Bare Island is a small island in Botany Bay near La Perouse. The island, so named because it was bare and rocky, was designed and reshaped as a defensive fortification between 1877 and 1889. The fortification was an integral part of Sydney’s coastal defences, built in the 1870s and 80s, and was specifically designed to protect Sydney’s ‘back door’ from potential attack.
But by 1902, the fortification was obsolete. Ten years later, a veterans’ home was established on the island. This marked the beginning of veterans care in NSW.
The island refuge provided residential accommodation for ex-soldiers and sailors who had fought in conflicts dating back to the 1850s including the Crimean War, the Indian mutinies, Abyssinian campaigns and the New Zealand (Maori) wars. In 1912, when the veterans’ home was established, there were an estimated 100 veterans in the Sydney metropolitan area. Most were experiencing extreme hardship and poverty, despite the introduction of the Old Age Pension to NSW in 1901 (and at Commonwealth level in 1909).
The campaign to establish the veterans’ home on Bare Island was largely led by middle-class women. The first residents moved in on 20 March, and the home was officially opened on 2 July 1912. The residents lived in the former barracks building, were dressed in uniforms and regularly marched in the parade ground. But it was a lonely life for many of the old men – the island was inaccessible from the mainland (it was reached by way of a timber bridge from the tram – now bus – terminus at La Perouse) as well as greater Sydney.
Despite a brief military use during World War 2, the island remained a veterans’ home until 1962. The last residents moved out and the island was handed over to Randwick Historical Society. In 1967, the island came under the control of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. In recent times, Bare Island has been home to the monthly Blak Markets.