In the early years, swimming was not always as common as it is now. At the beginning of last century, it was against the law to swim in sunlight hours, but in 1902 William Gocher announced to all including the police, that he would defy the ban and enter the water at Manly Beach at noon. He was apprehended but no charges were laid. Since the eradication of this law, surf swimming for recreation became as popular as it is today.
As beaches grew more popular, there was a rise in drownings. Experienced surfers and other devotees to the ocean soon realised the dangers that local residences were facing in the water, and saw the need for lifesaving bodies to assist those who weren’t familiar to the environment. SLSA, formed in 1907, also noticed the need for more patrolled beaches.
In 1938 an event now known as ‘Black Sunday’ occurred when a series of large waves hit Bondi Beach that swept hundreds of swimmers out to sea. Lifesavers eventually rescued 300 of them, many unconscious. The event did emphasise the value of surf lifesavers.
The beginnings of the Swanbourne Surf Life Saving Club can be traced back to the summer of 1930-31 when a group of regular enthusiasts held weekend swimming events at Swanbourne Beach. Each threw a penny in a tin and the winner collected the total.
Due to requests made, the Nedlands Road Board soon gave permission for a shed to be used as clubrooms, which, in 1932 enabled the establishment of Swanbourne SLSC. It was to be given this name because the Club was within jurisdiction of the Nedlands Road Board (now the City of Nedlands). The first general meeting – 28th Sept 1932 – set the official foundation date of the Club. The first President being H.A. Sharp and the first Club Captain A. Kemp. Club colours were at first going to be light and dark blue but due to complaints from other clubs they were changed to red and white with a black swan.
Swanbourne’s first season included 39 members with 19 of them completing their Bronze Medallion. After Bronze Medallion instruction started, four patrol teams were formed in November 1932, and a fine of 1 shilling was issued to members who were absent from duty. In 1932 Mrs. Stoneham formed a ladies club and having two of them, Mrs. Poole and A. Mclaren, elected to the Club executive, which allowed the ladies to have more say in the running of the Club. In 1976 a discussion was generated by the Australia wide proposal regarding women becoming members of the surf life saving movement. Although some were for and others against, it wasn’t until 1980 when finally Debbie Fleming, Donna Biggs, Kathy Godfrey and Jane Frederickson became the first female Bronze Medallion holders at Swanbourne, passing their exam on 14 December. Today nearly half of Swanbourne’s surf lifesavers are female and this figure is similar throughout the nation.
Swanbourne won its first state title in the 1933/34 season. Ron Claybrook won the senior beach sprint, which added strength to the Club in beach events. The Clubs’ first state representation was in 1938 when some members were selected to carry the state colours at the National Championships in Bondi. The old-fashioned belt race was the Clubs’ first Australian title in the senior division won by Bernie Kelly.
The Clubs’ first surf craft (1932-36) was made from steel drums and timber propelled by two home made oars. It was the only means of setting swimming buoys. Mostly skippered by Joe Gallon it was soon replaced by a new surf boat. Although originally designed for rescue work in which the IRB’s have now taken the role of, it soon became a superb competitive craft. The first surfboat launched in January 1937 was naturally called the Swanbourne. The Clubs’ first boat title was won in 1957 by the juniors in the Clubs’ second boat the “Reg Trigg” in recognition of Reg’s many dedicated years of service to the Club. The first IRB donated to the Club was in the 1975/76 season.
In the beginning, Swanbourne wasn’t a wealthy club. It survived on a small clubhouse and little money. During World War II, membership of the Club severely suffered. Fifty-five members were sent to war where five of them lost their lives. Though due to the running of the Club by juniors at this time the Club survived reasonably well. 1955 saw the deterioration of the clubrooms. Severe storms undermined foundations due to the closeness of the Club to the water, wind and current changes, sand drift and beach erosion. Eventually a total development plan was produced for Swanbourne Beach. Foundations of the original clubhouse can still be seen today near the reef south of the patrol tower.
In 1979, the current boatshed was completed with the support of the City of Nedlands.
1995, saw a new first aid room and lookout tower built on the beach side of the carpark. In addition the change rooms were refurbished and the gym was upgraded.
Swanbourne-Nedlands SLSC will be celebrated its 75th Anniversary in 2007. The Club continues to grow stronger and with the new club house being built the anniversary will begin a new era for the close Swanny members as we continue our work providing ‘Vigilance and Service’ to the community.