Bare Island Fort | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Bare Island Fort

Item details

Name of item: Bare Island Fort
Type of item: Complex / Group
Group/Collection: Defence
Category: Fortification
Location: Lat: -33.9919656566 Long: 151.2312549650
Primary address: , La Perouse, NSW 2036
Parish: Botany
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Randwick
Local Aboriginal Land Council: La Perouse
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT5111 DP752015
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
 La PerouseRandwickBotanyCumberlandPrimary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Office of Environment and HeritageState Government26 Nov 98

Statement of significance:

Bare Island is nationally significant as an almost completely intact example of late nineteenth century coastal defence technology. Designed by Sir Peter Scratchley to a specification by William Jervoise, it represents one of the more substantial and impressive of the many fortifications built around Australasia. The Fort reflects the evolution of the relationship between New South Wales as an increasingly independent colony and Britain. It shows the way that strategic defence policy was operating in Australia on the eve of Federation. The Fort is also nationally significant as the site of the first War Veterans Home founded in Australia. This reflects the social and moral obligations felt by Australians early this century to the veterans of wars fought across the British Empire. It is an early major construction from mass concrete, at a time when the use of this material was still uncommon and not well understood. The Fort is of State significance for its pivotal role in the closure of the career of James Barnet, NSW Colonial Architect. It has significant impacts on the way publicly funded construction was carried out in New South Wales after that time. The Fort is regionally significant as the only island in Botany Bay. The form of the island has been changed by the construction of the Fort, to present a functional structure which nonetheless is of high aesthetic value. It is an important example of fortification design which demonstrates the evolution of the theory of coastal defence, the technology of defence and coastal fortification design. The Fort is regionally significant to the general community as part of the recreational and historic landscape of Botany Bay. Bare Island has particular local significance to the La Perouse community as an item of local heritage value. (NPWS Bare Island CMP 1997: 95-96)
Date significance updated: 18 May 10
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Sir Peter Scratchley, Gustave Morell, James Barnet (Colonial Architect)
Builder/Maker: John McLeod (NSW Department of Public Works)
Construction years: 1881-1889
Physical description: 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.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
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.
Date condition updated:14 Dec 00
Modifications and dates: 1985 to 1987 - Bridge repair
1993 - Structural repairs
1997 - Major conservation works including waterproofing
Current use: Historic site
Former use: Fortification. War Vetrans Home. Museum


Historical notes: 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).

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Aboriginal cultures and interactions with other cultures-Activities associated with maintaining, developing, experiencing and remembering Aboriginal cultural identities and practices, past and present. (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Exploration-Activities associated with making places previously unknown to a cultural group known to them. (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Fishing-Activities associated with gathering, producing, distributing, and consuming resources from aquatic environments useful to humans. (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Technology-Activities and processes associated with the knowledge or use of mechanical arts and applied sciences (none)-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. (none)-
5. Working-Working Labour-Activities associated with work practises and organised and unorganised labour (none)-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation (none)-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Building Peace time healing and understanding between cultures-
7. Governing-Governing Government and Administration-Activities associated with the governance of local areas, regions, the State and the nation, and the administration of public programs - includes both principled and corrupt activities. (none)-
7. Governing-Governing Welfare-Activities and process associated with the provision of social services by the state or philanthropic organisations (none)-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. (none)-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation (none)-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Bare Island Fort is historically significant at national and state levels. It represents processes of national development and strategic defence policy that helped to shape the modern Australian nation, it played a pivotal role in the career of the last Colonial Architect and affected the nature of public administration in New South Wales. It was the site for the first War Veterans Home in Australia (NPWS 1997: 90-91)
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Bare Island can be characterised as a low monolith extending along the line of La Perouse Headland. The scale of the works, their colouring and placement emphasises the rounded shape of the island, and is within the scale of the island’s original size. The concrete works increase in density with elevation, presenting an impression of organic growth from natural bedrock at the bottom to solid concrete at the highest point. This also serves to enhance the feeling of solidity of the construction.

The earliest views of Bare Island emphasised it as a small rugged island, and the current form of the island still permits an understanding of the island’s original size and shape. Once it became fortified and connected by a bridge to the mainland it remained a popular object for photography, with most photographs of the island either emphasising the western face with large expanses of concrete and loopholed walls, or the view down the bridge towards the jumble of concrete, rocks and grass.

As a coastal fortification the design and organisation of the Fort is typical of others built around the British Empire in the 1870s and 1880s. It uses the flexibility of mass concrete to create massive but sinuous curved shapes, and a complex juxtaposition of straight lines and curved forms on differing levels. These are functional spaces and lines, linking the circular gun emplacements, and the curving gun passage with the regularity of the Barracks and loopholed rear walls. In plan the Fort is essentially symmetrical, in two main levels, accessed by ramps and stairs. The view from seaward, to the east, is primarily of natural surfaces and contouring, with few hard lines except for the casemate gun shield.
The predominant features that create Bare Island are low relief, a juxtaposition of natural and concrete surfaces, scale and mass.Bare Island is significant as the only island in Botany Bay. The construction of the form is aesthetically pleasing for its close relationship and integration with the natural island landform with the built form. The visible built work provides an indication of the massiveness of the concealed construction. It is a nationally representative example of the corpus of significant designers of fortifications - Jervoise and Scratchley, a regionally representative example that demonstrates fortification design in the late 19th century, and regionally representative as an example in the evolution of the design of coastal fortifications

(NPWS 1997: 90-91)
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
Bare Island is significant to a number of well-defined groups either as a discrete entity or as part of a broader social setting.

Bare Island has significance as part of the land used and exploited by members of the La Perouse Aboriginal community over the past century. This includes the use of the beaches and surrounding waters for food gathering, work and recreation, the relationships formed with soldiers stationed on the island and with the veterans, and as part of the social landscape of the community.

It also has an added association with Cook, Banks, Phillip and La Perouse and therefore represents for the wider Aboriginal community a significant contact point in the history of European - Aboriginal relationships.

For the mainstream Australian community the prevailing importance of Bare Island is its identification as a nineteenth century fortification. This includes associations with the British Empire, the fear of attack by foreign powers and Australian insularity. The Fort is seen as a reminder that the world was different in the past and that there has been palpable change in the relationships between Australia and the rest of the world.

These are an outgrowth of feelings in the community earlier this century and last century relating to the ambivalent relationship over ties with England, and to what extent Australians were part of the Empire or separate people. The perceived continuity is demonstrated by the use of the Fort as a War Veterans Home, strengthening the ties to the imperial bond.

The Sydney community and particularly residents of Randwick Municipality and the Randwick and District Historical Society take an active interest in the management and future of the Fort.

Bare Island is an important place for the local and regional community, as a landscape item, as part of the remembered recreational landscape of Botany Bay and La Perouse and for its recognised historical importance. It has particular importance to the residents of La Perouse, including the local Aboriginal community.
(NPWS 1997: 90-91)
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
Bare Island Fort is nationally rare as an early example of concrete construction, regionally representative as a demonstration of the technology of coastal artillery, fortification design and military tactics in the late 19th century, of high archaeological potential to reveal information not available from other sources about the construction and use of the Fort, of high significance for its potential to derive information that cannot be found on other sites, of medium to high significance for its ability to address pertinent research questions, and of low significance for the potential of its subsurface archaeological remains. (NPWS 1997: 90-91)
SHR Criteria f)
Bare Island is an example of early major construction from mass concrete at a time when use of this material was still uncommon and not well understood. Rare - Regional.
SHR Criteria g)
This is a representative example of fortification design which demonstrates the evolution of theory of coastal defence, the technology of defence and coastal fortification design.
Integrity/Intactness: Intactness is high. The structure retains enough of the original fabric to enable their form, function and interrelationship to be easily established.

Integrity of the complex is high. Most facets of the structure and its functions survive.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Recommended management:

Implement conservation and interpretation recommendations in Conservation Plan.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for endorsementCMP for endorsement - La Perouse Museum- La Perouse Headland  
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for endorsementConservation Plan CMP endorsed by Heritage Council 28 July 1999 for a period of five years, expires 28 July 2004. Jul 28 1999
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0097802 Apr 99 271546
Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register     
National Trust of Australia register  6721   
Register of the National Estate 175821 Oct 80   

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
National Parks & Wildlife Service Section 170 Register  National Parks & Wildlife Service  No

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
TourismAttraction Homepage2007Bare Island Fort View detail
WrittenBarko, Ivan2012The French Garden at La Perouse'
WrittenBarko, Ivan2012'The French Garden at La Perouse'
WrittenHenderson, Lisa2016'Bare Island: home to forts, an ex-servicemens' home and backdrop to scenes from Mission Impossible'
WrittenHiggingbotham, E.1989La Perouse and Bare Island Historic Sites, La Perouse. Conservation Plan. Historical Archaeology
WrittenKass, Terry1989The Bare Island and La Perouse Monuments Historic Sites, La Perouse. An Historical Investigation - Final Report
WrittenMcBean & Crisp Pty Limited1989Structural Condition and Cultural Significance of the Bare Island and La Perouse
WrittenNPWS1997Bare Island Conservation Plan 2 volumes: Conservation Plan
WrittenNSW Department of Public Works1990La Perouse Headland and Bare Island Conservation Plan: Landscape Analysis
TourismTourism NSW2007Botany Bay National Park - La Perouse View detail

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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(Click on thumbnail for full size image and image details)

Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5045621
File number: S92/00980

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