IF YOU’RE looking for somewhere in Sydney that has a distinctly different feel, La Perouse and its attached Bare Island are calling.
The area was named after the French explorer Francois de Galaup, Comte de Laperouse, who was narrowly beaten to Sydney’s Botany Bay by Captain James Cook and the First Fleet by a matter of days (and a fearsome storm).
An intriguing piece of trivia: prior to the expedition, a young Napoleon Bonaparte, aged only 16 years old, had been shortlisted and finally rejected for a spot on the 114-man crew.
The expedition spent six weeks in the area, treated amicably by their British rivals, and establishing a number of firsts for the colony, including an observatory, a garden and Catholic church services.
On 10 March 1788, La Perouse and his men continued on with plans to reach New Caledonia, Santa Cruz and the west and east coasts of Australia but were never seen again.
Today, a stately monument pays tribute to the French navigator’s role in the region’s history, while nearby, a lonely hillside grave marks the final resting place of the crew’s chaplain and scientist, Father Receveur. The Catholic priest died three weeks after landing in Botany Bay, due to suspected complications from injuries sustained in a battle in Samoa, in which crew members were massacred.
There is a ghostly air of silence across the bay at times. It is not difficult to imagine these ‘other’ tall ships and their commissioned crewmen anchoring in the sapphire blue waters. Or the traditional Owners of the land, the Gweagal and Kameygal Aboriginal tribes, watching from the capes with a mix of awe and fear at the arrival of these new visitors.
Nearby Fr Receveur’s grave, the castle-like tower in the centre of La Perouse is the oldest surviving structure in the area, having been built in 1820-22 for the colony’s soldiers, on guard against smugglers.
Across the timber footbridge on Bare Island, a large grey stone fortress commands your view upon driving into La Perouse. (Incidentally, both the bridge and the island claimed feature roles in the 2000 action film Mission Impossible II)
It was built in 1885, decommissioned in 1902, and later briefly used as a retirement home for war veterans in 1912. In 1963, the fort was handed over to the National Parks and Wildlife Service as a tourist attraction. Regular weekend tours operate across the site and its tunnels. Monthly Indigenous markets have recently been launched on the site, offering visitors the opportunity to learn traditional arts and crafts while wandering through the fortress rooms.
For more info: http://www.sydneyaboriginaltours.com.au/first-hand