Waking up on Sunday morning to a glorious blue sky without a cloud in sight I convinced T that we needed to go on an adventure. I knew just the place having spotted Bare Island repeatedly over summer when we swam at La Perouse. National Parks NSW conducts tours of the site on a Sunday which made my plans perfect.
We huddled a reluctant Master R (“Can’t I stay home and play in the backyard?”) and an excited Miss N into the car and drove the 40 minutes to La Perouse. I was anxious that we wouldn’t be earlier enough to snag tickets to the site which only heightened when we discovered that a significant portion of Sydneysiders had also thought La Perouse would be a great Sunday destination making parking almost impossible. No bother – T dropped me off near the Museum and I raced up to buy a family ticket (only $45.00). While I was busy sourcing the tickets, T and the kids managed to score parking right in front of the pathway to Bare Island. Obviously our visit was meant to be!
The tour was set to begin at 1.25 from the main gates of the island. We strolled across the wooden bridge, taking our time to check out the poster depicting the sealife in the area (they actually have dragons in that water!) and a quick walk on the rocks underneath. We also spotted a large number of scuba divers – Miss N’s very first time seeing them in real life. Of course this led to so many questions: how do they breath? What do they do under there? Why are they wearing that? Can I go?
Right on time our tour guide arrived. He started off by telling us a little of the Aboriginal history of the island and surrounds before moving on to the expedition of French explorer the Comte de Lapérouse. We found it fascinating to hear that this area had such a strong connection to France. Back in 1785, King Louis XVI sent Jean-Francois de Galaup, Comte de la Perouse, off on a voyage of the Pacific regions of North and South America, Asia and Australasia with the task of showing the world that France could conquer exploration just as well as Captain James Cook and the British. Four years later, and a few months after the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay, the ships arrived themselves in March 1788. They camped at La Perouse and restocked their provisions before disembarking never to be seen again. Vanished. The area was named La Perouse to commemorate the voyage with a monument erected in memory. (It is believed that there are wrecks of the ships from the voyage on the reefs of Vanikoro in the Soloman Islands).
We then moved up to the fort. It is a huge concrete structure that was constructed in 1885 but very poorly. Throughout the site you can see evidence of it deteriorating quite quickly. There has been a lot of restoration work to prevent walls collapsing. Most of the guns have been removed, probably scrapped in the 1900s. The fort was constructed to protect “Sydney’s back door” with the British colonists believing that an invasion from Russians was imminent (they were at war with Turkey around this time). It never saw any actual battles and was decommissioned relatively quickly.
10 years after it stopped being a military fort it became a retirement home for the Crimea, Sudan, and China war veterans. Much of the space was converted into bedrooms and dining spaces although NSW Parks has stripped much of this back to its original form. The largest gun at 18 tons was recovered only recently having been buried only to have a billiard table on top of it for the veterans. It was later carted to the front gates before being dumped – they obviously couldn’t work out how to get it to the mainland. In 1944 Bare Island became a women’s refuge. Most recently the island, now part of National Parks NSW with undoubtably the best scuba diving in Sydney surrounding it, appeared in Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible.
Off the island, don’t forget to visit La Perouse’s oldest building, Macquarie Watchtower, and below, the La Perouse Museum which was originally the telegraph station. The original submarine telegraph cable from Australia to New Zealand was laid right here.
You’re probably wondering if it was an interesting place for the kids to visit. They found it fascinating as well and were quick to ask questions and point out items of interest. They even worked out how the soldiers stationed at the site communicated between the guns and watch tower (gas pipes!) and were fascinated by ‘rifling’ and the reason we no longer use cannon balls.