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 became our first Australian Champion, winning the Junior Surf Belt Race at Southport Beach, Queensland in 1947.
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 Leighton and Port Clubs amalgamated to form the Fremantle Surf Lifesaving Club, with the responsibility for patrolling 4 km of coastline, the longest in Western Australia. The club rooms, based at Leighton Beach, 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.
Fremantle – the nineties
The nineties saw continuing success for the Club, including an Australian U/18 Beach Relay Championship as well as our first ever WA Championships in the Open Surf Boat and Open First Aid Competition. We also saw the completion of new Active Clubrooms in 1995.
The 90s started with our Beach team continuing the dominance it had shown through the 1980s.
In 1990, Jeff Davidson was named the SLSWA Sports Star of the Year after winning what was the first of his seven WA Open Men’s Beach Sprint Championships. Jeff repeated the Beach Sprint win in 1991 before Mark Peters took the title in 1992 - the 10th consecutive year a Fremantle Beach Sprinter had taken out the WA Open Beach Sprint Title. Mark won again in 1994 to make it 11 Fremantle Open Beach Sprint wins in 12 years.
In the Open Beach Relay, Fremantle won the WA Championships and Australian Bronze Medals in 1990 and 1991, before winning the WA Championship again in 1992. An era ended with the 1992 win, with the Open Beach Relay team having won the WA Championship 10 times in 11 years and nine years in a row to 1992, the Australian Championship in 1987 and World Runners-up in 1988. In 2017, the team was inducted into the SLSWA Sporting Hall of Fame in recognition of its achievements.
An undoubted highlight of the 1990s came in the surf boat arena. After many years of placings, finally, in 1991, we won the WA Open Surf Boat championship – the first ever after 57 years of competition. The Open Surf boat crew was Nick and Bill Palmer, Ross Onions, Dean Symmans and sweep Colin Duffield. The win had some added poignancy for the Club, with our former Surf Boat Captain Steve (Pom) Connor celebrating the victory before succumbing to cancer just 6 weeks later. RIP Pom.
Fremantle has always been strong in Lifesaving, training and qualifying many surf lifesavers. In 1990, the Fremantle Open First Aid team (Brent Ravlich, Lee Gilmore and coach Roy Sojan) were the WA Open First Aid Champions – the first time since the First Aid Championships were introduced in the 80’s. Another highlight came in 1998, when Club members qualified as professional lifeguards, with Matt Thurston and Craig Tolliday selected to patrol Yallingup beach during the school holidays.
Female membership of our club continued to grow through the 90s with women taking on more roles. Donna Peters became Treasurer in 1990 and in 1991, Sue Collins became our first female member elected Club Captain.
We celebrated our 60th anniversary in style in 1994/95. The new Active Clubrooms were completed and opened in March 1995, and included new changerooms, First Aid room, large Training room and Gymnasium, and an impressive (and huge) equipment/boat shed. Funding for the $650K building project was provided through grants from Lotteries Commission of WA, the Shell Company of Australia, the Federal Government, the Fremantle City Council, the Fremantle Port Authority and significant financing from the Fremantle Club itself. To top off the celebrations, we won the Haywood Efficiency Trophy for the best run club on the coast – another first for the Club as it was the first time in 21 years of the trophy.
In 1995, a new group of talented young Fremantle runners came to the fore to dominate the U16 and U18 beach events. Built around Luke Pember, Joel Moore and Travis Sheehy and with coaching from Club greats Richard Hickson and Mark Nolan, we won six state titles from 1995 to 1997. In 1997, our team of Luke, Joel, Travis and Scott Cumming blitzed the competition to win both the Australian and State Titles in the U/18 Beach Relay. Luke was also outstanding at the State Titles picking up 4 Gold medals in the U/16 Sprint, U/16 Flags and U/16 Relay, plus the U/18 Relay.
In the water arena, Lisa Anderson won a swag of State medals, including Gold medals in the U/16 Female Surf Race in 1994 and the U/18 Female Surf Race in 1996.
Champion sprinter Mark Peters continued to compete through the 90s and regularly placed in the WA Open Beach Sprint. In 1999, he won an Australian Masters Gold Medal in the 30-34 Beach Sprint.
At the other end of the spectrum, our Junior Activities (“Nippers”) put in a great team performance to win the handicap shield – the first time Fremantle had won the shield since its inception in 1985.
Finally, with WA Championship wins in the U/18 and U/21 Surf Boats in 1999, our Boat Crews foreshadowed strong performances to come as we looked forward to the new Millennium.
Fremantle – the 2000’s
The 2000’s presented a tale of three parts – the early part saw Fremantle’s Surf Boat crews being the powerhouse of competition in the Club. By mid-decade the beach arena again came to dominate with impressive results at the State Championships, and our next Australian Gold medal – in the U/17 Male Beach Relay in 2007. By the end of the decade our IRB team came to the fore, winning their first Gold medal at the 2007 State Championships and then, in 2008, the ultimate prize of Champion IRB Club. During this decade the Club also saw a Club Life Member inducted into the SLSWA Sporting Hall of Fame and another honoured with Life Membership of Surf Lifesaving WA.
At the start of the decade, Fremantle dominated in U21 and U18/U19 Surf Boats. We followed up our 1999 wins in U21 & U18 with the U18 title in 2000, the U19 and U21 titles in 2001 and the U21 title in 2002. In 2004, our Open Surf Boat crew of Justin Rose, James Tilbury, Dan Hamilton, Michael Cameron and Steve Petrie (sweep) were selected to represent WA at the interstate challenge in Southport, South Australia.
In 2005, Life Member Mark Nolan was inducted into the SLSWA Sporting Hall of Fame for his outstanding achievements as a competitor and coach in the beach arena. Mark won 4 WA Open Beach Sprint Titles in the 1980s, was a member and coach of the 1987 Australian Open Beach Relay Champions and was a nine-times member of the Open Beach Relay team which won 10 WA titles over 11 years. Fellow Beach Sprinter Jeff Davidson (Fremantle/Mullaloo) had also been inducted the previous year for his outstanding achievements as a beach competitor and coach.
Under the coaching of Mark Nolan, the U/17 Male Beach Relay (Alexander Obiri-Boateng, Matthew Lee, Daniel Chambers and Tom Nolan) won the 2006 Australian Championships at Kurrawa, Qld. Alex also won silver in the Australian U/17 Beach Sprint and Tom a silver in the U/17 Beach Flags. This followed an impressive showing at the State Titles where the beach team won five gold medals. The U/17 relay team won both the Open and U/17 beach relays, Alex Obiri-Boateng won both the Open and U/17 Male Beach Sprint, and Tom Nolan won the U/17 Male Beach Flags – a fantastic achievement by the beach team.
Proving that the goal of surf sports competition is to produce outstanding lifesavers, Alex Obiri-Boateng showed his lifesaving skills later that year during schoolies week at Rottnest where he saved his friend’s life after he collapsed with a rare, undetected heart condition – Alex was on the front page of the West Australian newspaper and received a Certificate of Merit from SLSWA for his actions.
In 2007, the beach team continued its winning ways with Tom Nolan winning both the Open and U/19 Male Beach Sprint, and the U/19 Male Beach Relay again winning the State Title. Sam Bourke replaced Alex who had a serious hamstring injury.
On 28 May 2008, Club Life Member Larry Tilbury received one of the most prestigious honours in surf by being inducted as a Life Member of Surf Lifesaving WA. Larry’s contribution to surf lifesaving in WA, including the Leighton/Fremantle SLSC, has been outstanding over more than 40 years, covering all facets of surf lifesaving activity. Dot Shearer (Port/Fremantle/North Cottesloe) and Tony Snelling (Port/Fremantle/Bunbury) were also honoured during the decade.
2009 was a year for outstanding performances in the water arena. Natasha Kayser and Danielle Lankester won the U/17 Female Board Rescue and teamed with Lauren Lankester and Laura Halden to win the U/17 Female Surf Teams. Lauren Lankester also won the U/15 Female 2km Beach Run.
Some interesting parent/child performances were observed during the decade.
At age 16, Shane Troy was a member of the 2001 State Champion U/21 Boat Crew. At age 17, Eric Troy had stroked the 1973 State Champion Reserve Grade Boat Crew, while also stroking the club’s Junior (U/18) crew at the same carnival.
In being selected as part of the 2004 State Boat Crew, James Tilbury emulated his father Larry, who was part of the Leighton Crew selected as the 1970 State Team Boat Crew.
And in winning the first of his 6 straight WA Open Beach Sprint Championships in 2007, Tom Nolan followed in the footsteps of his father Mark, who had won the first of his 4 WA Open Beach Sprint Titles in 1984.
Lifesaving methods and equipment have changed over the years. Our Club was the first in WA and one of the first in Australia to trial inflatable rescue boats in the early 1970s. IRBs developed to become a mainstay of SLSA search and rescue capability and over time a competition developed to help IRB crews hone their lifesaving skills.
The Fremantle IRB team, who had been slowly building and gaining experience through the decade, took out our first gold medal in 2007 in the IRB Female Rescue with members Anne-Marie Nunes (driver), Sophie Maguire and Paige Bavich.
The following season, in June 2008, Fremantle won the IRB Champion Club for the first time ever. Our IRB team blitzed the field, winning 5 gold medals and placing in another 4 events. This Champion Club win was to herald the start of an impressive run as we moved into the 2010s, with the Club winning the IRB Champion Club 6 times in the next 7 years.