Bare Island (New South Wales)

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Bare Island fort

Bare Island is a small island in south-eastern Sydney, in the state of New South Wales, Australia. It is located about 16 km south east of the Sydney central business district, close to the northern headland of Botany Bay.

Bare Island is connected by a footbridge to the suburb of La Perouse. The historic military fort and tunnels can only be visited by guided tour. The waters around the island are popular with scuba divers.[1] [2]


A view of Botany Bay as the First Fleet entered, with Bare Island in the background. The image is from the journal of Arthur Phillip.

Bare Island was part of the traditional land of the Gweagal and Kameygal Aboriginal tribes. In 1770, it was described as ‘a small bare island’ by early explorer, Lieutenant James Cook.

In 1877 it was decided that a fort was to be built on the island. Botany Bay was considered the back door into Sydney, thus making the city vulnerable to a seaborne attack. The construction of a fort on the island would reduce the odds of an attack from this entry point. Plans for the construction of a fort were drawn up by the Colonial Architects Department and tenders in 1880. Government tender for construction was awarded to John McLeod and Co, who also built the Georges Head and Middle Head fortifications. The fort was armed with two RML 9 inch 12 ton gun, two RML 80 pounder guns, a RML 10 inch 18 ton gun in an armoured casemate and two 5 barreled 0.45 inch Nordenfelt guns.[3] Construction of Bare Island fort was completed in 1885 at a cost of 34,000 pounds. Work inside the fort began in 1889. The Bare Island Fort was designed by Colonel Scratchley, the plans were prepared by Mr Morell, CE and supervised by James Barnet (1827-1904).[4]

Bare Island Fortification facing south-east

In 1890 a Royal Commission found that construction of the fort was faulty due to the use of an inferior grade of concrete. The whole project started to crumble before it was completed. The Royal Commission was very critical of the material used and were reluctant to refer to the material as concrete. The two clerks who were responsible for the operation, Henry Purkis and Edwin Colley, were found to be neglectful in their duties of inspecting the site. The contractor responsible was asked to repay some of the money that was paid out to him. He was also banned from any other government contracts. The Colonial Architect Mr James Barnet who is more widely known for designing many of the beautiful sandstone buildings in Sydney was eventually blamed for failing to oversee the project and to limit the amount of extra funds paid out to the contractor. This led to his resignation in disgrace from government office.

Though bristling with guns, the fort was soon made redundant by advancing technology. By 1902 Bare Island was decommissioned and ceased to exist as a military fortification, with only a handful of military personnel manning the fort. In 1912, Bare Island became a retirement home for war veterans from the Crimea, Sudan and China campaigns. It continued to operate as a retirement home until 1963, after this the Randwick District Historical Society became caretakers of the island. In 1967 it was passed onto the New South Wales Parks and Wildlife Service for use as a museum and tourist attraction. The Bare Island fort has now been declared a historic site.[5]

Bare Island was featured in Mission: Impossible II and East West 101.


Bare Island from Henry Head

Bare Island is the most popular scuba diving site in New South Wales. On a sunny summer Sunday there can be as many as 200 divers here during the day. It is a common diver training location and also very popular for snorkeling.

The reefs that stretch around the island and out to the south and west are home to some of Australia's most colourful marine animals. Things to be seen including big belly sea horses, sea dragons, pygmy pipehorses, red Indian fish and all the usual fish seen around Sydney. People have also seen seals and grey nurse sharks at times and in late winter Port Jackson sharks are very common.


  1. ^ Pollen, Frances (1990). The Book of Sydney Suburbs. Published in Australia: Angus & Robertson Publishers. ISBN 0-207-14495-8. 
  2. ^ Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving Web
  3. ^, La Perouse >> Botany Bay Batteries - Cape Banks, Henry Head, Bare Island
  4. ^ Bare Island Fort, La Perouse, NSW Profile
  5. ^ Randwick City Council » Bare Island

External links[edit]