Coogee Beach boat sheds © Azelia Ley Homestead Museum, Cockburn Public Libraries

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.

The boatsheds were probably privately built in the years around 1936, to contribute revenue for the Fremantle Roads Board to maintain the beach as a public pleasure ground. Due to Coogee Beach’s proximity to the naval base, it was a federally administered area after World War I, and continued to be so despite the public frequently using it as a holiday and bathing spot. The Roads Board petitioned the Federal Government for years to be granted the area to administer locally, as the amenities were inadequate and the Board received many complaints without being able to take any action.

Aerial view of the boat sheds in the dunes at Coogee Beach, 1953. © City of Cockburn Aerial Mapping

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. It’s unlikely that these huts were what are generally called the boatsheds, since records state that the Roads Board only built six and they appear to have been further back from the dunes than people remember the boatsheds being. They were most likely on the site of the current caravan park, as this area seems to have been set aside and used as campgrounds since that time.

These huts are mentioned frequently in local newspapers, with Coogee residents giving ‘Hut 6′ or Hut 2, Coogee Beach’ as their permanent address, and during the early 1950s they were rented out as housing to homeless families, returned servicemen and others. 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.

Boat sheds at Coogee Beach, © Azelia Ley Museum/Cockburn Public Libraries

As for 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. Several other mentions of similar structures can be found scattered throughout the newspapers of the day, including regular private advertisements for their sale or lease. In 1949 an angry resident demanded to know why the authorities were allowing houses and boatsheds to be erected when they deprived people of camping and swimming space. The reply was that this was allowed in order to provide revenue and there was plenty of room for everyone.

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!”

“Boat sheds at Coogee”, The West Australian, March 1936 / “Coogee Camping”, The Daily News, January 1949
Researched and written by L. Napier, Spearwood Public Library, 2013.