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Fascinating Historical Facts - Mornington Peninsula
The area now known as The Langwarrin Flora and Fauna Reserve was originally cleared for farming activities. In December 1886 it was permanently reserved as a military camp in response to a threat of a Russian invasion of Australia . It was one of a number of military camps opened on the Mornington Peninsula at the time. Many believed that the Russians would land at Western Port and then advance on Melbourne .
An 1887 Mornington Peninsula map shows the Langwarrin Army Camp with a parade ground and roads. Some of the road names included Napoleon, Wellington, Marlborough and the names of popular colonial Governors Darling, Barkly and Hotham.
The Military Reserve became an important landmark and attracted development in the vicinity. A railway station was built on the other side of Camp Road (now McClelland Drive) and a school was opened within the Military Camp. There was an attempt in March 1888 to establish "Aldershot”, a New Military Township, immediately adjacent the Permanent Camp of the Victoria Forces". An advertisement in 'The Age' newspaper offered 451 business and villa sites "with the railway station on the land". It was pointed out that the Victorian Government had carefully chosen the site with "a central and commanding position" to "protect the capital in a vulnerable point".
In April 1889, the Victorian Colonial Defence Force had 2195 men engaged in maneuvers for four days at Langwarrin, using 669 horses and 29 wagons.
Although this was partly swamp land, when first set up water was in short supply. However, wells were sunk and in 1889 a reservoir was constructed. Areas were drained to make them suitable for military drill purposes. By 1890 a shed was built for food supply and caretaker's quarters formed a standing camp.
Ten years later, in 1899 with the breakout of the Boer War in South Africa over 700 Victorian Troops were trained at Langwarrin and by April 1900 they were ready to go to war. These troops were the forerunners to the Light Horse Regiments. They were known as the Victorian Imperial Bushmen's Regiment
At the time of Federation in 1901, the military reserve passed to the Commonwealth Government. Various military activities continued there until 1979.
During World War 1 (1915 - 1918) German, Austrian and Turkish nationals living in Australia were detained at Langwarrin as war prisoners. In November 1915 there were 769 Germans, 104 Austrians and 72 Turks in the camp. Initially they lived in tents, sleeping on straw mattresses and were given 5 gallons of water each per day as well as food. They were paid between 1 and 3 shillings (10 - 30 cents) a day if they chose to work. In April 1915 the Department of Defense approved the expenditure for the building of huts. The frames were to be built in Melbourne and the “Alien Internees” were to complete the huts under the supervision of the Camp Commandant. By December 1917 only 326 detainees remained at Langwarrin.
A hospital was set up near the present day entrance to treat World War 1 soldiers returning from France and Egypt . During this time facilities were built to improve the area. They included a better water supply, a rifle range, additional roads and drains. A butcher's shop and post office were established within the camp and a steam pumping station at the reservoir was built that included a boiler and pump, coke filter beds and underground tanks.
After the war, all military structures were removed, the war prisoners were transferred elsewhere for repatriation and the use of the hospital ceased in 1920.
In 1921 a lease to the Langwarrin Progress Association was approved to use the site of the former camp as a recreation reserve. Many improvements were carried out including garden plots, shrubberies, pathways and a Red Cross building. About half the reserve was cleared to establish pasture for military horses and grazing leases were issued between 1921 and 1945. A hall, sheds and an oval were built for local community recreation activities.
The Military Reserve was again used for defense purposes during the Second World War and up until the late 1970s. From early 1974 it was managed by the former Balcombe Military Camp (Mount Martha) and used for part-time military training and various non-military activities. It was used by the Army Reserve, school cadets, and the Balcombe Army Apprentices' School.
Today, the only remnants remaining of the army occupation includes part of a fountain where the old Military Camp Hospital was, the water reservoir which was built by the Defense Department and earthen target pits and butts used for army training during World War One.
Today, the reserve is considered an important habitat area for native fauna, particularly small mammals. You may see koalas, Brown Bandicoots and Swamp Wallabies but smaller species such as the rare New Holland Mouse are much harder to find. A total of 94 bird species, including the rare Southern Emu-wren have been recorded here.
Currently there are no public facilities in the reserve however on our visit there we noticed that work has begun to improve the facilities and walking tracks. New signposts have been erected naming the tracks. We found evidence of the fountain and walls of the reservoir but after spending a couple of hours wandering the different tracks could not find any evidence of the old rifle range. Hopefully the old rifle range may be accessible in the near future.
Dogs are not permitted in the reserve.