surface and slammed into Fort Denison, exploding on impact.  The irony wasn’t lost on the locals.  A century after friendly American warships prompted the fort’s construction; the same friendly nation became the first and only one to attack the fort itself.
Our Ranger’s Tour ended with a firing of the 1:00pm gun.  We then ventured to the fort’s restaurant for a magnificent meal, dining on succulent fresh fish and chips while basking in the afternoon sun.  The service was impeccable and the menu was sublime.  I’ll definitely be returning to Fort Denison soon.

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