Unlike the northern beaches where a series of disasters and mass rescues made the establishment of surf lifesaving clubs a necessity, the early days of Fremantle were characterised by a number of false starts beginning in 1932.
It wasn’t until 1935 that the club took a permanent place at Leighton Beach. The reputation of a “safe” beach and lack of disasters contributed to the slow start of the club and a continual struggle to expand membership. The membership was drawn predominantly from the working class of the North Fremantle and Fremantle districts. Through World War II and after, Leighton Surf Lifesaving Club struggled to gain members, the patrols and club administration falling to a dedicated few. This forged a strong camaraderie within the club, which has continued to this day.
The club has a close connection with WWII, through the donation from the crew of HMAS Sydney II, stationed at Fremantle, of a surf reel and a trophy replica made whilst serving in the Mediterranean. All lives were lost when the Sydney was lost on 19th November 1941. The club has run the HMAS Sydney II Reel event each year since 1941.
Lochyer Cottman, was the first member to win an Australian Medal in 1941, in Surf Belt Race.
A Ladies Auxillary began in 1945, with girlfriends and wives raising funds for buildings and equipment.
In 1958, Port beach became accessible to the public through the re-routing of traffic along a new coast road. Largely through the efforts of some employees of the Port Authority, Port Surf Lifesaving Club was formed in 1958. The patrolling boundaries were; Port: from Rous Head to Angus Street; Leighton Surf Lifesaving Club: from Angus Street to the Cable Station.
Throughout the club history, we have been innovative. In the 1971-72 season the club first tested and used the first IRB on patrols. Leighton was also the first Australian Surf Lifesaving club to have a Licensed Bar (1973) as a means to raising funds.
In 1976 the Fremantle and Port Beach Clubs amalgamated to form the Fremantle Surf Lifesaving Club, with the responsibility for patrolling 4 km of coastline, the longest in Western Australia. The clubroom were built in stages, with the main hall and kitchen/office facilities completed in 1977.
The long coastline was patrolled in 1977-78 by a mobile (“roving”) system, with 2-way radios and more recently, the use of a 4-wheel drive vehicle has increased the effectiveness of patrols.
For a club with a small membership, we have been very successful in both State and Australian competition. Members have been particularly strong in beach and surf boat events, starting with the win in Australian Beach Flag in 1976.
Although it wasn’t until 1980 that women gained full membership of the surf lifesaving movement, they have been strong supporters throughout. Late in WWII, nurses carried out duties in the ambulance room at Leighton Beach, an between 1940 to 1968, a women’s interclub competition existed, at which Leighton were very successful. Lyn Watson and Lyn McClements, Australian Olympic representatives, were part of that ladies surf club. Since 1980, female membership has risen steadily, taking responsibility in patrols, administration and competition.
John McCourt was both WA and Australian Surfer of the Year in 1982-83, whilst Club President and we won the Australian Beach Relay in 1987.