I have a confession; I’m a bit of a historic costume tragic. So, on a brilliant blue Brisbane winter weekend, we headed off to History Alive at Fort Lytton National Park.
Fort Lytton’s history
Fort Lytton National Park is a historically significant military site on the southern banks of the Brisbane River near the river mouth, with working cannons and moated fortifications dating back to 1880. It was built to protect the vulnerable colonial city’s port and wealthy sea trade. In those days the citizens of Brisbane slept more soundly knowing the fort, with its controlled river mines and four big guns, stood between them and Britain’s not-so-friendly French neighbours in Noumea, a short three days sail away.
The site was active for over forty years, right up to the threats of the Second World War. Once a year, for a short two days, the fort is garrisoned again as tents and enclosures spring up on the grassy fields around the fortifications.
Wide cross-section of history
These days the threat of Russian invasion is limited to the Red Army re-enactors. Modern warfare periods are strongly represented at the event, but there were plenty of re-enactor costumes from earlier periods. The Renaissance swordsmen (and women) in their dark doublets and white shirts showed how to give insults, take offence and, most importantly, get into a duel.
The fields were alive with Vikings, Byzantines, knights and soldiers in skirmishes and tournaments all day. As ever, the jousting and archery displays were popular. The medieval mixed with the Victorian, silks and satins with homespun and furs. I even saw a group of pirates at one point, and a glimpse of some Romans.
On the gentler side of history, I was educated about flax, embroidery techniques, turban tying, organic cloth dying and recipes to use if lost my refrigerator. I was feeling quite apocalypse ready while I watched the working smithy making iron goods and visitors trying to learn an English folk dance. For the youngsters there was an old fashioned puppet show, sack races, horse shoe toss and other games. For the less energetic there were board games to play in Viking enclosure.
From past to present
I finally found my Regency ladies and gentlemen near the penny-farthing bicycles. The ladies in their high waisted muslin dresses cut very figures beside their top-hatted gentlemen, while the red and blue coats marked out the dashing Napoleonic soldiers.
I met some very nice Suffragettes taking selfies in front of a TARDIS with a World War Two Dalek. The final cannon volleys for the day were spectacular and probably a surprise to the crew of the big ship cruising by.
So grateful these generous enthusiastic people are willing to share their passion for the past with us.
Many of the period re-enactors will be setting up their encampments again at the annual Abbey Medieval Festival held north of Brisbane in July.
You can see some great photos from previous years at http://www.historyalive.com.au/photo-galleries/. Fort Lytton Nation Park is open to the public and a program of activities and events, including night shows, tours and cannon firing, can be found at https://www.npsr.qld.gov.au/parks/fort-lytton/events-calendar.html. The fort is also permanent home to the A Battery Queensland Permanent Artillery. They are looking for new members so if you have ever wanted to learn how to fire a very big cannon, here is your chance (phone 3852 3565). They practice once a month at Fort Lytton and the Colonial assured me they were an equal opportunity group.
… and because I know you are curious … the TARDIS.