La Perouse can lay claim to having the most cosmopolitan sounding name of any Sydney suburb. It commemorates the doomed French navigator and explorer Jean-François de Galaup Comte de La Pérouse.

The French contingent led by La Perouse arrived to the east coast of NSW, just outside the heads at Botany Bay, within days of the First Fleet entering Sydney Cove in January 1788. La Perouse and his crew camped on the headland at the northern entrance to Botany Bay for six weeks, maintaining cordial relations with the British, before sailing off into the sunset. He was never to be seen again. The headland where he and his crew camped was later named for him, and in the 182os, Hyacinthe de Bougainville organised for a monument to La Perouse.

La Perouse and the suburbs to its north were isolated for most of the nineteenth century. This was mainly because much of the La Perouse peninsula, comprising some 4175 acres of land, was set aside as the Church and Schools estate in 1828 to provide revenue for teachers and clergy. This meant that it was church land and was not able to be built upon. The Church and Schools estate later reverted to the Crown. 

There was limited development here until the twentieth century. But this all changed when the tramline down the middle of Anzac Parade was extended from Kingsford in 1901.

In the twentieth century, La Perouse was surrounded by a gaol at Long Bay, which opened in 1901 as the State Reformatory for Women; the Botany Cemetery; Bunnerong Power Station which supplied most of Sydney’s electricity from 1930 to 1976 (it has since been demolished); and the Coast Hospital, established as an infectious diseases hospital in 1884 (it is now a housing development).

The arrival of the tram also encouraged tourism to the area. One of the drawcards for visitors to La Perouse has been the snake show at ‘The Loop’, which has been going since the beginning of the twentieth century. The first snake man was Professor Fred Fox. But since the 1920s, the snake and reptile show has been the purview of the Cann family.

Today, La Perouse is recognised as a stronghold of Sydney’s Aboriginal community. Around a third of the population is Aboriginal, and many have an unbroken connection to La Perouse from time immemorial, and also have links with the South Coast, particularly Jervis Bay. Aboriginal people set up camps around La Perouse and Botany Bay in the early nineteenth century, but their presence became ‘official’ in the 1880s  when around 7 acres were set aside as a reserve. It was the only Aboriginal reserve to be established in the Sydney metropolitan area.  

In 1988, with the Bicentennial year, La Perouse was a focus for protests. And in 1992, the first Survival Day concert was held at La Perouse, before moving to Waverley Oval in 1998. Vive La Perouse, it’s well worth a visit.

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