Fremantle Sailing Club traces its origins back to the late 1800s. There have in fact been three “Fremantle Sailing Clubs” over the past 100 years or more.
Competitive sailing commenced in Fremantle in 1872 with a series of annual regattas culminating in the formation of the Fremantle Yacht Club in 1885. This club conducted its races in the vicinity of the mouth of the Swan River and the waters of the Outer Harbour.
Then, in 1897 the North Fremantle Sailing Club was established, and in 1900 changed its name to Fremantle Sailing Club. This club was based in the river, and sailed mainly in the waters around Point Brown – about where the Stirling Bridge joins the bank of the Swan River.
Two clubs at the port with similar names provoked adverse comment from one yachting reporter, but this was solved in 1902 when the two clubs amalgamated to form the West Australian Yacht Club. This arrangement worked well for five years, but eventually a group broke away and formed – or perhaps, re-formed – the second “Fremantle Sailing Club”. But that was short-lived, and by 1908 the Fremantle clubs were described as “extinct”. It was not until twelve years later that an attempt was made to form another yacht club, and when it was (in 1920) it was named the Port Yacht Club. History then repeated itself, and the club had had a change of heart and changed its name to Fremantle Sailing Club in the following year. Hailing the formation of this new club, the press confidently predicted that it had a bright future. They were right, for that is the quite remarkable club that we are today… But there were many highs and lows along the way.
The South Beach Era
This club conducted its racing in the waters just south of the southern breakwater of the present Success Harbour. It was known as South Beach then, just as it is today, but the scene was very different. South Beach was one of THE places to go. In its heyday of the 1920s it had a jetty with a shark-proof enclosure; a railway station that brought visitors from as far away as Midland and beyond; the Hydrodrome change rooms/tea rooms; and an amusement park. The coastline with its Norfolk Island palms and lawn went much further out to sea than it does today.
The Club conducted its races from the South Beach Jetty and apart from the races themselves, the coming and going of the yachts generated much interest amongst the public.
Initially the Club did not have a clubhouse, but that was solved in 1923 when the Fremantle Council gave the Club a somewhat dilapidated building known as Field’s Bathing Shed. It was a wooden structure that had originally come from the Long Jetty, and the arrangement was that the Club could have the building if it would remove it themselves. They also leased a piece of land from the Fremantle Council at the foot of Scott Street, – about where the present crossing over the railway lines are into Success Harbour. Members formed week-end working bees, and after a lot of effort, they succeeded in dismantling the building, floating the sections down to the Scott Street site, and then re-erected it. The whole exercise took eighteen months, and the new clubhouse was officially opened at a Smoke Social in June 1924. It may not have been much, but for the very first time a Fremantle yacht club has a home that it could call its own. South Beach and the Sailing Club prospered for a time, and the Club ran dances in the clubhouse as part of its social programme and as a money raiser. The building was also in demand by other groups for a variety of purposes. The Club had a busy programme of weekly races, family picnics to Garden Island, and regular overnight (men only), “Billy Runs” to Garden Island. However, eventually the years and gales took their toll, the appeal of South Beach diminished, and one by one the jetty, the shark-proof fence, and the Hydrodrome were demolished. South Beach was dying, and the Club could see that it needed to make plans to move.
In August 1939, two blocks of residential land on the corner of Marine Terrace and Louisa Street came on the market. The then Commodore, Joe Cooper, saw the potential of these as a future site for a clubhouse, and proposed that the Club purchase them. The members were willing, but the Club had no money, so Joe and another leading member, Les Cook, put up the money and bought the land in the Club’s name. On 4 September – almost a month later – Australia was at war. The Second World War resulted in a dramatic drop in Club membership as men joined the services, and the Club suffered a decline in attendance and patronage of its dances. It struggled on, but in January 1942 — and without notice to the Club — the army demolished the clubhouse, as it was deemed to be a security hazard in the event of an invasion. Meetings were then held intermittently in a boat shed for the remainder of the war.
As servicemen returned to civilian life following the end of the War, the Club’s membership grew quite rapidly, so much so that in September 1946 it purchased a surplus dormitory on North Quay that had housed United States submariners during the war. The land at Louisa Street was levelled by volunteers, and the building was then demolished and re-erected on the Club’s site by a commercial contractor. The official opening took place in November 1947. The Club had re-commenced its weekly dances at the RSL hall in Fremantle some time prior to this, and they were then transferred to their own premises. It was just like the old days at Scott Street, only better. The dances grew in popularity and their revenue became a vital part of the Club’s income.
The Louisa Street Era
As servicemen returned to civilian life following the end of the War, the Club’s membership grew quite rapidly, so much so that in September 1946 it purchased a surplus dormitory on North Quay that had housed United States submariners during the war. The land at Louisa Street was levelled by volunteers, and the building was then demolished and re-erected on the Club’s site by a commercial contractor. The official opening took place in November 1947.
The Club had re-commenced its weekly dances at the RSL hall in Fremantle some time prior to this, and they were then transferred to their own premises. It was just like the old days at Scott Street, only better. The dances grew in popularity and their revenue became a vital part of the Club’s income and the annual picnics to Garden Island continued. The Club’s social amenities included dartboards, quoits, a table tennis set and a pianola. The fleet was predominantly moored at the foot of Louisa Street, and races started and finished opposite the new club house.
As the fleet expanded to include various classes, class flags were an added responsibility. Things were going so well that they even had to decline the offer of trophies from local businesses.
A boatshed was the next requirement, and the Club won the tender to demolish and remove a large shed that was part of the old Castlemain Bottling Works in Riverside Drive, East Fremantle. Busy bees soon had the building demolished and re-erected alongside the clubhouse.
While all this was going on, a number of local youngsters had formed their own club and were sailing home-made dinghies in the same waters. Their club was named The Fremantle Junior Sailing Club, and they had a Commodore, a Secretary, designed their own blazer badge, wrote articles for a yachting magazine, met in one of the kid’s bedroom. Their craft were often sheets a corrugated iron pinched from somebody’s back fence, with a broom handle for a mast, and sometimes wire from clotheslines were used as stays.
Without a keel, these home-made boats could only run with a fair wind, so they would start up near Robb Jetty and sail down the coast with the sea breeze. The members of the senior club often stood on the rocks and watched the kids sailing down and frequently placed bets on them. A close relationship developed and the kids often helped the men on the busy-bees around the Louisa Street clubhouse. In time they were invited to amalgamate with the senior club and become the Junior Section.
In the meantime the Club had installed a slipway and had conducted a very successful inaugural Captain Hector Waller HMAS Perth Memorial Race in memory of the skipper and men who were lost when Perth was sunk in a memorable battle with the Japanese in Indonesia. The Club was at its zenith and the future looked rosy, but it turned out to be very bleak.
In 1960 the Government of the day decided to construct a sheltered harbour for the growing fishing fleet. Over the next few years the breakwater of what was to become Fishing Boat Harbour was constructed and the waters in front of the Clubhouse reclaimed to create building blocks for services associated with the commercial boats. The Club found itself landlocked and desperately looked around for an alternative site. Nothing eventuated. Membership fell away, races were discontinued, and the Club with a clubhouse and no water found itself to be nothing but a dance hall.
Eventually the Club was offered temporary launching facilities by way of a boat ramp at the southern end of the newly created Fishing Boat Harbour, and the scrap of land at the southern side of the breakwater where it joined the land ― i.e. the north-east corner of the present day Club where rubbish is stored.With nothing better on offer the Club reluctantly accepted the offer.
The FSC Archives Committee actively collects the (FSC) histories of those members of long-standing and dedicated involvement with and for the Club.
If you have any information or recommendations these can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or phone Chair of Archives Committee Carolyn Jupp on 0409 888 279, or left for Archives at the Reception desk.