Bare Island is a low sandstone island about 30 meters from the shore of the southern end of La Perouse Headland, near the entrance to Botany Bay. The island has been completely altered from its natural profile. The fortification complex comprises the battery, barracks buildings, parade and courtyard, access bridge and laboratory room/guards quarters. The fabric of the complex is best described in relation to the 6 phases of occupation identified by Gojak:
Phase I 1880 - 1890 Original fortification works by McLeod
Includes all major concrete work and earthworks, the bridge, original space functions and finishes. Characteristic materials are mass concrete with sandstone aggregate, cement render, cream fired brick, checker pattern salt-glazed tiles under asphalt, some reinforcing, armour plate, use of vaulting to span tunnels and much of the timber detailing.
see endorsed conservation plan, 1997
Phase II 1890 - 1912 Second phase fortification works by de Wolski and others, primarily before 1895.
Includes mainly the Barracks and the installation of a hydro-pneumatic gun and stores. Characteristic materials include concrete with finer bluestone aggregate, reinforcing beams to span voids, some conduit, red tuckpoint brickwork with dressed sandstone quoins and lintels, some paint finishes.
Phase III 1912 - 1963 War Veterans Home, primarily around 1912, then a second phase of activity in 1939.
Includes minor modifications in all areas of the Fort. Characteristic materials include paint finishes, timber flooring inside store rooms, some conduits and cabling, alterations to original use of spaces and installation or removal of internal walls. Changes also made to Barracks with opening up of new access passages, and circulation routes.
Phase IV 1941 - 1945 World War II military usage.
No definite evidence of this period beyond possible painted signage.
Phase V 1963 - c. 1975 Randwick Historical Society Museum. Includes the period when Museum was in operation, both before and after NPWS ownership.
Characteristic evidence includes reinstatement and reproduction of original features by removal of later material, mainly War Veterans period, or addition of material to a presumed original form, also some repairs, paint finishes, resurfacing of floors, especially in Caretakers area in the lower floor of the Barracks building.
Phase VI 1975 - present NPWS administration.
All changes made since Randwick Historical Society vacated island. Mainly constitutes large scale repair and conservation work to retaining walls, Barracks verandah, roof of casemate, drainage system, removal of more recent additions and provision of safety works.
1985 to 1987 - Bridge repair
1993 - Structural repairs
1997 - Major conservation works including waterproofing
The archaeological potential to reveal information not available from other sources about the construction and use of the Fort is high, as is the potential to derive information that cannot be found on other sites.
At European contact the Gweagal and Kameygal Aboriginal groups were associated with Bare Island. It is mentioned in the journals of both Banks and Cook. Banks collected shell specimens there, while Cook noted that the island described as 'a small bare island' provided a convenient navigational marker. The name stuck from this first usage. As such the name is one of the first European names for a part of the east coast.
Governor Phillip and French explorer Jean-Francois de La Perouse were the next to enter Botany Bay on 26 January 1788, but neither group is known to have visited Bare Island. The French built a stockade and (kitchen) garden nearby(300m from the Macquarie Tower) towards Frenchmans Bay and buried their dead, Father (Pere) Receveur (Barko, 2012, 10).
The area was considered remote from Sydney and as the nineteenth century progressed became the focus of noxious trades such as tanneries and fell-mongering as well as the development of a unique Aboriginal community at La Perouse which serviced the diverse tastes of urban Sydney.
The removal of all remaining garrison troops from Australian colonies excepting those retained and paid for by colonial governments as a result of the Cardwell reforms in the late 1860s forced a rethink of local defence preparedness, especially with the outbreak of hostilities between Russia and Britain in 1876. As a result, the Australian colonies requested the services of an Imperial Engineer to advise them on defence matters. Military engineers Scratchley and Jervois were sent.
Jervois recommended a small work in Botany Bay as protection from small squadrons of hostile cruisers making lightning raids on Sydney and holding it to ransom for its gold reserves. Scratchley was responsible for turning Jervois's strategic vision into a detailed design and specification of the works. This he did with the aid of civil engineer Gustavus Morell. The specifications were also developed with the aid of the Colonial Architect James Barnet who was responsible for its construction.
Bare Island Fort reflects the development of coastal fortifications design by the British Army, from locations around the world over more than a century. This was combined with a newly generated understanding of ballistics and materials science that was a product of the late nineteenth century Industrial Revolution. Bare Island, in comparison to earlier coastal defences constructed in Australia, such as Fort Denison or the Middle Head Batteries, shows the impact of new materials such as concrete, as well as the ever increasing power of guns.
The design and construction was complex. The basis of the design was a symmetrical crescent, with the heaviest gun in the centre, which faced the likely line of attack. The various stages in the design of Bare Island took from mid 1877 to early 1880 when the final design was specified and contracted out. Even then, Scratchley still did not consider the design complete and regularly made alterations and suggestions, some verbally and some in writing.
Plans for a fort were drawn up by the Colonial Architect's department, and government tender for construction was awarded to a building company led by John McLeod (Henderson, 2016). McLeod won the tender in 1881 and commenced work on 7 April. His work was supervised by Public Works Department Clerk of Works Henry Purkis who was responsible for many other projects which called him away from Bare Island for extended periods. Following Scratchley's death in 1885 overall supervision of the project was delegated to Major Penrose.
Construction was completed in 1886, but by 1887 problems began to emerge as a result of poor construction. Between 1888 and 1889 barracks were constructed using the same contractor. The job did not go to tender. Lieutenant Colonel De Wolski raised questions as to the appropriateness of the barracks design and location, as well as the fact that tenders had not been called for its construction. A Board of Inquiry was established to investigate his concerns, but work continued. De Wolski complained and the work and contract were suspended.
At the same time, a Royal Commission of Inquiry was established into the contract and construction of Bare Island. This inquiry found that the Colonial Architect Barnet was responsible for the mismanagement of works at Bare Island. This finding and the controversy surrounding it lead to Barnet's premature retirement from public life.
McLeod was never awarded another government tender and Barnet resigned from his position around that time too (Henderson, 2016).
The bridge to the island was added in 1887. Unti then, access relied on a flying fox, or a barge. It was by barge that the five major guns on the island - including a 12 tonne cannon - were brought across. During its operating years, the barracks were manned by about 70 soldiers (Henderson, 2016).
Bare Island was transferred to the Commonwealth in 1901. The garrison was reduced in 1902 and by 1908 it does not appear that any substantial military activity was occurring there.
In the early 1900s the fort was decommissioned and soon after it became the first war verterans' home in Australia. After petitioning from local womens' groups, in 1912 the first seven war veterans moved in (Henderson, 2016).
Between 1912 and 1963 the island was used as a war veterans home, except during World War 2 when it was again used for military purposes.
In the 1930s the guns on the island were sold (for scrap metal, during the Depression) but the larger two were left on the island, because they were too heavy to be brought back across the bridge (Henderson, 2016).
The army took over the fort in 1942 when Japan entered World War 2 and the veterans made way for 24 servicemen known as the 'Bare section'. In 1962 the army offered to sell the island to the War Veterans' Home for a fee of one pound, but he offer was declined. It continued to operate as a retirement home until 1963 (when Randwick Historical Society became caretakers of the island)(Henderson, 2016).
The island was notified as a Reserve for Public Recreation on 12 March 1965. Between 1963 and 1967 Randwick Historical Society controlled Bare Island and carried out works. They also involved other groups such as the Fort Artillery Society who wore period costumes and conducted live firings of the 9 inch gun. These were very popular and became established as a regular attraction.
Bare Island Historic Site was gazetted 1 October 1967 under the care of National Parks and Wildlife, although the Randwick Historical Society continued to maintain their museum and its associated activities. The live firings were stopped in 1974.
The fort was open to the public until December 28, 1989, the day of the earthquake in Newcastle (Henderson, 2016).
The current use of the island by NPWS is for interpretation through guided tours (see endorsed conservation plan, 1997).
Ranwick City Council is finalising a move to lease the La Perouse museum precinct from the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). The area council will take over includes the former La Perouse former cable station (now the museum, pictured) and historic structures including the Macquarie Watchtower, the La Perouse Monument and the Pere Receveur Tomb. NPWS deputy chief executive Michael Wright said the change would lead to an improvement in facilities, which would attract more visitors and also provide better access for people to explore the area (Museum precinct gains bold new lease of life, Marie Hogg, Southern Courier 13/12/2016, 13).
The site is now open to guided tours, available most sundays. It has been a popular location for movie directors, with the island being featured in both 'Mission: Impossible II' and 'East West 101' (Henderson, 2106).