The new WA Museum Boola Bardip opened in the Perth Cultural Centre on Saturday 21 November.

In pride of place up the first escalator is Cygnet V, a former Swanbourne Nedlands SLSC wooden surf boat, hanging from the ceiling! The Club colours and the old crest can clearly be seen on the oars and the bow, with Swanbourne Nedlands SLSC written down the side.

Michael Gregg, Maritime History curator approached the Club earlier in May this year stating:

“In 1991 your club donated the wooden surfboat CYGNET V to the WA Museum. It was on display for many years in our Historic Boats Museum, and we are now looking to exhibit it again as a centrepiece object in the new Museum for WA in Perth when it opens later this year.

Unfortunately, the boat was incomplete when donated to the Museum, in particular lacking both oars and two rowlocks. We are therefore looking to source an appropriate set of wooden oars to display with the boat, and two suitable rowlocks.”

Thank you to Kevin White who sourced the additional physical components (2 oars, sweep oar and rowlocks), the Management Committee for supporting the donation of these items, John Stringfellow, Ed Jaggard and Ross Bosworth who contributed historical information and Tim Tucak who coordinated everything with the WA Museum from May 2020.

Thank you to Cherie McLachlan, a new Club member, for these photos. Cherie was super proud to watch this installation in September! (I’m assuming Cherie is an engineer and not a health professional!) It was a very complex job (that she isn’t taking credit for) and Cherie thinks Cygnet V really does seem like it is rowing in space!

WA Museum Fly Through

Cygnet V

In an effort to improve on some of the slight deficiencies of the previous boat the A crew of the time together with Bill Ninham the builder got together and redesigned the boat. The first boat of this modified mould was Cygnet V, launched in 1978. The result was not quite what had been desired and the A crew had difficulty adjusting to the new boat. It was therefore relegated to the Reserve crew who showed that there was nothing really wrong with it by winning an Australian Reserve Boat Championship in 1979. Since that time the use of the boat has been minimal so that it is still in excellent condition.[1]

The Australian title won by the Reserve or B crew had few of these epic qualities, yet it proved what experience and determination could do. Three of the rowers, Ross Bosworth, Peter Wales and Ian Hodgkinson had been in the 1970 Junior and 1973 Senior champion crew. They persuaded George Jolly to sweep them, added Gary Olsen in his first competitive season as a rower, then relied on their superb timing plus speed off the beach to conquer their opposition. That they did, time and time again through the season so that it became obvious that with a little luck they would have a real chance in the National Titles. A favourable draw and a good start in the final gave them a lift, the result being another remarkable victory by one of W.A.’s smaller clubs.[2]

1979 Australian Reserve Grade Surf Boat Champions. P. Wales, R. Bosworth, K. Jolly, I. Hodgkinson, G. Olsen.

Video of the 1979 Australian Championships Reserve Grade Surf Boat race:

1979 also saw the Club win its third Australian title. At the Australian Championships held at Triggs Island the Reserve Boat crew got a break at the start in the final and held on to win. This was one of only two titles won by W.A. competitors at these championships – the other being won by Scarborough in the double ski.[3]

[1] Striving To Serve, Swanbourne-Nedlands Surf Life Saving Club, The First Fifty Years 1932-1982

[2] Striving To Serve, Swanbourne-Nedlands Surf Life Saving Club, The First Fifty Years 1932-1982

[3] Striving To Serve, Swanbourne-Nedlands Surf Life Saving Club, The First Fifty Years 1932-1982


John Stringfellow was Club President in 1991 and prior to this was Surf Boat Captain for 14 seasons. John recalled the following:

“We donated Cygnet V to the Fremantle Boat Museum when we ran out of room in the boatshed for the Norm Rees II surfboat that was purchased from North Cronulla. Tuppy Lahiff (a great surf competitor helped restore boats at the museum) and as such I considered it would get well looked after. Cygnet V had virtually not been used from 1979 until it was donated to the Museum and as such it was still in good condition. It was one of the last, if not the last, boats built by Bill Ninham who also built the Cygnets II, II and IV. I admired Bill greatly as he was a mentor to me from when I was in my first year of sweeping. I felt donating the boat to the Museum would be a tribute to both Bill and to the 1979 crew plus a few kudos to the Club. The boat was too good, in my opinion, to be thrown out and as the style was a bit unorthodox and old fashioned it would not have been wanted by any other club which would treat it in the manner that reflected it’s history.”

“Sundry equipment – Colour: From 1964/5 Swanbourne boaties wore Footscray football jumpers as their club identity (and to keep warm) and painted their oars with red, white and royal blue stripes.”


“Cygnet V was built by Bill Ninham in his backyard workshop in Howick Street, East Victoria Park (Lathlain) and launched in late 1978. Bill was then a pensioner and the boat was nominally built by his son in law Chris Lewkowski whose boat builder’s registration should be seen etched into the boat’s inboard keel. Bill provided the design and the labour.

The Club ordered a new boat from Bill as a replacement racing boat for the Cygnet IV which was then 5 years’ old and was showing its age. Cygnet IV was arguably the Club’s most successful boat having been jointly designed by the legendary Cottesloe SLSC sweep Arthur “Danny” Kay and Bill and was the second of its type off the mould. It had a V shaped hull to enhance its speed but which was considered to slow the buoy turns. Bill was asked to design a boat with a more rounded bottom hull. When Cygnet V first came off its mould its higher bow made it looked more like a Viking longboat then a traditional surf boat and this may have influenced the A crew’s opinion of its racing ability.

The Club’s logo on the bow was in the spirit of the 1979 150th Anniversary commemoration of the European settlement of Western Australia when the State government had a similar logo of a rampant swan with a golden sun behind it. Our logo had a rampant swan rising from a blue ocean against a crashing white wave and a setting red sun.

After Cygnet V’s launch the A crew decided the boat was not as good as Cygnet IV, principally because it sat higher in the water and they had trouble adapting to the change in their hand height when rowing. They went back to rowing Cygnet IV with Cygnet V being allocated to the B crew.

Having swept the current A crew to win the previous year’s state championship and three of the B crew in their State Junior and A crew championship it gave me a lot of satisfaction when we trained together in flat water. Both crews were highly competitive and there was not much difference between them when we raced each other which more or less proved that Cygnet V was not a slow boat. (The A crew prevailed more often). One thing was obvious, the B crew under Kevin Jolly were not under as much pressure to perform and as such were a happier crew.

At the 1979 State Championships the boat finals were held in a strong south-westerly sea breeze and the B crew finished third. This was a great disappointment to the crew as they had won the two previous carnival races but it made them more determined at the Australians.

After the 1979 Australian Championships both crews decided it was time to think of things other than surfboats and consequently Swanbourne boaties cease to exist for several years and Cygnet V lay unused in the boat shed.”

The oars and sweep were just plain varnished. As I recall these were the new oars supplied with the boat. I think the club had only one good set of oars painted in the blue blade with red and white bands, and they were used by the A crew.

Australian Champions
1979 Reserve Grade Surf Boat Race Trigg Island, WA
Peter Wales, Ross Bosworth, Gary Olsen, Ian Hodgkinson, K. (George) Jolly (Sweep)

Ross Bosworth, a member of the 1979 Australian Championships Reserve Grade Surf Boat Race crew recalled that:

“I don’t know who was taking photos at the Championships, though there must have been someone, as in the 75th Anniversary photo collection there was a photo of the B crew being presented their medals. (See photo above) Unfortunately I have no idea who took that photo – they may have some photos of the race.

The only ‘action’ photos I have of us in Cygnet V were taken after the championships when the ‘crew photos’ were taken.”