In 2015, Perth, the capital city of Western Australia, was voted the 8th most liveable city in the world. It’s also one of the world’s most isolated major cities. In fact, it’s closer to Dili in East Timor and Jakarta, Indonesia, than it is to any other Australian capital.
Geographic remoteness didn’t exclude Perth from a thriving bike culture during the early 20th Century, along with the rest of the developing world. Many builders flourished during that era, most notably the Swansea brand from Fremantle.
The Swansea Cycles and Motor Co. was founded by Howard and Les Baldwin, two brothers, while they were only in their early twenties — an inspiring story for today’s aspiring frame builders — although the exact year they started their business is unclear.
Using components imported from England, they sold all 70 of the bikes they made in their first year of business. Exactly how they learned to make bicycle frames is also unknown. Their bikes were highly regarded, however, and they expanded quickly.
By 1939 they had moved into a larger factory space in Fremantle, and proceeded to churn out more than 1500 cycles a year, with staff of 33. That year, their 4 and 5 Swan top models were introduced, sold by agents throughout the state.
This 1959 6 Swan model is somewhat of an anomaly, built for Frank Baldoni, an Italian ex-pat employee at the Swansea factory, who also raced track for the company. His name is still visible on the top tube.
It’s been sympathetically restored by Rob Frith, a Perth-based photographer with a great passion for locally-made bikes and their history. Rob’s been instrumental in establishing a Swansea register, and is also the President of the WA Historical Cycle Club.
It’s Bike Week in Perth this week, and the WAHCC is holding an exhibition of bikes at the Museum of Perth as part of it, titled Our Hidden Cycling History. Ironically, the exhibit is held in the building originally used as headquarters for the League of WA Wheelmen.