The little Bicheno Surf Life Saving Club and Boathouse is not just a shed.

The club and boathouse, principally for training young nippers to swim safely in the ocean, is a bold contemporary timber form placed like an abstract vessel careened on the edge of the quartz white sand of Waub’s Bay, Tasmania.

The timber boathouse stands proudly as a public gesture. Serving as a historic beacon, it takes cues directly from the activities of the last five remaining commercial cray fishing boats that operate out of Bicheno today. Cray fishing is a traditional commercial fishing activity that was once the mainstay of the coastal town’s economy.

Timber battens are laid horizontally in a crafted pattern of alternating sizes with finger-jointed ends expressed at each corner. The banded timber cladding is a direct metaphor interpreting cray-pots that are today still handcrafted using traditional time honored techniques weaving thin natural timber strips into a delicate striation to form the trap vessel.

By day the timber crafted box washed ashore shall grey and silver to give a subtle patina over time, and contrastingly by night the little building becomes a lantern shouting out loud a message that the proud Bicheno community cares for both its environment and its children’s wellbeing. 

Key initiatives:


  • Environment – the site proposed for the new club and boathouse is located in an environmentally fragile area, which required a sensitive approach to design. An earlier prefab tin shed proposal required the removal of a primary sand dune with native trees, sandpiper nesting and penguin habitats. Birrelli Architects’ design saves these significant eco-systems whilst building a humble surf life saving club and boathouse
  • Economics - the project was challenged economically by a shoestring budget. The nature of the club as a not-for-profit organisation meant finite grant money was both the means and the limitation for the scope of the project. Birrelli’s pro-bono services and cost effective design enabled the project brief to be realised within the small budget allowed. The project outcome is a low maintenance, low running cost building, which requires minimal ongoing financial input for maximum club usability
  • Social – the club and boathouse have allowed adults and children to participate in activities such as: learning to swim, bronze medallion, open ocean swimming races and training, fund raising events and more. The facility has extended its role beyond anticipated expectations as a simple little nippers club and boathouse

Photography by Rob Burnett