Cockburn locals have fond memories of the little holiday shacks that used to be scattered around the dunes of Coogee Beach. Often referred to as the boatsheds, these little shacks spent thirty years as holiday spots and fishing boat sheds, until the mid 1960s when they were sadly destroyed in a fierce storm.
Origin of the boat sheds
The boatsheds were built by private owners from 1936 onwards, to allow the Fremantle Roads Board to collect revenue to maintain the beach as a public pleasure ground.
Coogee Beach was part of a Commonwealth government land holding stretching from Henderson to Coogee, land resumed in the early 1910s when Cockburn Sound was to be the site of the southern hemisphere’s newest naval base. Though construction on the base was abandoned after
the First World War, the government retained all the resumed land.
People from all over Perth visited Coogee Beach for its calm seas and natural beauty. In 1930 the road from Fremantle was upgraded and widened, greatly increasing the amount of visitors who camped there for days at a time. The lack of amenities and unhygienic conditions became a source of irritation to the Roads Board, who were powerless to change conditions unless the Commonwealth government granted them permission.
Roads Board take control of Coogee Beach
They were finally granted a 20 year lease in 1934, after which they soon began a round of improvements that included updating the water supply, building a restaurant and hiring a groundskeeper. They also built some huts to be hired and used through the summer, which were near the site of today’s Coogee Beach Holiday Park, though these were unrelated to the boatsheds.
The Roads Board announced their intent to approve any applications for private boat sheds in March 1936 (for an annual fee of £1), subject to certain restrictions on style, building materials and placement. Buildings had to be built of wood, iron, or similar material.
The Roads Board accepted that the sheds may be occasionally used for overnight stays by fishermen, but stated that ‘the establishment of permanent camps there would not be countenanced’. This attitude caused many problems in the following decades, when unemployment and housing shortages forced many to live in semi-permanent camps around Coogee.
Location of the boatsheds
The boat sheds became part of life at Coogee Beach. Families kept them for beach days with tables, chairs, and mattresses inside, and fishermen used them to store boats and equipment. Aerial photographs from the 1950s show a long row of about 50 sheds stretching along the dunes from the northern end of modern-day Coogee Beach (bumping up against the Anchorage Butchers) to the site of today’s Surf Lifesaving Club, with more set further back from the shoreline.
When the Roads Board took over administration of Coogee Beach, they constructed six huts intended for people to holiday in. They were further back from the dunes than the boatsheds, and their original site has remained in use as a camping and chalet village since 1934. Today the
Coogee Beach Discovery Park is the manager of the site.
Post-war housing crisis
Coogee residents gave ‘Number 4 Cottage′ or ‘Hut 2, Coogee Beach’ as their permanent address, and during the post-war housing crisis of the late 1940s and early 1950s the huts were rented out as housing to homeless families, returned servicemen and others struggling to find places to live. Many of these people also camped there illegally when they had nowhere else to go, and were repeatedly threatened with eviction by the Roads Board.
Demise of the boatsheds
One Cockburn resident remembers taking holidays to Coogee Beach as a child, where they would get their freshwater from a spring that bubbled up from the dunes behind the boatsheds. Another recalls the sad circumstances surrounding the demise of the boatsheds, which are popularly held to have blown down in a storm in 1964:
“They didn’t blow down in a storm as such. The tide was high that winter of 1964, and advanced so far up the dune that the shacks one by one, bit by bit, simply toppled into the sea. The front section giving way first. They dangled precariously for a while. We were given plenty of notice and people came and took away mattresses, tables and chairs, anything that was movable. Some went faster than others. An end of an era!”