THE CHRONICLE OF SCUBA DIVING IN AUSTRALIA 1950 TO 2019

   

 

Index

1917 TO 1959

1960 TO 1969

1970 TO 1979

1980 TO 1989 A

1990 TO 1999

2000 TO 2009

2010 TO 2019  Part One

2010 TO 2019  Part Two


 

IMPORTANT DATES AND EVENTS

1995                                                The first Great Barrier Reef Dive Festival was held in Cairns between August 26 and September 8. Dive Queensland and the Queensland Events Organisation have timed this event to coincide with the reefs best weather conditions.

The wreck of HMS Pandora on the Far Northern Great Barrier Reef is reported as being eaten away by micro organisms. She sank in August 1771. The 24 gun naval vessel had been sent to capture the notorious mutineers of the HMS Bounty.

An Australian Chapter of the Underwater Photographic Society was officially launched at Sydney's Scuba Expo in July.

Computer software and the Internet have come of age within the sport of scuba diving.  Numerous software packages are being written, also many organisations and individual divers are now on the Internet with a vast amount of information.

On March 18, South Australia's first underwater trail was opened by the Minister for Primary Industry, Dale Baker.

Protection of the great white shark moves a step closer in this country. Legislation in Australia is being considered by the present Commonwealth Government.

SSI Australia trained its first Japanese SSI Instructor Trainer, Kenichi Saito, to work in Australia.

After several years in planning and preparation, DAN has launched Project Dive Safety, an ambitious research project with an international list of participants. The idea of the project is to collect one million dive profiles, dive outcomes and diver characteristics into a research database by the year 2000.

1996                                                The New South Wales Police Diving Unit celebrated its 40th year of diving by raising $15,000 for the Royal Alexander Hospital for Children. The unit commenced in the mid 1950s, before this civilian divers were used for police work underwater.

Grey nurse shark numbers are increasing noticeably over the last few years since they became a protected species. The grey nurse population suffered during the 1960s when many spear fishermen slaughtered these creatures.

First shark attack at Heron Island in 25 years took place in March when an English woman was attacked when swimming off the beach in the early morning. It was not fatal, the shark mauled her arm and waist.

On February 5 the Inaugural Annual General Meeting of the Scuba Clubs Association of New South Wales was held. Members of the executive were John Chadd (Vice President). Les Catherson (Treasurer) and Julie Duncan (Secretary).

Technical diver Pat Bowring disappears off the coast of Sydney whilst diving on the deep wreck of the Paddle Steamer Koputai. His body was never found and there is some mystery as to how he went missing.

Popular Dive Log newspaper this year in November produced its 100th issue. The first issue, 8 years and 4 months ago consisted of 16 pages, today it has 100 pages chock full of interesting happenings in the sport diving field. It's still free of cost and available at nearly all dive shops throughout Australia.

1997                                               It was recently discovered that the first woman in Australia to scuba dive was Edith Scott now aged in her early 80s. With her husband she commenced scuba diving in February 1953, she was then aged 33. Her husband Robert Scott worked for QANTAS Airways and, on a trip to America, brought back two twin hose Cousteau-Gagnan regulators.

Moves to protect the great white shark Australia wide are gaining momentum in each State.

Nineteen ninety seven is the 30th year that Barry Andrewartha has published his excellent dive magazine SPORTDIVING.

The great white shark as well as the grey nurse shark, by law, are now protected species in Queensland waters.

The Scuba Clubs Association of New South Wales held their first combined outing on Sunday February 23rd. Two hundred divers attended from associated clubs.

First front cover colour issue of Dive Log Australia was published in May. Prior to this the paper has been all black and white.

Diving legend from Mike Ball Dive Expeditions at Townsville, Tui Murray, was killed in a motorbike accident in May.

There is a new Australian population of manta rays. Once thought to be a single species worldwide, recent research during 2009 indicate there are two species.

Along with 9 other prominent women divers from around the world, Australian's Jane Bowman was officially inducted into the Woman Divers Hall of Fame on March 27, 2010 at the Beneath the Sea Awards Banquet in Secaucus, New Jersey, USA. One of the few female PADI Course Directors in Australia and one of Australia's leading female cave divers and instructors. Of the 8000 dives Jane has made, 2000 have been in caves.

Murray Amor whilst at South West Rocks lost part of his right leg and arm in a cylinder explosion whilst filling cylinders at a dive shop. As a result of the accident he spent some time in hospital, his injuries are ongoing and debilitating but thankful he has recovered from his injuries and walks with little difficulty.

Victoria's first re-breathing course was conducted through Associated Divers, during July, there were four students.

On Wednesday, June 25, 1997, the diving world lost one its true pioneers, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, he died in a Paris hospital after suffering a major stroke.

A revolutionary new shark repellent device is on the Australian market. Named the Shark POD it causes a shark to veer away from a diver when the POD is activated.

             THE FUTURE

Well it's anybody's guess, however there are events that perhaps can be predicted with some sort of accuracy.

The number of divers, both scuba and spear fishermen will multiply because of the increases in the general population.

Studies involving the sea will be introduced into secondary education. High school pupils will be encouraged to snorkel and scuba dive.

Scuba divers in future will be able to stay underwater longer and dive deeper because of advanced technology.

In a decade or two, dry suits will be worn underwater in preference to wet suits in southern regions of Australia. They may even be self regulating as far as warmth is concerned.

Long distance underwater scooters and small wet and dry one or two man submarines may be affordable to the average diver in a decade or two.

As the numbers of divers increase diving items will become price competitive.

A resurgence in spear fishing will take place over the next ten years, it has already commenced, spear fishing will be tightly controlled and species of fish strictly regulated.

Private dive boats will gradually lose their appeal as dive charters boats become easily accessible, cheaper and more comfortable.

Governments and various scuba diving bodies will gradually control all sections of the sport.

Diving with re-breathing units will become popular with the average diver as safety equipment increases with technology.

Future divers will see the end of scuba units as we know them today.

In years to come the first basic underwater training program for divers will begin with the teaching of re-breathing and mixed gas course.

Divers will be diving to depths that were unheard of years ago. Depths to 300 metres and beyond will be almost average to future divers.

Looking further into the future we may see much smaller scuba cylinders filled with higher pressure mixed gases to last longer underwater.

The time may come when divers may no longer suffer nitrogen narcoses because of advance technology.

Looking well into the future divers may enter the sea with a very small cylinder attached to the mouth and breath a mixture of “sorts” that will enable him or her to stay underwater for well over two or three hours at any depth without decompressing.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE BEGINNING

..................

1917 to 1959

PIONEERING DAYS OF SKINDIVING

A NEW ERA HAS DAWNED

HANS HASS VISITS SYDNEY

PIONEER SCUBA DIVERS

DENIS ROBINSON PIONEER SCUBA DIVER

EARLY UNDERWATER REGULATORS

FIRST SCUBA DIVING CLUBS

WOMEN BEGIN SCUBA DIVING

DISCOVERY OF SHIPWRECKS

GAGNAN AND COUSTEAU HAD INVENTED AND TESTED THE AQUALUNG

THE BEGINNING OF SCUBA DIVING IN AUSTRALIA

WHAT KIND OF SPORT WAS SKINDIVING IN THE EARLY DAYS IN AUSTRALIA

AUSTRALIAS FIRST RECORDERS SKINDIVERS

EARLY AUSTRALIAN SCUBA DIVING - THE LAWSON LUNG

 

..................................................................

 

As time passed Australian divers became aware of the invention of a new aqualung, but it was not until 1951 that the first regulator was developed in this country, not as a production unit, but by individual pioneer divers. They were crude units compared to modern standards, some worked extremely well, and were the first SCUBA regulators in Australia.

Approximately six years after Cousteau first swam beneath the surface of the sea with his new invention, a Frenchman immigrated to Australia and with him brought the working plans of Cousteau's new regulator, not on paper but in his mind. Jacques Cousteau taught him to scuba dive before leaving France, his name was Michel Calluaud.

Michel worked for A.W.A (Sydney) Pty Ltd, and it was there that he met Ted Baker, a spear fisherman. When first told of the invention Ted Baker had his doubts, but nevertheless the two of them, in conjunction with George McCann, set out to build three twin hose regulators. By the end of 1951, they had complete working models.

The regulators were first taken for testing to Bankstown Baths, in Sydney on December 1, 1951. The manager would not let them in because he feared a drowning might create an embarrassing situation for the local council. Their next move was to contact Enfield Public Baths where the manager welcomed them in to test the new equipment. Michel did his first testing at Quarantine Beach at Manly.

About six months earlier, George Davies from Newcastle built a homemade working model of an aqualung, at that time others throughout Sydney were being tested. Since then the aqualung has opened new underwater frontiers for people. It was the scuba regulators that enabled us to journey beyond the confinements of land and explore another world beneath the surface of the sea.

 

....................................................................

 

WHAT KIND OF SPORT WAS SKINDIVING IN THE EARLY DAYS IN AUSTRALIA: There were about two dozen skin divers in Australia in 1946, just after the Second World War. The pioneers would equip themselves with a mask, a weight belt, and a pair of sands shoes (dyed dark green). There were no snorkels, no flippers, and no wet suits in those days. To do the job of the latter they sometimes wore a kind of jerkin, a wrap-around affair, home made out of truck inner tube rubber. Beneath this, they wore swimming trunks and probably two old woollen sweaters, purchased from stalls at the markets. Underwater masks were not on sale. The pioneers made their own. How? First they would go to the disposal store for a round mirror of army issue from World War II. They would then scrape the mercury coating off the glass leaving a rough but usable small round piece of glass and a retaining rim. The rest of the mask consisted of a section of army Jeep inner tube, cut so that it would include two pieces to serve as straps for the back of the head. The early diver might have been a returned soldier, for many Second AIF men had been taught skin diving by New Guinea or Torres Strait islanders during the war. However, the pioneer would more than likely have been a novice, having read wartime military divers exploits, or about diving as a sport in France or the United States. Pioneers were, as one would expect worried about meeting sharks. For this reason, they carried spear guns, even if not hunting fish. These guns were backyard products. The spears did not carry lines and when used they were frequently lost. The public regarded the pioneers as insane and a danger to both amateur and commercial fishing. Many believed the presence of one or two divers in an estuary area could change the migratory habit of thousands of fish. In France, Italy and the United States, skin divers were already using snorkels and flippers before 1948 and they were covering long distances on the surface. In Australia skin divers were not using snorkels and were wearing sand shoes, lead belts of 6 to 12 lbs were usual and they were swimming over very short distances in rough seas and climbing rather than swimming in water. Spear fishing was more often from rocks than boats. They were mighty men, and preferred white water because there they would find the most interesting marine life and so they took risks. Not using flippers, and having remarkably heavy lead belts, these men had a very short swimming range. In 1948-49, there were few books or articles that a recruit to the new sport could read. There was one French book (not in English translation) and an American publication, "The Complete Goggler," by Guy Gilpatrick. What fish could be found at about 70 feet (22 metres) from the shore was any skin diver’s guess. It was thought that one could not swim far before encountering sharks. These were the days when skin diving was entirely a masculine sport. Hunting fish underwater did not appeal to women. Later, when the sport of wreck exploration, underwater photography and aqualung diving became popular, women started to become divers. From 1952, skin diving items could be bought in sports stores. Aqualungs, or scuba regulators, entered the scene in 1955. By then there had been a change in technique, adoption of snorkels, flippers, lighter or no lead weight belts. From 1948 there was a State Association, the USFA, which at first meant Underwater Spear Fisherman's Association, and later stood for Underwater Skin Divers and Fishermen's Association. The change was a subtle one to record the lesser emphasis on hunting, and to bring in "Skin divers" a word that had been previously rejected as too much American. Outside Australia, before the Second World War, skin diving had been introduced to the coasts of France by those who had studied the methods of the native divers in the French Pacific Territories. Sportsmen of the 1930s took up the sport in the South of France. Very quickly, it spread to California and Florida. In the 1920s some of Sydney's pioneers (as young lads) were diving with crude home-made masks and hand spears in Botany Bay and Sydney Harbour. Victoria followed in the early 1940s along with Queensland, and Tasmania about 1948. Pioneer diver, Don Linklater, as an army officer in the 1940s, was in charge of a detachment of Torres Strait Islanders. Many of Linklater's men were pearl and trochees shell divers before the war. He had already learned their language, and he was taught to dive without breathing apparatus. More and more chaps were taking up the sport of spear fishing, with the result that more fights and arguments were taking place between the anglers and spear men. Protests were written to the Chief Secretary's Department day after day, letters were sent to daily papers demanding the sport of underwater fishing be banned. Angling clubs were against them and everywhere they went they met with a hostile attitude. Finally, the last straw came when Bill Heffernan and Dick Charles were spear fishing in the channel at the entrance to Tuggerah Lakes. They had a few fish and were looking for more. On coming to the surface to get a breath of air, heard a loud voice yelling at them. Looking around, they saw the sergeant of police telling them to get out of the water. Before doing so, Bill Heffernan, who has a few brains, grabbed the fish and went down and tethered them to a rock on the bottom. Later his wife went in and got them. The sergeant told them he was going to arrest them and to go and get dressed before being taken to the police station. Well, then the arguments started. Why were we being arrested? There was no law to say they could not go in the water or even to spear fish. Even if there were, where were the fish for evidence? After much arguing on both sides the old sergeant was not quite sure whether he was coming or going, and in the end did a bit more mumbling and away he went Dick Charles said to Bill. "Well, we will be out of business altogether if this sort of thing keeps up". The only thing to do would be to form an association to protect our rights. Bill agreed but together we only knew two or three other underwater fishermen. This was 1947. There are many interesting stories that could be told of the early days of skin diving in this country, sadly a large number of pioneers have past on to that clear blue ocean in the sky, and taken with them some of the important early history of skin diving in Australia.

THE EARLY DAYS OF SCUBA DIVING IN NEW SOUTH WALES: Sydney. Early spring, 1952. A small group of keen underwater sportsmen were to be seen diving with compressed air equipment. They attempted to descend a few feet below the surface and there to breathe effortlessly, comfortably. It was probably the start of scuba diving in Australia, though this cannot be stated with certainty. Other groups, hundreds of kilometres away, could have already made dives, probably with imported equipment. The dive in 1952 was made from the rocks at Obelisk Beach, Middle Harbour, Sydney, New South Wales. The regulator of the "lung" used was of guesswork design, intended to resemble a French designed aqualung. Two units had been made in a small factory, the usual products of which, apart from some wooden shoulder stock spear guns, were jukeboxes.

An early female diver under instruction.

Indeed, the fact was that these two back room created scuba devices, very likely one of the first in Australia, were constructed in a jukebox factory. A second attempt to find out whether these prototypes possessed promise was made soon afterwards at Smedley's Point, near Manly. Unfortunately, there are today no written records of these events. I (Edward du Cros) was one of the divers, and from memory will report what I believe was said and done. The "diving lungs" did not work at all well. Breathing was difficult, and as the depth increased things became worse. People soon agreed that they were probably unsafe, and that the designers were on the wrong tack. It was decided that they should be dismantled and end the project. Some weeks later, a couple of skindivers went out again to Smedleys Point, but this time they took turns to dive with a French Cousteau-Gagnan Aqualung, brought to Australia by a Hong Kong businessman. Before Christmas, 1952, the same team of skin divers manufactured eight or nine aqualungs in a light engineering factory at St. Leonards, a northern suburb of Sydney, and the copies of the Cousteau-Gagnan design, a patent infringement. Activities at St Leonard's, of course, violated the patent protection of the aqualung Captain Cousteau and M. Gagnan invented. There was a difference, not a major design feature, the regulator was mounted on the chest of the user, and not behind his or her head. There was no buying and no selling. There were eight or nine St. Leonard's made diving lungs, and these were lent to various experienced skin divers. No court case took place over this affair. The reason for this was either that the patent holder never heard about the carrying on in New South Wales, or that they possessed common sense and a sense of proportion of a country too far away from France. These Sydney pioneer scuba divers were members of the historic USFA. This was the Underwater Spearfishermen's Association. (Retaining the initials, it became the Underwater Skin Divers and Fishermen's Association in 1953). The users of the St. Leotard’s version aqualung, who were all friends and diving mates, soon formed two scuba clubs. Their constitutions differed, but they were very similar. One was the Underwater Explorer's Club, and the other, the Underwater Research Group. The year, 1953, must have seen the design and prototype stages of Melbourne “Porpoise”. These units were in full production by 1954 or 1955. In the publications of the time, it was soon being stated that the Porpoise equipment had become popular with civilian skin divers, salvage companies and the services. In Victoria and in New South Wales, sport stores had some scuba gear on sale in 1954. The following year, Sydney divers, using their St Leonard's made units on a most notable wreck that had been the scene of appalling drama and tragedy. This was the three-masted sailing ship, Dunbar. It is a wreck location that in a straight line is less than 5 kilometres from the centre of Sydney. Its exact place had been forgotten after the hard hat divers left the scene in the mid 19th century. In 1857, the Dunbar, carrying migrants, had failed to enter the Heads of Sydney Harbour, and had met the rocks head on. One man climbed along the bowsprit and dropped on to the shore. All others in the ship lost their lives by drowning. I was one of the divers, among the Underwater Explorer's Club members, who dived at the site in 1955. Conditions were not good, a moderate sea was running. On the boat above us, most people were sick, a usual occurrence at this location.   We found the rivets of the Dunbar's hull straight away. They were about 3 cm wide and about 60 cm long. We armed ourselves with these, using them as levers, and very soon were finding large numbers of copper coins. Twelve years later, I revisited the wreck.

Many Artefacts from the wreck of the Dunbar, that sank in 1857 with the loss of all on board except one sailor.

At that time, I was told that dynamite had been used, illegally of course, in the late 1950s, resulting in gold coins being brought up and probably sold. Underwater Explorer's Club members recovered willow pattern crockery and a school room type inkwell and I brought up a pair of spurs, made of silver, intended for a small child. The finds were donated to the Australian Museum, as were others. This was the first dive of its kind, but since this project, exploring wrecks with scuba and ranging over potential wreck areas has become an established activity in all States. Many wreck sites have been revealed, which in the days before scuba were not located or were unreachable. Unhappily, human nature being what it is, there is now the problem of underwater vandalism. Since scuba has been taking sport divers to greater depths, there has been an unexpected result with soft corals being encountered, and also sea fans, or gorgonians, that are not growing in predicted tropical waters, but for instance, in Sydney Harbour. It can be reported that four types of soft corals, seven of true or hard corals, and five species of sea fans, as well as sponges and molluscs, have been discovered. The sea fans, usually red, orange or yellow, were found by divers, growing up to about 45 cm high, among the boulders that lie below the inside of North Head. Scuba divers also found plate coral green in colour, that is the same as the plate coral of the Great Barrier Reef. It is fluorescent under ultraviolet light. This coral in Sydney Harbour is now known to be found at North Head and George's Head, and other sites including Fairlight, Dobroyd Head, and South Head, near Lady Jane Beach. North West of the Spit Bridge, scuba divers found a 15 metre area of white soft coral covered by orange sponges. The arrival on the scene of scuba has, not unexpectedly had a profound effect on commercial diving. However, before 1954, all commercial activity underwater had been the concern of "hard hat" divers. Then there came a quick, perhaps dramatic change, very many newcomers, scuba men of course, had no trouble finding clients, who offered work seeking lost items, often outboard motors, or for instance, inspecting moorings, or the hulls and propellers of ferry craft. The scuba salvage men were usually one man businesses. Soon many of them acquired "hookah" gear well suited for much of the work. The new breed commercial divers prospered as years went by. In addition, soon on the scene were underwater filmmakers, who used scuba. The period of resounding successes in underwater movie making date from the 1960s, and Australian film men and women had no trouble with the international scene. It was a quite different story during the earlier period of scuba diving movie making. In 1953, this country's first skindiving movie firm was starting to operate. It was Coral Sea Productions, and from that year until the 1960s, film work by scuba divers resulted in more losses than monetary gain. But in those years, the underwater sequences for the American film, Rachel Carson's "The Sea Around Us", were shot by Australia's first underwater film maker, Noel Monkman, and those for the Chips Rafferty Productions film, "King of the Coral Sea", were the products of Noel Monkman and Jeff Jackson of the Coral Sea Company. Success overall eluded the early scuba diving film men, I believe, because although they were creative and excellent craftsmen, they were ahead of their time. The first diving school or perhaps the words, courses in scuba diving, should be used, in New South Wales, was started in 1954. It may not have been the first of such objects in Australia, as there is no reason why a similar one could not have been introduced in Victoria in 1953, perhaps it was. A one man business obviously would not be practical and so I took on two assistants. These were a young fellow and a girl and they were not experienced divers. Public interest was not very great at the time. I advertised through the State Association and in the sport stores that sold masks, snorkels and flippers, which were few in number, and adopted the grandiose sounding name, “The Underwater Swimming School of Sydney”. Fees were fixed that were absurdly low, as my henchman, henchgirl and I did not want to scare away the applicants, and we only wanted what was needed for the price of air for our school outings and other dives. Our scuba equipment amounted to three units, two on loan from “Porpoise” of Melbourne, and my own Sydney made diving lung. We took our clients out on a number of cheerful, picnic type outings, and they attended several evenings of talks in my flat. These scuba diving courses I ran for about six months. About 40 or 50 people took part and then I handed the operation over to friends in the URG (Underwater Research Group). They continued the diving school for many years, and later I came back on the scene and assisted them. I remember that very few things went wrong during that period, the spring of 1954, only high pressure valves blowing off from time to time. Among the learners, the easiest to teach were a group who were pilots of light aircraft.

Four civilian police divers searching for a body that was lost at sea.

Considering these events, and thinking about the years between 1953 and 1954. There has of course, been the levelling and the raising of standards and skills for diving instructors. Two types of scuba regulators came on the market, both inexpensive, a unit imported from Britain called the "Sealion”, and the North Sydney made “Barnes Scubamatic”. Although not in the same class as the “Porpoise”, the French “Aqualung” and some United States units, they performed well and gave their owners good service for a long time. During the 1954 and 1955 period there was no Police Diving Squad in New South Wales. It was to come later. However, six Underwater Explorer's Club member five men and one girl, became auxiliaries of the Police Cliff Rescue Squad pending the arrival of members of the force to take their place. Bodies were recovered from under the water, and various items connected with crime. On behalf of the Cliff Rescue Squad, there were other, less to be expected ventures. There was the matter of a certain submerged car, looking to see if people were still inside, huge waves, and a strong surge, and one of a child under the surface in the underwater machinery part of a power station. There was a strong element of tragedy involved in most of these dives for the police. I was in the Underwater Explorer's Club team, but I was also connected with an underwater film making company, and with the USS of S, dives. I played a minor part. This could not be said of a member of the unit, my diving mate, Shanahan, "Mad Mick" Shanahan. Mad Mick was venturesome, and quite fearless. He explored, he recovered things, he dived when the sea was lethally rough, he swam through areas of jagged metal below monstrous waves. Mad Mick was larger than life. He was qualifying to become a civil engineer at university. He was driving a hire car, he was diving, he was leading a full social life as well. All this much at the same time. The early years of scuba may have been the pioneer years, they may have been the heroic years, and they may have been the casual years. Whatever this period had been, it was ending. Early in this decade, scuba diving did not look like becoming a large scale sport. Perhaps it was the coincidence of several bad summers in eastern Australia. Perhaps a number of shark scares. However, it was not long before the public wanted to see and hear a lot about the sport. It was made known, for instance, that most male film stars and most best selling writers of adventure stories were dedicated scuba divers, and it became customary for crime and espionage films to include a chase or a battle underwater by wearers of scuba.     

AUSTRALIAS FIRST RECORDED SKINDIVER

ALICK WICKHAM: Alick Wickham was born in 1888, the son of an English sailor who was shipwrecked in the Solomon Islands in the 1870s and stayed there to become a successful planter and trader. Wickham came to Australia as a young boy, at the turn of the century, to study at the Old Fort Street High School in Sydney. In 1918 Alick attained international fame with a 62.7 metre world record high dive from a cliff-top tower into the Yarra River, 6 metres high than the  roadway of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. During a swimming carnival at Bronte Baths, he astounded the crowds by swimming as none had seen before. The stroke was later called free Style swimming or the Australian Crawl, and he set a new record that lasted into the 1950s, when beaten by a fraction of a second, by John Devitt an Olympic swimming champion. Wickham became a colourful personality in Sydney. Called the human fish because of his outstanding underwater feats in water polo and skin diving, he was the very first recorded spear man in Australia in 1917. In 1918 Alick attained international fame with a 62.7 metre world record high dive from a cliff-top tower into the Yarra River, 6 metres high than the  roadway of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Considered at the time by most of the population of Sydney as a bit of an eccentric he was threatened with gaol if he continued underwater fishing, but spear fish he did, and he was so successful that he made headlines in the daily papers. Alick Wickham created such an attraction to seaside audiences every time he entered the water to spear fish, that at one time the police had to control crowds of people watching him from the foreshores of Sydney Harbour. He used his ability to submerge for long periods on many of the deep reefs close to Sydney, without the aid of fins or snorkel. All he used was a long hand spear as did island natives. Apparently he was not afraid of sharks, he told newspapers of the day that he had a special understanding with all sharks, that had been taught to him during native ceremonies of the "Shark Callers" in the Solomon Islands. He stayed here long enough to see one or two other men follow him into the sport of spear fishing, but would never know that eighty years later the sport he pioneered in Australia would become a multi-million dollar industry, with over 700,000 followers. Alick Wickham remained in Sydney until 1926 returning to the Solomon Islands to inherit a property on the death of his father. He remained there until his own death in August 1967.

FATHER OF SKINDIVING IN AUSTRALIA

DENNY WELLS: Denny Wells started diving and spearing fish during the early 1920s. He was one of the first Europeans in Australia involved in what was to become, four decades later, an extremely popular sport world wide. Most of his diving was done around the foreshores of Clovelly, Botany Bay, and Sydney Harbour. Called a "spear gunman" in those early days he wore no fins or snorkel neither rubber suit nor weight belt, only bathers, and large rubber milkman boots. The first gun Denny Wells made was from an electrical steel piping conduit, and the spear propulsion was from starting rubbers used for trotting races. His guns tock, carved from wood, lasted for many years. Denny Wells was a toolmaker by trade, and this enabled him to invent and make a trigger mechanism for his early spear guns. His basic design is still in use today on many of the modern guns sold by Undersee Products. Wells taught himself to dive and spear fish in the pioneering days of sand shoes, gum boots, and home made masks.

Denny Wells.

He never won any underwater fishing titles, but he did manage to shoot a huge stingray at Norah Head. It was a world record for an unassisted catch and it still stands today. When the Underwater Fishing Association commenced in 1948, Denny was elected Vice-President, along with Dick Charles as President and Les Hawley as Secretary. Denny's wife, May had one of the first membership cards of the Association. Membership at the time numbered about 50 people or less. Denny did not contribute to any publication, as many pioneer spear men did in those days. At one time Ben Cropp wanted to write Denny's life story. but he said, no, and that was that. He did some underwater photography, but as there was not much money about for that type of luxury so Denny kept it to a minimum. Denny Wells snorkelled and speared fish throughout his entire life, up until he was almost 80 years of age. He died 4 days before his eightieth birthday, and is survived by his wife and two children, a daughter Crystal, who resides at Orange, New South Wales, and a son Barry.

PIONEER  SKINDIVER

BILL HEFFERNAN: With the family moving to Tamworth when Bill was 12 years of age he began to look under the water in the Peel River, becoming fascinated with all he saw. He made a spear by inserting a sharpened piece of fencing wire into a wooden stick. By holding the wooden shaft by his side and throwing it forward with an underarm motion he was successful in spearing his first fish, a catfish. At the age of 15 Bill moved to Sydney to look for work. During this time his parents relocated to Goulburn and he joined them there shortly after, taking up an apprenticeship as a plumber. With several freshwater rivers and lakes nearby his interest continued. During these early years he made his first face mask by making a plaster mould of his face and shaping it to take a small glass plate in front of his eyes. From this a bronze casting was made. This first mask covered only his eyes, leaving his nose exposed. His idea was that he would now be able to swim along the river beds to depth of 3 metres. Much to his surprise he found he could not breathe below a depth of about half a metre, not having taken into account the effect of water pressure on his chest, so it still became a matter of holding his breath while diving. Finding the car tube too difficult to tow he soon discarded this for a small boat like float that served as the air inlet. He completed his apprenticeship just as the great depression hit (in 1929) and for a while moved around the countryside mainly finding work on sanitary installations. Beginning to work as a plumbing contractor he began to work from a rented shed that he later purchased. Now with his own workshop he set about designing and making a breathing apparatus. Moving to Forbes he met and married Pearl in 1933. Pearl died in 1944 shortly after the birth of their son Kerry. Bill then wandered the state for a while, doing some gold prospecting. He then married Elma Franklin and they moved to The Entrance on the NSW Central Coast. Diving in salt water for the first time opened a whole new world to him. With fish being larger and more plentiful Bill soon realised that a much better method of spearing them was required, and a gun was to dive deeper. With his plumbing experience Bill knew he would need to have separate air inlet and outlet valves and constructed a device consisting of a full face mask cast in bronze. Connected under the chin was a tube 3.5 metres long which extended to an inflated car tube which supported the air inlet clear of the water. On the side of the mask was another tube much like a snorkel through which expired air was expelled.

Bill Heffernan (left) and Les Gleeson (right) in 1946.

His first spear gun was only 800 mm long with a spear made from 6 mm German silver (an alloy of copper, nickel and zinc) and powered by a 12 mm rubber. With no line attached much time was spent looking for spears lost. At this time nylon cord was not available, so to attach the spear to the gun a cord was made by plaiting strands of silk. Three of these plaits were then braided together; however fish larger than 1.5kg would snap this line. Braided nylon becoming available after the Second World War provided a real boost to spear fishing. With experience it was soon realised that in order for the spear to travel further both the gun and the spear had to be longer. He then designed and made his first long gun. He had invented a trigger mechanism which would hold the spear so that the rubber could be pulled back and engaged in small slots filed in the spear which by now had been increased in size to 8 mm. Bill often spoke of his making of the first long gun as his greatest contribution to the sport. Bill then had a chance meeting with another spear fisher, Dick Charles, who was on holidays from Sydney. They met while spear fishing at The Entrance channel and a friendship soon developed. The two were often seen spearing large quantities of fish in the channel, much to the disgust of local fishermen. The commercial fishermen's association called for spear fishing to be banned accusing him, by engaging in spear fishing, of altering the migration patterns of fish and disrupting commercial and recreational fishing along the coast. As bad feeling grew stronger Bill was often hit by sinkers or rocks thrown by fishermen and jagged by cast hooks, with arguments often ending in blows. With the state government being urged to ban spear fishing the local police sergeant took it upon himself to make life as difficult as he could for Bill, but apart from the constant harassment there was little he could do. Because of all this Bill made up a small anchor and would secure his fish to this and then leave the water and go home, a short walk away and return late in the afternoon to retrieve his catch. It was after one particular nasty encounter with this sergeant that Bill and Dick Charles laid the groundwork for the formation of the USFA which was accomplished at a meeting held at Long Reef on 4th April 1948. A growing business in the manufacture of spear fishing equipment saw him forming Heffernan Spear Fishing Equipment Pty Ltd on 11th September 1952. The business grew rapidly with orders from retail outlets as well as many from overseas, but becoming sick of the repetitious nature of the work the business was wound down though still supplying equipment in smaller quantities until around 1957. Bill also built and presented a large trophy for an annual Angler versus Spear Men Competition which was held at Toowoon Bay with the fishing area from Norah Head to Terrigal. Bill was also instrumental in the founding of the Central Coast Sea Lions. At the age of 84 he had his last dive in the channel at Forster.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

PIONEER UNDERWATER DESIGNER

FRANK CUNLIFFE: Frank was a pioneer skin diver, designer of early spear guns, committee member for the first Spear Fishing Association in Australia and ex-Second World War soldier. As a young lad he experimented with new ways of fishing. He shot them with a bow and arrow and pea rifle, stabbed them with harpoons from a boat, netted and trapped them, tried to decapitate surface fish with wire whips and tin discs, bombed them and electrocuted them. By 1950, Frank had reached the age of 42 and he still loved fishing as much as he did at the age of 10, but with a spear gun instead of dynamite. He mostly spears fish in the lake at Narrabeen or in the surf, fishing with a spear gun he introduced into Australia in 1939. The advent of the spear gun put a new complexion on his fishing. "Underwater it's as if a succession of marine valleys and ridges filled with plants and fish life," he said. "Vision is about 50 feet (15 metres) on a clear day in the lakes". Frank dived in half-hour spells, 30 seconds underwater, five seconds on top. If necessary, he could probably stay down about a minute. His equipment was a simple spear gun with a 6 foot (2 metres) spear, goggles, and lead weight belt. His home made spear gun was valued at six pounds ten shillings (13 dollars). Frank holds a record catch in Narrabeen Lakes for spearing 80 fish in one day. He had his first introduction to underwater goggles at Bondi well before the Second World War. He saw a young fellow wearing them and promptly borrowed them. One eyepiece immediately filled with water but what he saw through the other convinced him that they were essential for underwater fishing.

Frank Cunliffe.

He experimented and finally made a single lens mask that covered his eyes and nose and gave something like normal vision underwater. For the first time, he could see what he had to hit and realised that a hand spear was much too slow. His first spear gun had a broom handle for a barrel, two strips of motor bike tubing to propel the spear, and part of a bucket handle for a trigger. The spear was a length of fencing wire with a large, straightened fish-hook on the end. He tried it out during a holiday at Lake Conjola on the New South Wales coast in 1939. He soon found that the trigger was too stiff. He would get a fish all lined up and then the gun would not fire. He improved the trigger and found he needed some means of aiming. He attached a butt to the end of the barrel and then found that he hit the fish but the spear kept going right through his quarry. He then attached a crossbar that slowed the spear too much. He finally settled for the streamlined crossbar that fitted flush against the stainless steel spear. Frank experimented with 14 different spear guns before he finally patented a gun in 1941. At the time, he thought it was the first in the world. Later he discovered that a spear gun made of a sawn-off rifle had been in use in the France 30 years before. But it was the first spear gun in Australia. He battled for 18 months to patent his diving mask. He thought it was rather strange that the patents office should be protecting Japanese interest so zealously and at war with them at the same time. Just after the Second World War there were complaints from line fishermen who thought the spear men were getting fish that belonged to them. They felt the intrusion so strongly they went to the Fisheries Department and asked that underwater fishing be banned. Pioneer spear men Dick Charles, Frank Cunliffe, Denny Wells, Bill Heffernan, and a chap by the name of Les Hawley got together and formed an association to protect their interest and also the interests of a couple of dozen other spear men around at the time. When Frank's wife presented him with a baby boy he wanted to call him Bream, Mullet, Wobbegong, Cunliffe, but his wife settled for David Marlin, Marlin being the only fishy reference he could drag into the name.

JACK EGAN WON AUSTRALIA'S FIRST SPEARFISHING TROPHY

JACK EGAN: A true pioneer of spear fishing in this country was a man by the name of Jack Egan, one of the most highly skilled underwater men in Australia. He was also a foundation member of the Underwater Spear Fishermen's Association of New South Wales, and once held an Australian record for catching a silver drummer weighing 26 pounds. He designed and made the ancestor of spear guns most spear fishermen use today. The early type shoulder guns had split barrels, stainless sheet steel, rubber clamps and cutaway stock. Apart from being longer and thicker than most guns at the time and later having a two-piece trigger, they were identical to the first shoulder guns designed and made by Jack Egan. In the early days there was an increasing number of spear men who were suspicious of both the accuracy of their very early barreless guns and the theory that water acts as a barrel. Reverted to the Egan split barrel because they were sure it was accurate. Jack was also co-inventor, along with Don Linklater and Denny Wells, of the rubber wrap-on suit, marketed those days as the Sealskin suit. Like most early inventors of skin diving equipment Jack had a crazy streak that resulted in his making the gun to end all guns in 1948. A set of cables and pulleys, weird stainless steel shapes and a massive wad of internal rubbers, each item of which, either singly or together, broke, came adrift, or otherwise played up. Sometimes it worked beautifully and it was on one of those days that Jack Egan wrote himself into the record books of Australian Underwater History as the first spear man in Australia to win a spear fishing trophy. Jack was 24 years of age at the time. The competition was held at La Perouse near Sydney. The fish was a black drummer, speared on October 17, 1948. The trophy called, The Dick Charles Trophy was awarded for the Best Fish of the Day.

PIONEER SPEARFISHERMAN, SCUBA DIVER, SALVAGE OPERATOR

WALLY GIBBONS:  Leaving Greenwich, his family moved to Middle Head in Sydney and that was about the time he began work. The extra clarity of water in Sydney Harbour in those days encouraged him to forget his old methods of line fishing and look underwater. In 1948, the first diving club in Australia was formed (USFA) of which he was elected sports secretary to organise competitions and rules governing the various events. Over the next five years of spear fishing events Wally Gibbons was never beaten in a competition. Nineteen fifty-three was a turning point for all Australian divers when a group in Sydney and a similar group in Melbourne began making scuba diving gear. With army disposal stores having unlimited stocks of suitable steel tanks at exorbitant prices of one pound ($2) per tank with a pressure gauge and high pressure hose thrown in for any number of units purchased, Wally started to construct his own scuba diving equipment.

Wally Gibbons.

Later he joined up with Eric Barnes, one of the first manufacture of scuba units in Australia, operating as Barnes Scuba Services at North Sydney. He then became interested in wrecks and set out to locate the Birchgrove Park a wreck of a coal collier that sank in a storm off the northern beaches of Sydney. In the middle of the 1970s Wally left The Diving Company where he was then employed and spent some time in South Australia. He visited a number of wreck sites, paying his way with sales of scrap metal recovered from these wrecks. During that period he saw his first great white shark, and over a period of time came face to face with a number of those giant beasts. Previously he had been a hunter of sharks, landing several quite large whalers and grey nurses that provided additional income. During his career since first starting diving in late 1947 he has been the Sports Secretary and also President of the USFA of NSW, the President of the Solomon Islands Spear Fishing and Diving Club, President of St George Diving Club of which he is a Life Member and spent many years in the Solomon Islands as a salvage operator. He began scuba diving in early 1953 and has been diving commercially since 1949 and worked around Australia as well as on many Pacific Islands. Wally Gibbons passed away in 2006.

FOUNDER AND FIRST PRESIDENT OF THE AUSTRALIAN UNDERWATER FEDERATION

DICK CHARLES: Underwater fisherman, and motor trader, Richard Charles was born on April 23rd, 1901, at Moseley, Worcester, England. He was educated at Steyne School, Worthing, and as a boy, accompanied his family to Canada, then to Mexico and in 1913 to Tasmania. Dick was apprenticed as a fitter and turner at IXL and Co, Hobart. Interested in flying from its early days, he obtained aircraft mechanic licence number 15, and flew from Sydney to Kingaroy, Queensland, in 1921. In 1924, Dick with his wife and four children moved to Hurstville, Sydney, where he established a motor trading business. A founder (1927) of St George Motor Boat Club in Sydney, Dick Charles enjoyed fishing and swimming and in about 1937, before the days of flippers or snorkels, became interested in spear fishing. Using an old mirror with the silver scraped off fitted into an old tyre tube, he made his first mask and opened an entirely new world. For a spear he bought some shark hooks, straightened them out, and fixed them on an eight-foot pole. The pastime expanded after the Second World War and antagonism grew between shore fishermen and spear gunners, as they were called those days. Fearing that disorganised activity would bring increased restrictions Dick Charles founded the Spear Gun Fishing Association at a meeting at Long Reef in April 1948. This was the forerunner of the Underwater Skin Divers and Fishermens Association of New South Wales, of which he was president from 1948 to 1953. From that day on Dick reigned supreme as its President for many years, assisted by Les Hawley and his secretary. From there the sport blossomed out to various activities in the underwater world directed by Dick's driving force and magnetic personality. Possibly, the first group outing of spear fishermen was at Fairlight, Manly, on the wreck of an old Dutch submarine. At this outing, Dick unfurled the USFA banner and those present will well remember the publicity the press and movietone film news gave to that day.

Dick Charles.

Active in promoting and defending the sport, he devised rules for interstate competitions and represented the association in negotiations with government and maritime authorities. Usually sporting a battered yachting cap, Dick Charles was acknowledged as Australia's leading skin diver in the early days. Possessing the true resourcefulness of the Australian pioneer, he invented cliff rescue apparatus, a fish-bite indicator, a spear gun named Dirty Dick, and a patented diver's safety belt. Enthusiasm for skin diving accelerated after equipment improved and Hans Hass visited Australia in 1953. That year an inaugural meeting at Tweed Heads elected Dick Charles founding president of the Underwater Spearfishermens Association of Australia. Many years later became the Australian Underwater Federation, (AUF). Old hands will well remember Dick's first attempt at underwater breathing. Snorkels were unheard of and Dick tried, one memorial day at Minnamurra, to put a full face contraption on with an air hose attached to a free floating 4 gallon kerosene tin. With a typical "she's apples fellas" he jumped off Minnamurra rail bridge. It was after that day that he became aware that it is impossible to suck air down 12 or 15 feet (4 to 5 meter) underwater with 30lb of lead round one's middle. It was a very bulgy eyed, purple-faced Dick some two minutes later who clawed himself to the mangrove edges. Two hours later when he had his breath back the language was unprintable. One of the most memorable things Dick ever did, a first anywhere in the world, was a two plane airlift of some 56 divers to Forster for a day's outing and underwater fishing. It is impossible to cover this man's 30 odd year's activities in the skin diving world. As the years roll on we who can remember those early days of pioneering a new sport with Dick Charles, can only say that following generations will not have it so good. The sport of underwater fishing and later scuba diving was lucky to have a man of Dick Charles's calibre during its formative years. As they say. "They don't make them like that any more". Dick Charles died at his home on July 11th 1974, he was survived by his wife, daughter and twin sons.

PIONEER SPEARFISHERMAN, SECRETARY TREASURE OF THE AUSTRALIAN UNDERWATER FEDERATION, BRITISH EMPIRE MEDAL AWARD

GEORGE DAVIES: George Davies first interest in diving was stimulated by the July 1939 issue of Popular Science Magazine, in particular by an article titled "Human Submarine Shoots Fish With Arrows". By 1947, his brother Trevor decreed that if ever they were to spear fish successfully underwater it was necessary to devise something a little more sophisticated than the primitive rubber contraption they had already used. Their invented weapon was spring powered and inaccurate. To increase the power the weapon was modified and powered by compressed air. This was successful beyond their wildest dreams as far as spearing fish was concerned, but it did lack some refinements that eventually were incorporated in the world's first self-contained compressed air spear gun, called the "Aquamatic". News from overseas of the invention of the Cousteau-Gagnan aqualung was a welcome breakthrough and the principle of a dual stage regulator incorporating a pressure reduction valve and a demand valve was sufficient for George to produce a prototype regulator in Australia. An original CIG regulator utilising a rubber diaphragm provided the first stage. A brass casing was manufactured to adapt this, and with a frail rubber diaphragm and a system of levers and valves, he was able to produce a very successful aqualung, in 1951. By October 1953 the popularity of underwater fishing in the Newcastle area saw George form the Newcastle Neptune Underwater Club that provided very keen competition for a growing band of enthusiasts. He was successful in winning the club spear fishing championships in his first ten years of competition and in 1958 won the three major competitions in New South Wales including the State Spear Fishing Championships.

George Davies.

In 1955, a number of Newcastle Neptune members with an interest in scuba diving formed the Newcastle Underwater Research Group. George was President of this organisation for four years and qualified at that time for his NURG Log Book, which was the first such training program in Australia and the forerunner of the AUF log book system. Life Membership of Newcastle Neptune's was conferred upon him in 1962. Following the resignation of Tom Coleman as Federal Secretary Treasurer of the Australian Underwater Federation (AUF) also in 1962, George was elected to this demanding position that unfortunately curtailed a number of private ambitions he had at the time. George says he feels proud that during his twenty-six years of service to the Federation there was never another nomination received for the position. In 1965 he was selected for the Australian team to participate in the World Underwater Fishing Championships in Tahiti this was won by Ron Taylor. In 1967 he acted, on behalf of Australia in the formation of the South Pacific Underwater Federation and attended the South Pacific Underwater Fishing Championships in New Caledonia as manager, and coach. During that year George was awarded the Beau Beere Trophy by the AUF for his contributions to skin diving in Australia and life membership of the New South Wales Branch, spending five years as President prior to retirement. He drafted its revised constitution. In 1968 Sir Eric Willis then Chief Secretary of the New South Wales Government appointed him to the inaugural New South Wales Amateur Fishermen's Advisory Council to represent underwater interests. George Davies reluctantly resigned from the council at the end of 1991 for health reasons, but he has many fond memories of positive contributions made during that period. The most rewarding perhaps was the protection of the Queensland and blue groper, eloquent wrasse, blue devil and grey nurse shark, and the most contentious was the banning of scuba equipment for spear fishing which caused a serious rifts in the AUF and created the Scuba Divers Federation of Australia. He has always felt that apart from the ethics that the deep reefs needed protection as a reserve for shallower areas which are always under pressure. In 1979 the Queen, in honour of his contributions to underwater sports, awarded George the British Empire Medal. George Davies was Secretary, Treasurer of the Australian Underwater Federation for over twenty years and was awarded Life Membership. He has now retired after almost fifty years of service to the sport of skin and scuba diving.

PIONEER DESIGNER OF THE FIRST SINGLE HOSE REGULATOR IN AUSTRALIA

TED ELDRED: The earliest history of scuba diving in Australia is based on the development work conducted by Ted Eldred. One of Australia's early pioneers of diving equipment, Ted's development of the single hose two-stage regulator, in the early days of diving, brought Australia to the fore in regulator design. During the Second World War he became associated with the medical profession, on being requested to assist with the design and development of medical apparatus. It was at this stage that he commenced a study of respiratory physiology and sought the opportunity to study underwater oxygen re-breather equipment. Somewhere between 1948 and 1950 he met Commander Batterham, one of the most experienced clearance divers in Australia at the time, with some 2000 hours of wartime experience to his credit. It was at this stage that Ted Eldred became aware of the introduction of the Cousteau-Gagnan aqualung. He immediately realised its potential and made a study of the patent. By 1953 he had designed the first single hose two stage regulator which would eventually out perform and out sell the Cousteau twin hose aqualung worldwide. Commander Batterham was already on the reserve list and expressed an interest in joining in the manufacture of the single hose unit that appeared to have potential.

Ted Eldred.

The new equipment was registered under the "Porpoise" trade name and the first batch of units using disposal oxygen cylinders was manufactured as a home workshop project. By 1954, Breathing Appliance Co was formed and full-scale production of the Porpoise design commenced in premises at North Melbourne. During the period 1954 to 1955 diving activity in Australia was booming. Clubs were being formed and local manufacturers started to copy the Porpoise single hose two-stage design principle. By 1956 Porpoise equipment dominated the Australian market for both professional and sporting applications. Finally in 1960 Ted Eldred's Breathing Appliance Co, was sold to La Spiro Technique of France, the subsidiary of Liquid Air who owned the aqualung patent. The name was changed to Australian Divers Spiro. Ted remained with the new company until l962 and then retired.

THE GODFATHER OF SCUBA DIVING                     

CARLO FILLEPETH: When the Second World War erupted Carlo joined the Italian Navy in 1943 as a cadet and was naturally selected for frogman training, due to his early background with the sea. He was trained to blow up British ships in Alexandria Harbour by swimming underwater, equipped with a rebreathing unit and place limpet mines on the underside of warships. He was also instructed how to ride and guide "Pigs," submarine chariots, full of TNT. These warheads were ridden either on the surface or underwater, directed toward British ships in the harbour, once there they would submerge, detach the explosive head from the front of the pig, plant it under the ship and escape underwater without detection. At the end of the war in 1945, the British Navy under the leadership of the famous wartime frogman Commander Buster Crabb employed Carlo to demine parts of the Adriatic Sea. In the early 1960s in Australia, Carlo was in partnership with Leo Griffith and they were searching for wrecks along the New South Wales coast from Sydney to Eden and beyond for scrap metal. One interesting story Carlo told me that when he was towed behind a manta board he came across a deck cannon half buried under rock and sand, which he thought could be from Captain Cook's Endeavour when it took shelter in Disaster Bay in 1770. The cannon ended up in Col Peard's marine collection. It was during the beginning of the 1960s, using the salvage ship Lady Doris that he and Leo Griffith were the first divers to discovered the John Penn, a wreck that lies opposite Broulee Island at Mossy Point on the south coast of New South Wales.

Carlo Fillepeth aboard the ship Lady Doris in the early days of his career in Australia.

One of the highlights of Carlo's diving career occurred on a return trip to Italy in 1973 when he visited his late father, Ezio. He dived with friends off the Port of Ancona where he started as a child and discovered a 2000-year-old Roman galleon.  After searching around the wreck he picked up a few scattered coins, they were Quadrants and Asses, dating back to the period 37-41 AD. Carlo Fillepetti "The Godfather" is probably the only active diver in Australia who can say that he once rode the "Pigs" to destroy British battleships in the Second World War, to become a dive shop owner in a peaceful seaside part of Australia called Umina, near Gosford in New South Wales. More information about Carlo Fillepeth at the bottom of this page.

FIRST COMMERCIAL UNDERWATER CAMERA HOUSING MANUFACTURER IN AUSTRALIA

BARRY DAVIES: For Barry Davies it all started back in 1954 when he first learnt to scuba dive. Whilst living in Europe in 1959, Barry's interest in photography led to the design and construction of the first Sea-Tile underwater camera housing. The original housing was used for all his sub-sea photography until 1964, when he returned to Sydney. Shortly after this, his diving and photographic equipment was stolen. His need for another underwater housing to suit a Pentax SV camera, that led to the design and construction of what was to become the forerunner of the Sea-Tile 35mm housing. During those early days, interest in underwater photography was very limited in Australia and it wasn't until about 1970 that divers in this country began to realise that underwater photography was an exciting and satisfying pastime. Barry formed Sea-Tile Products as a company in 1972 and over the years built the largest range of underwater camera housings and accessories in Australia. The design concept was such that camera systems with multiple lenses could be used in both 35mm and 6x6 as well as video and 16mm movie format. By 1973, Sea-Tile was producing a large range of 35mm and medium format camera housings along with a limited range of flash units and a small number of 8mm and 16mm underwater movie housings. As time progressed, Barry ventured into the field of custom orders for the most unusual cameras, one was a design to take a camera down to 4000 metres. Sea-Tile began to diversify into the delicate scientific field, and at the same time began supplying government departments both Federal and State with special housings and the New South Wales Fire Brigade with a large number of Sea-Tile waterproof torches. As time progressed, Barry Davies was approached by numerous amateur divers to house the ever-increasing number of video cameras coming onto the market. The requests did not stay with the sport diver, it spilled over into the professional field where many special designs were developed and manufactured for the movie industry in and outside Australia. In the coming years Barry Davies suffered a number of heart complaints. In early January 1993, following a minor heart operation, and playing squash Barry collapsed on the court and passed away. His company was taken over by Peter Emery and Glen Percy but did not last long and went into liquidation.

THE FIRST WETSUIT:

GEORGE BEUCHAT   

 

 

 

In 1953, George Beuchat revolutionised diving with the invention of the wetsuit. As an avid spear fisherman, Beuchat wanted to protect himself from the cold waters. After experimenting with several prototypes, the rubber isothermal wetsuit was born. Beuchat's suit was made famous in 1955 by Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who wore one in his first movie The Silent World. Today the wetsuit is used by scuba divers all over the world.

 

Go to top of page

 

 

.............................................................................

 

THE BEGINNING OF SCUBA DIVING IN AUSTRALIA

 

PIONEER DIVER AND FIRST HOME MADE SCUBA REGULATOR BUILT IN AUSTRALIA: Sydney. Towards the end of the Second World War, Captain Cousteau took an afternoon off from his duties to visit an indoor swimming pool near Paris. That afternoon whilst swimming he met a young man by the name of Michel Calluaud and mentioned to him that he was about to start teaching underwater diving. A short time later Cousteau organised his first scuba training school. Michel attended the course that consisted of underwater diving, equipment familiarisation and disassembling and cleaning regulators then assembling them again. There was more emphasis in those days placed upon the workings of the aqualung rather than diving. The school was conducted free of charge. At the end of the course Michel went with Cousteau to the Mediterranean there completing the program of scuba diving. Sometime later Michel came to Australia, retaining the plans of the Gagnan-Cousteau regulator in his mind.                

The story commences in 1943 during the German occupation of France. The French Navy was disbanded and with little to do at the time, ex-navy Captain Jacques Cousteau, commenced his early underwater exploits. Using a large high-pressure air cylinder and hose, similar to a modern day hookah unit and a hand operated pressure tap connected to a very simple mask he began swimming underwater.

Frenchman Michel Calluaud, "in later years", one of the first men in Australia to make a home made scuba diving regulator. It was a copy of the Gagnan-Cousteau twin hose unit and was ready for testing late 1951.

This meant the deeper he went, he had to manually increase pressure then decrease it when returning to the surface. An awkward task indeed. Some time later Cousteau met an engineer working for Liquid Air Corp. His name was Gagnan. Discussing the difficulty he experienced when diving, Gagnan mentioned to Cousteau that he needed something similar to a carburettor on a six cylinder motor car. The combination of a high-pressure cylinder and a modified carburettor demand valve became the embryo of scuba regulators we use today. This is why the original patent of the scuba system was taken out under the Gagnan-Cousteau name, Gagnan was the engineer and Captain Cousteau the diver. In 1949 Michel Calluaud was living in Paris and life was very difficult for him. There was still food rationing, no coal for heating, little electricity and extremely cold winter months. At that time the Australian Government was asking for people to migrate to Australia and Michel contacted the Australian Embassy in Paris. They paid his fare to Australia and Michel left in June 1950 and arrived a month later. As soon as he landed A.W.A (Australia) offered him a job in their Electronic Department where he met another diver Ted Baker. Just before he met Ted, Michel bought a mask, snorkel, fins, and a rubber seal skin suit from Undersee Products. He was not so much interested in spear fishing at the time, but he met some of the leading spear fishing identities of that era. Early 1951 Michel tried to import an aqualung from France, but the patent for the aqualung was now the property of Liquid Air Corp and that company had created another company called La Spirotechnique, which was manufacturing the units. After contacting La Spirotechnique, Michel received a reply that they had a contract with a British company and could not sell him a regulator if he lived in a British country. Michel then contacted Siebe Gorman Pty Ltd, which had a contract to sell the aqualung. They told him all their supplies were for the Royal Navy and not for civilian use. It was during this time that Michel met Ted Baker a fellow workmate and spear fisherman, together they decided to assemble three of their own regulators, one of the first in Australia. So Michel went to one of the largest army disposal stores in Sydney. They had a mountain of aircraft equipment from which to choose. Having bought some reducing valves for oxygen cylinders and oxygen regulators used in high-flying bomber air crafts, they began assembling regulators for their own use. Whilst Ted Baker tested his regulator at Enfield Baths, Michel tested his at Quarantine Beach at Manly in 1951. Later that year there was a spear fishing competition at Cronulla. He attended and gave a demonstration of his home made regulator and 27 cubic feet cylinders. There he met two early pioneer divers Don Linklater and dentist Rod McNeill. The three decided to form the first scuba diving club in Australia and called it The Underwater Explorers Club. Eventually Michel became Vice President. Other well-known members were Wally Gibbons, Dr. Roscoe Fay, Dick Charles, and Ron Ware. Another pioneer diver by the name of John Lawson had a small factory at Gore Hill in Sydney. He helped Michel with the manufacturing of further regulator and they eventually built about twelve. These regulators were mounted on the chest for ease of breathing and all had twin hoses. The first dozen were a club project and a number of divers took part. All regulator parts were from army disposal stores, modified into separate components needed for each unit. Among the first regulators was one called "Jukebox Lung'' because it was made in a factory that manufactured jukeboxes, these regulator were tested at Obelisk Beach and performed so badly that they were scrapped. There were a few members of the USFA that got together and started to make parts based on the Causteau-Gagnan design. Most of the parts were machined at a factory at Greenwich in North Sydney owned by John Lawson. The first underwater tests were carried out in Clovelly Pool. Another early diver by the name of Jack Hogg produced about twelve units all made at Eveleigh Railway Workshop, when another diver Don Linklater told him that he was infringing on the Cousteah-Gagnan patent Hogg ceased manufacturing. There was also the Davies brothers scuba regulators made between 1949 and 1951, there were about eight or nine made in Newcastle at the time, and all worked really well. A total of 44 regulators were built using the Lawson early model as designed. Twenty seven cubic feet wire bound oxygen cylinders from wartime aircraft were also purchased. The wire was removed and they were used as air cylinders for diving. Hydrostatic tested and filled with air by CIG. These small cylinders were used for scuba diving before they were banned by the Standards Association of Australia. Michel continued to dive for a number of years, and as time passed gradually faded from active scuba diving.

1951 ANOTHER EARLY SCUBA DIVING REGULATOR: Newcastle. In the early days of spear fishing it remained foremost in our minds and occupied every spare minute of our time. Equipment was necessary and as necessity is the mother of invention, we made our own. Masks were fashioned from old car inner tubes, with copious quantities of Adfast (a black rubber solution), a small pane of glass and several buckles. These were extremely successful and were replaced only when more sophisticated models became available years later. Weight belts originated from old army belt with ingots of lead bolted to them. Because of several near fatalities, weights were moulded with one or two slots to pass the belt through and a somewhat primitive quick release, consisting of a 3/8" pin with a two inch circular ring at the top passing through three brass ferrules. Despite its inefficiency compared to modern release systems, it undoubtedly saved lives on more than one occasion. Spear guns were always a high priority and the various stages in the development of the "Aquamatic" spear gun, through rubber springs and air propulsion is a story in itself. In endeavours to become more efficient, most people had no thought of ethics and anything that increased a bag of fish was acceptable. In 1948 Australian divers learnt about the invention of an underwater breathing apparatus made in France by two men named Gagnan and Cousteau.

An early twin hose regulator built by George and Trevor Davies. In 1952 their regulator was ready for testing at Seal Rocks.

This was the catalyst for brothers Trevor and George Davies to make a two-stage regulator. Initially they discovered an old CIG "Endurance" type oxygen regulator which had a rubber diaphragm and was the ideal for this purpose. Sections were discarded, and the tedious job of turning the demand valve from a piece of 5 inch solid brass was undertaken so the reduction valve screwed into the rear section. One of the major problems to overcome was the manufacture of a sensitive rubber diaphragm. Fortunately, however, they had made a hydraulic press using the landing gear from a wartime "Wirraway" aircraft they scavenged from an RAAF target area near Newcastle. The "Wirraway" aircraft yielded many other treasures including the propeller blades that were melted down and cast into bodies for the "Aquamatic" spear gun. A rubber diaphragm for the regulator was moulded and they made a steel mould of a rubber mouthpiece. The rubber used for mouldings were off-cuts from a tyre factory. By now the two brothers had all the components for their first regulator but they were unable to find any high pressure cylinders. Using steel tubing with 1/4" wall thickness cut to length and dome shaped ends forged under the blacksmith's steam hammer at Cardiff Railway Workshop, Trevor welded these to the tubing and a brass adapter and valve brazed directly onto the twin cylinders. They had not considered safety because they did not anticipate exceeding 1000 lbs per square inch of air in each cylinder. Later when 27cf aviators oxygen breathing cylinders became available this problem was solved. By 1948 their first regulator was ready for testing but another problem arose. Pure compressed air to fill home made cylinders was not available, so the two brothers had to make a compressor. Their first small compressor was only capable of pressures around 300 lbs per square inch and was of little use for spear fishing but was definitely an asset for capturing crayfish when located deep inside shallow underwater caves. Their first trip to Seal Rocks, was sometime during late 1950, and used the home made compressor to pump the twin cylinders by jacking up the car and running a belt drive from its rear wheel to the compressor. Later they used a hand-operated booster pump with a 3/4" diameter bore and a 6 foot (2 metres) lever. The unfortunate part of this setup was that pumping time always exceeded bottom time. Eventually George and Trevor made a four stage water lubricated compressor using an old "Fiat" four cylinder car engine driven by an 18 hp electric motor. Following Trevor's death from an exploding cylinder, George's mother extracted a promise that he would not operate the big compressor again. Several years later he contacted the local Maritime Museum but they did not have sufficient room for the compressor. It was eventually removed from his back yard by a council truck and like so much of our scuba diving history, dumped.

A DEMONSTRATION OF ONE OF AUSTRALIA’S FIRST HOME MADE REGULATORS: Sydney. When Frenchman Michel Calluaud immigrated to Australia in the late 1940s, he started work at AWA (Australia) where he met a spear fisherman by the name of Ted Baker. With Michel's good command of English and Ted Baker's minuscule French, they got on quite well. When he saw Teds mask and spear guns, Michel revealed that he knew the working principle of a compressed air underwater breathing regulator, that he had learnt from Captain Cousteau before leaving France. Ted was sceptical but Michel convinced him that he understood what was required further convincing Ted that they should each make one. So off they went to a disposal store. There were plenty of pressure regulators, gauges, control fittings and a stack of aviators oxygen cylinders. Loaded with a selection of these items and a dozen gas masks (for their corrugated flexible hoses), they paid up and enlisted the aid of George McGann a third member of this experiment, and set to work on building three regulators. They did not even have a name, they were called compressed air breathing equipment. The name "Aqualung" came later for British equipment and of course SCUBA from the USA. Ted's was ready for its first test, but still without a webbing harness, on Friday, November 30, 1951. Eager to see if it worked, filled his bath to the brim and was just able to submerge with the cylinder tucked under his arm. It did work. Next morning they took the unit over to Bankstown baths, but the manager would not let them in to test the units fearing adverse publicity from a drowning. At Enfield pool the interested manager followed them around watching proceedings.

Ted Baker with his early twin hose regulator.

Michel bravely set up the equipment on George's back, and turned on the pressure. With a three inch hawser fastened around George's waist, Michel played out the rope while Ted lay on the concrete peering into the water through a mask looking for any signs of distress from George. No sign of trouble, and an excited trio shook hands all round. "What's that thing you had on your face?" asked the pool manager. Ted explained, and said, "here, try it." He put the mask on, looked into the water, and was amazed. "I have to have one," he said. I can see all the threepence (three cents) and sixpences (six cents) on the bottom of the pool". The upshot of this was an invitation to demonstrate at an upcoming Swimming Carnival. On this night, with all sets now working, the three intrepidly entered the water at the shallow end of the pool and swam right along the bottom into the fifteen foot (five metres) deep end and then surfaced at the end wall to find the audience clapping and cheering at the spectacle.

EARLY AUSTRALIAN SCUBA DIVING -THE LAWSON LUNG: By Mel Brown. Sydney. The first readily available air supplied scuba in the Sydney region was the 'Lawson Lung', so named due to it being made in John Lawson's Greenwich Industries factory at Greenwich, North Sydney. Scuba historian Mel Brown explains the development and operation of this early underwater regulators. Prior to 1952 a few Sydney based members of the Underwater Spear Fishermen's Association (USFA) began using wartime Salvus lung-operated self-contained breathing equipment. Initially these had been made available by Pat Williams, a former navy diver who also provided expert technical guidance on their use. Later Salvus units became readily available through wartime equipment disposal stores. The Salvus units consisted of a steel cylinder containing 16 cu. ft. of oxygen at a pressure of 1800 psi, a hand-adjustable valve cock, an inflatable rubber bag (worn across the back of the neck), a metal can containing soda-lime and corrugated rubber connecting tubes of the type used on wartime gas masks. Pat Williams successfully designed a unit which eliminated the soda-lime container, replacing the inflatable bag with a flexible rubber bag of 'concertina' design which expanded and contracted as the breath was drawn and exhaled. This unit was equipped with a dial indicator showing the rate of consumption from the oxygen cylinder. Although the dangers of using pure oxygen below 33ft were well understood and deeper dives up to 120ft were being carried out with the cylinder charged with a mixture of 60% nitrogen and 40% oxygen, a growing death toll made the development of an air breathing apparatus essential. Sydney divers were aware of the invention of the Cousteau/Gagnan Aqualung but none of these units were available in Australia. This led to a group of Sydney diving enthusiasts, all members of the USFA, to band together in an attempt to build their own. An article in 'Popular Mechanics' provided the impetus to build a unit using an aircraft oxygen diluter, although the particular diluter recommended in 'Popular Mechanics' was not available. Their first scuba unit was made in a small factory in Day Street, Sydney that constructed juke boxes. This led to this unit being known as the "Day Street Juke Box Lung". It was first tested at Obelisk Beach, and while it worked up to a point and performed so badly it was scrapped shortly afterwards. It was becoming apparent that time spent experimenting with the basics was required. Various high pressure regulators were dismantled and design features noted. Sketches of a possible demand regulator were drawn. This process was halted in the summer of 1952/53 when a genuine Cousteau/Gagnan regulator was acquired on loan from Emil Landau, a Hong Kong based French business-man who often spent time in Sydney. It was tried out at Smedley's Point near Manly, with trial dives being a complete success. The unit was then quickly dismantled and careful note taken of its individual components before being re-assembled and returned to its owner. Within a month the group had produced their first run of twenty units. The machining of parts and the assembly and testing was carried out at John Lawson's jewellery factory at Greenwich, North Sydney. Although this unit was based on Cousteau's Aqualung it was modified in some areas to take advantage of parts readily available from disposal stores, which were beyond the group's capacity to produce. The brass cans which comprised the two halves of the demand regulator were spun on steel moulds machined by the group, altogether some 500 cans being spun. Dies, drill jigs and master patterns were used to ensure all parts were interchangeable. The original large cloth impregnated rubber demand diaphragms underwent several quick updates to finally be moulded of rubber with four teats to which the backing plate was easily fixed. The first underwater tests were of short duration as a practical method of filling cylinders had yet to be devised. The divers were excited to be able to stay down at the deepest part of Clovelly Pool and breathe comfortably, but while still exerting themselves. Early experiments determined that breathing was easier in a swimming position with the demand valve below the chest, resulting in a unique harness design which carried the regulator across that area. A high pressure hose was used to bring the air from two inverted tanks carried on the back and attached to the regulator harness. The regulator was attached by rings to the harness allowing an easy method of ditching the unit if an emergency occurred. Initially ex-aircraft 38 cu. ft. oxygen cylinders were used but when these went off the market it left only the smaller 27 cu.ft. size available. The problem with obtaining a high pressure air supply for filling cylinders was solved when John Lawson installed a large four-stage Gibb and Miller compressor at his Greenwich factory. This compressor supplied 30 cu.ft. of air per minute at 3500 psi. This compressor had six filters, the first three removing moisture, the last three remaining clean. Another version of the "Lawson" lung was made by Jack Hogg using the facilities of the Eveleigh Railway workshop. Jack made about 12 units, discontinuing production when warned by Don Linklater he was infringing on Cousteau's patent. The Lawson Lung was used in the Australian film "King of the Coral Sea". In this film actor Charles 'Bud' Tingwell dons a Lawson Lung before swimming down to rescue Chips Rafferty who was diving traditional helmet gear and had got his air line stuck.                                                                                                                                         

FIRST SCUBA DIVING CLUB IN AUSTRALIA: Sydney. A club is being formed by experienced spear fishermen, scuba divers and underwater photographers, who are eager to create a pool of equipment from which they can draw from to undertake certain underwater projects of photography, salvage, exploration, marine observation and other activities. Because of the physical and technical hazards, it is essential that the club membership be kept to small numbers. Before entry into the club, the prospective member is given a medical examination and his underwater experience reviewed by a select committee. Instruction in the use of equipment and underwater techniques will follow and he will be trained to take part in underwater teams and to plan and carry out projects in a mature and carefully and controlled manner. Organisers of the club are, Don Linklater, Wally Gibbins, Dr Roscoe Fay, Dick Charles, Rod McNeill, and Ron Ware. The Underwater Explorers Club, is the first of its kind in Australia. Executive members of the club expect other states to follow their example and form scuba diving clubs for those who are not interested in spear fishing. The sport of scuba diving is new and exciting and in a short time may have a strong following. Much can be learnt from exploring the sea with regulators, and high-pressure cylinders strapped to ones back. There's many mysteries of the sea that divers in forth coming years will discover. For now it is in the best interest of every experienced club member to help those new to skin diving, so they can enjoy the wonders of life under the sea in a safe and responsible manner.

VICTORIAN SUCCESS - DEEP DIVING RECORD: Melbourne. Ted Eldred and Bob Wallace-Mitchell picked Saturday, March 20th, for their deep dive in Western Port Bay because of the favourable tide conditions, giving them high water about midday. In the party, and in charge of the dive was Lieutenant-Commander Batterham, who is well known throughout Australia for his experience in underwater activities, his son, Peter, 16, who is a competent underwater diver, and Ted Eldred, manufacturer of Porpoise equipment. We sailed by diesel craft from Hastings some 8 miles towards the entrance of Western Port. The wind was blowing from the south west and there was a fair swell and chop on the top of the water. A deep hole was finally located with the aid of the shot line, which is an ordinary rope attached to the boat and weighted down with 70 lbs of lead at the other end. It is marked off in fathoms and other references so that the diver knows the depth at which he is operating. Anchors were put down and we prepared to wait for another half-hour before slack tide. No special clothing was used apart from outside ordinary swimming trunks, woollen underwear and numerous sweaters. Our equipment was complete with diving masks, swim flippers and heavily weighted belts with quick release buckles. We did not carry underwater guns of any type, as they are a nuisance in this type of operation. It is essential that any dive of over 39 feet (13 metres) be planned, ensuring that nothing is left to chance. So that a suitable supply of air is carried and times of decompression allowed it is necessary that the time of descent, depth of dive, duration at bottom and time of ascent be pre-arranged. Using a standard Porpoise cylinder filled to 1800 psi, we allowed 5 minutes to descend, 5 minutes on the bottom and 8 minutes for the ascent. We were ready and waiting on the side of the vessel when we were given the signal to go over. We went over the side together. Attached to my equipment was the safety line to the boat. From it went two loops one over the hand of each divers that hand signals could be given to the boat and between divers. As we progressed, the light from the top of the water disappeared and visibility was limited to about 6 feet (2 metres). It became increasingly quiet but for the exhaust of the compressed air bubbles rushing to the surface. I had some trouble clearing, my Eustachian tubes but this was soon rectified and we leisurely sank to the bottom to see the 70lbs of lead on the shot line gently resting on the sand. We had by now noticed a change in the temperature of water, and although it was not worrying us, a prolonged stay would be uncomfortable. The visibility on the bottom widened to 21 feet (7 metres), and we swam around with our flippers to see if there was anything of interest beyond the sandy bottom, which was scattered with old and broken shells. The atmosphere was similar to a sound proofed room and we notice at that depth that it was difficult to move our limbs because of the increased pressure and density of the water. The last part of our exercise on the bottom was to remove completely our equipment. A quick tug and the waist strap was undone, a move to either side and we slipped our shoulder straps, holding the units to our chests. We unfastened our safety straps from our necks and then quickly removed the mouthpieces. We were then sitting on the bottom of the ocean at 109 feet (33 metres) with our Porpoise units completely removed. We held our breath for a few seconds and then replaced the mouth pieces, exhaled vigorously to clear the small amount of water that had entered the mouth pieces and sucked in hard to fill our lungs with life giving air. We have been asked why we went through this procedure. The simple explanation is that we have done it many times at various depths and there is no reason why we should not do it at our present depth. Then, into the harness again, tightened the waist belt and safety strap and together we moved to the shot line for the ascent. Now we had to stop ourselves rushing to the surface as it is most important to make sure that the high-pressure air in the body is exhaled, so that there is no undue pressure on the lungs. At a depth of 109 feet (33 metres) air is being fed into the lungs at a pressure of approximately 70 lbs per square inch. It is easy to imagine the fatal results of ascending into lower pressures with the high-pressure air contained in the lungs. The diver must also watch his face mask, which contains high pressure air and will blow off the face with the expanding air unless held on lightly by the hand, thus allowing the air to blow out the sides of the mask. At the 21 foot (7 metres) mark on the shot line we stopped for one minute for decompression, and then moved up to the 9 feet (3 metres) mark where we stayed for two minutes, giving us three minutes total decompression time to ensure that nitrogen bubbles had left the bloodstream. On reaching the surface we quickly removed our units and handed them up over the back of the boat. Hot drinks were passed around whilst we changed into warm clothing.

SOUTH AUSTRALIAN'S FIRST SCUBA DIVING CLUB: Adelaide. At the May meeting of the Underwater Spear Fishermen Association of South Australia, the committee ratified proposals from the first meeting of the Underwater Explorers Group, a scuba diving section of the Association. The rules of the new group contain interesting proposals for safety and provide for the group to instruct the members in diving. Class: A. For a thorough knowledge the fundamentals of lung diving.
Class: B. That will entitle the holder to make shallow water lung dives.
Class: C. For a diver who knows enough to tackle any lung dive he wants to make.

NEW SOUTH WALES FIRST SCUBA DIVING SCHOOL: Sydney. An Underwater Spear Fishermen’s Association member has started New South Wales first scuba diving school called, The Underwater Swimming School of Sydney. Edward du Cros is teaching beginners the drill with aqualung and porpoise diving equipment. The idea of the school is to give the beginner, who is thinking of buying underwater breathing equipment some experience before he makes up his mind. The course includes two evenings of lectures and two Saturday afternoons of diving. Edward du Cros is chief instructor and the three assistant instructors include two girls. It's a sound idea and one that should make for greater safety in the sport. This is a new idea for underwater breathing. The sport is just beginning to get popular, and many people are buying lungs and do not know how to use them properly. Just a couple of lessons will make a difference to how you swim underwater. Learning to scuba dive now is not compulsory but it may be necessary for the beginner to have a few lessons before he or she starts out to explore underwater. Most people who are good swimmers do not need to learn scuba diving, these people are mostly spear fishermen. We feel it is important that people learn how to use the lung for their own benefit underwater to prevent accidents.

WHY ARE THERE SO FEW WOMEN SCUBA DIVERS: Sydney. Why are there so few women divers? People often ask Underwater Skin Divers and Fishermen's Association members. "Do many women take it on?" Your answer would probably be that there is about one girl to every fifty men in the sport. Women are as good as most men under the water. Naming a few are: Tenila Cox, Lois Linklater, May Wells, Valmai Fuller, Pamela McGee, Gwen Jenkins, Diane Dewer, Nadine Price, Cynthia Leach, Dimity Dignam and Tina Ahtenstiel and probably a few others as well. The situation is peculiar because the fact is that women are better suited physically to diving than men

Early divers Don Linklater, his wife Louis and Rod McNeil.

Medical opinion assures us that the female body consumes less oxygen from the blood stream than that of a male. Women can swim further on the same amount of air. They resist pain and discomfort, and are much better protected from cold than men. Women can hold their own in distance races on the surface because once in the water their inferior power to weight ratio is no disadvantage. Japanese divers who dive regularly to nurse cultured pearls are all women (or rather girls aged 16 to 19). They are not allowed to work at this for more than two or three years. To take the job they must prove their aptitude by holding their breath above water for 5 minutes. They work in pairs and swim completely naked, diving to at least 30 feet (10 metres). They become hardy, independent, and a drag on the marriage market.

RELICS FROM DUNBAR WRECK: Sydney. As most readers who keep up with the news of Australian Skin Diving and Spear Fishing Digest magazine will know already, a group of aqua swimmers, members of the Underwater Explorers' Club and Underwater Skin divers and Fishermen's Association of New South Wales, recently discovered the place where the Dunbar went down in 1857. Divers on the first sortie were Keith White, Don and Lois Linklater, "Mad" Mick Shanahan and Wally Gibbons, "Mad" Mick, Keith and Don went again the following week, but were foiled by rough seas, but a huge anchor was located. Among other relics now on view in the Australian Museum in Sydney, we brought up between ten and twenty copper coins.

A collection of artefacts from the wreck of the Dunbar that sank in 1857 just south of Sydney Harbour.

An ABC news reporter mistakenly put the number as one, and dated it 1857, the year of the disaster. Coins were minted not by the government of the colony, as one would expect but by a local business firm, the Australian Tea Mart. Research brought up the information that these became known as "Tradesmen Tokens" and there are nearly 700 known varieties. In Australia and the United Kingdom, merchants were encouraged to mint them to overcome a shortage of small change in the forties, fifties and sixties of two century ago and they had legal status. Their value today is not great, but there is gold on the wreck. My suggestion is that divers, who know the land markings indicating the Dunbar wreck site, should only divulge the information to responsible aqualung men who are reliable and will pass on all objects found, to the Museum or University. Skin diving, like all sports, has its boogies or idiot fringe. It would be a pity indeed if the community as a whole should lose because some have an eye for making a few shillings (Dollars) out of bits of scrap metal. Preserving the wreck is important to all divers.

EARLY CAVE DIVING HISTORY-JENOLAN CAVES: Sydney. This is a true story of three courageous men and one woman, who scuba dived through a siphon in the Jenolan Caves for the first time, to discover a hidden underground river. Keith White (Underwater Explorers Club) Owen Lewellyn and Russ Kippax (Sydney Speleological Society) did the first "run" through the "pipe" to the next cave. Here we must pay tribute to three courageous people. The vestige of claustrophobia exists in most of us. To stumble down steps into the bowels of the earth, to don equipment that belongs to the sea, the sun, and salt spray and finally to swim into a buried unknown river tube requires tons of courage. These three did this, a feat accomplished by only a handful of men in the world. Aqualungs are thus again showing their efficiency and versatility. The Sydney Speleological Society did most of the spade work for the siphon dive. They had telephone lines laid, giving intercommunication between all-important points. They manhandled heavy timber through the cave passages and built an efficient and sturdy platform over the river at the diving area. They also constructed portable sealed beam headlights for each diver and a switch board that connected to a tape recorder which picked up every word spoken, both at the stage and the other end of the yet unexplored siphon.

Early cave divers in Jenolan Caves. The year 1956, they were courageous men to venture into such an environment.

The whole project went smoothly. The initial divers all carried sealed beam lights. Leaders swam and pushed an apparatus called an “Aflolaun”. This is short for “Apparatus For Laying Out Lines And Underwater Navigation”. It looks roughly like a board of 18 x 2'6 inches, and at one end is a sealed beam light and a motor bike battery. At the other is a large cotton reel with a plastic covered telephone wire some hundreds of feet long. On the right of the spool is a Morse Code Key and on the left are two small confidence lights. These flash occasionally to show the leader that the shore party is still in contact with divers. There is provision on the board also, for connection of the telephone, carried in a plastic bag by another member of the party. The initial team got through and excitedly telephoned back their description of the new cave. All this was tape-recorded. Don Linklater, Dave Roots, “Mad” Mick Shanahan followed the first group. It was exciting, dangerous, and damn cold. For the first time in the knowledge of man, a woman dived through the tunnel of the hidden river. She was Lois Linklater, Don's wife. The only active woman member of the Underwater Explorers Club of Sydney, she had been nagging Don ever since the first successful dive for a chance to essay the task herself. Finally. with the efficiency in winning a point known only to the weaker sex, Lois asserted that she was no longer a woman but a member of the Underwater Explorers Club and an individual as well. As it meant the dive or his marriage, Don decided on the dive. Lois went through on the following day. She is a very courageous lass, as good as any diver in the club.

Go to top of page

DIVING WITH NEW SELF-CONTAINED UNDERWATER BREATHING EQUIPMENT: Sydney. The ever increasing demand for self-contained diving equipment has now opened up a field that is unfortunately fast attracting manufacturers to produce gear with little regard to the requirements and safety governing underwater operations in this country. This is mainly due to the scarcity of technicians and skilled underwater personnel who have had experience in the design and use of underwater equipment and knowledge of the effects and conditions of breathing under pressure whilst submerged. Self-contained compressed air equipment is not a recent invention. Centuries ago when divers after obtaining a female goatskin, pumped it up with bellows and replenished their air supply from one of the teats. Modern science, has now given us two main types of compressed air units. The first carries a high-pressure cylinder that feeds, through a reducing valve, a constant flow of air at a pressure set by the manufacturer. Thence it goes to the demand valve and to the diver's lungs by means of a flexible corrugated rubber tube, which then returns to the exhaust which is part of the demand valve. Overseas divers favour this type of apparatus. Manufacturers pre-set the reducing valve to give a line pressure of approximately 90 pounds per square inch feeding to the demand valve. The trouble is the deeper the diver goes the harder it is to breathe. The second type of unit, the reducer, employed in locally manufactured single hose regulators and is open to water pressure and operates on a line pressure of between 30 to 40 psi above water pressure. This means that the reducer is pre-set when manufactured to 30 psi line pressure. As the diver descends the water pressure automatically opens the reducer and keeps the diver supplied at a constant 30 psi above water pressure.

An early single hose regulator built by Ted Eldred.

The compressed air system is known as "total loss" equipment because the exhaled breath is passed into the water and cannot be re-breathed, unlike with oxygen re-breathing units. So, as we cannot re-breathe our exhaled breath we must use every lung full of air to the best advantage. The conservation of energy is one of the most important factors in diving. As we exert ourselves so the body requires more oxygen, we breathe more deeply and take a far greater volume of air into our lungs, which means that the air supply is limited in our cylinder. The more we exert ourselves, the deeper we breathe, and the supply is used up more rapidly. Overexertion also induces rapid and deeper respiration, often reaching a point where the diver is gasping for air. The very experienced diver will never get to this condition, he has learned to control his movements. For the less experienced it must be realised that underwater with a compressed air unit, once you have reached the stage of "puffing and panting" there is no recovery in the depth at which you are working or swimming. We can also overexert ourselves by breathing too deeply and holding our breath too long causing undue muscular reaction of the diaphragm and chest muscles. When we inhale underwater we should fill the lungs, but not to the extent of exerting ourselves, then retain the breath for sufficient time for its oxygen content to do its job, then exhale normally. This, together with slow, leisurely movements, will greatly increase the endurance of our underwater breathing equipment. Always remember that experience is the best instructor. I (lieutenant Commander Batterham) have operated teams of divers, working together, where the experienced man obtained approximately one hour at 30 feet (10 metres) from a 40 cubic foot cylinder. The inexperienced man empties the same cylinder in less than 20 minutes, so a diver must learn to relax under water at all times, no matter what the situation.

DENIS ROBINSON PIONEER DIVER FROM THE 1950s: Denis Robinson is one of the veterans, one of the old school of divers, he learnt the hard way, and loved every minute of it. He commenced diving more than 65 years ago when he was a twelve-year-old boy Scout. "I had a scout master, I remember his name, David Ballantyne, he used to play a trick on us. He would dive in a river and swim underwater and come up a hundred yards away. We'd all be looking out for him thinking the poor bastards drowned. He told us later that instead of swimming along on the bottom, he would grab rocks and pull himself along. He'd go twice as far that way. He was the first one who got me interested in swimming underwater. Denis had a natural interest in mechanics and became an engineering apprentice, and this led to his first serious involvement in diving. "There was a young fellow working there called Les Wallace, a great lump of a kid, lived in Bondi, about seventeen, same age as myself. He used to get these steel rods from work, sharpen one end and notch the other, and stuff the things down his trousers and smuggle them out. He'd walk out with a stiff leg every night. And he reckoned that he used to dive down to thirty feet (10 metres) and spear grouper. Well, we reckoned it was all bullshit. Nobody could dive that deep. We all treated him as a bit of a nut. Anyway, he challenged me and said if you don't believe me come down and I'll show you. Well, sure enough, he had a mask and flippers and would go down and spear these fish. That was the beginning of it all for me. One thing led to another and I was into it, but for some reason I can't remember why, I never went spear fishing. I immediately got interested in aqualungs and in actual fact made an aqualung before I ever used one. George Hunter and myself were making aqualungs in 1956. "The way we had the things working you would throw your arms up in shock nowadays. There'd be a high pressure hose we'd get them off the brakes of a train or a car running from the tanks to a regulator, and then twin hoses up to your mouthpiece. Christ, there'd be 2000 pounds in that single hose. In 1957 you could buy a "Sealion" aqualung but there was something wrong with them if you went over thirty feet (10 metres) you couldn't get any air. Now, there was this guy who used to make Sea Rocket spear guns called Michael Galleaux, and he went to France and came back with an aqualung. Well, everybody borrowed it, and copied it. Wally Gibbins, Eric Barnes, Edward Du Cross. They all had one. It was simply a matter of getting someone in an engineering works to make one up. We used CIG oxygen regulators the normal regulators off an oxygen bottle for welding and from them we developed the low pressure ones. "Actually the first regulator that I ever bought was a Barnes Scubamatic. Paid 16 pound (32 dollars) for it. Bought it from Wally Gibbins." Dennis went to the Barrier Reef with Edward Du Cross in 1959. "He and Wally Gibbins were the big-time guys, we worshipped those two guys. They were called aqua men in those days. Wally had a compressor over in North Sydney. Got it out of submarine I think. He and Ted Lewis were the only ones with compressors. That's Johnny Summers father in law. Some people may think I am joking but I virtually discovered Shiprock dive site at Port Hacking. We used to go there looking for anchors lost by customers of the local boat shed. We then realised it was a haven for fish. We told a few people and its reputation spread from there. Clovelly Pool was the inevitable training place, Jibbon Bombora was another spot. Hyperventilation was the biggest killer in the early days. Peter Harper and I used to go around to diving clubs in Sydney giving lectures on hyperventilation. We gave a lecture to one club and two weeks later one of the members died. I can remember him sitting in the front row. We used to tell them not to do it but it doesn't matter what you say does it. That was on free diving. l can't recall any accidents on lungs mainly we were too scared to be careless.

A much younger Denis Robinson with an early twin hose unit in Sydney. Photo taken about 1955.

I was doing some commercial work around Sydney using an aqualung. That was in the early sixties. And it got me into trouble with the law. A hard-hat divers were complaining. Edward Du Cross wrote a bit of a character reference on me to the Skindiving Magazine, and that was the last I heard from him. He's still living in Sydney I think. Probably still doing some diving. In 1962 Denis opened the first Dive Shop in Sydney. "You could buy gear from other shops but always from a dive section as part of a general sports store. Mine was the first dive only shop in Sydney. I was making gear at that time-aqualungs, hand spears, weight belts, and people used to come around to my place for an air fill. I had a small 1 cubic ft French compressor got it through Wallace Mitchell before I went to Heron Island in 1960 with Edward Du Cross. I thought, well, if people were going to come around I may as well start up a dive shop. Denis ran the shop for five years but in 1967 he had to sell the business. "I went broke, it was as simple as that. The problem started around 1965 when aqualungs became readily available, and got down to the price where the normal person could pay one off. Just about every store in Sydney was selling them, clothing stores, large emporiums, furniture stores they all sold tanks. But the problem was that they couldn't fill them up, and the people had to eventually come to the skin diving shops to have them filled. But we were selling them seventy cents worth of air while the chain store up the road was selling them a $100 aqualung. Once they came into the shop they were good customers but it was too late to get the big business with the high cost equipment. We couldn't keep up. We'd tried to finance equipment also, and because people were coming in and paying a few dollars deposit, and carting away a load of gear we thought we were doing well. Our turnover was great. But there was no money to pay our wholesalers. What killed me was that I had a thousand people owing me five dollars. And I owed five people a thousand dollars. The business was bought by John Summer who currently runs the shop at Beverley Hills. After leaving the shop, Denis went back to a nine to five job, doing drafting. Whilst running the shop however, he was becoming quite proficient at doing 16mm movie work, with some of his work appearing on Channel 7's News Magazine. It wasn't all underwater work. Being the adventurous type, Denis would get into anything that was interesting, shooting rapids, parachuting, diving under the ice at Kosciusko. He also did news filming in the evenings and at weekends, a "stringer" as they call it. After doing a course in movie making at Sydney Technical College, Dennis became involved with the surfing movie fad. "We travelled around Australia for several months showing surfing films but it was a financial disaster. The main film was "Over and Under, Sideways Down" which went well in Sydney but it flopped everywhere else. In the late sixties, Denis became involved with several small research projects. The adventure thing was wearing a bit thin. Then in 1970 I was invited to Basil Marlow from the Australian Museum to go to Dangerous Reef in South Australia. We spent a month on the reef tagging and filming. In 1970 Denis made a record breaking dive, on air, to 340ft, which still stands in Australia. In 1971 he got married underwater. It caused quite a sensation at the time and newspapers reported the event throughout the world. "It was at Manly Marineland. Seemed the natural thing to do at the time", he said. Denis and his new wife Raina went over to Perth for a holiday, and they were astounded at the prices of land and houses. "We sold a block of land in Sydney for what we bought a house and land for in Perth. But it was Rottnest Island that really sold us. Rottnest is so reminiscent of Montague Island, its got seals, deep water, shelter. That settled it for us. And it's clean and unpolluted". Denis got a job as a projectionist with the P.M.G, and settled in Perth, in 1971. It wasn't long before he became involved with the W.A. Museum, and the historic Dutch wrecks. Jeremy Greens arrived from England in 1971 to take up his post as head of the Maritime Archaeology Department of the museum. Denis went north with jeremy and Graeme Henderson, and made a film for the A.B.C, the Gilt Dragon called "Cannons from the Dragon". History is something you read in a book, or in papers and records. Its recorded Archaeology is finding something then working out what its history was, then writing its history. It starts to lose its meaning what you are then really doing is just diving on some iron beams, a scrap yard. But if its a ship, and you know how it got to be there, just a brief history about it that would make that dive just that bit more meaningful. Denis Robinson is truly one of the pioneers of scuba diving in Australia and one of the few still actively diving. He has a delightful wife Raina, and a son Jason, and a pet turtle. The Robinsons live in the northern Perth seaside suburb of Mullaloo.                                                    

MY EARLY YEARS: Sydney. In Australia at the time (1955-1956) there were few scuba clubs and not many scuba divers in Sydney, there were no certifications of that era either. Those that scuba dived in those days dived only with the people they knew personally or by themselves. A small number of people during the mid to late 1950s taught themselves to dive. I was one of them, and vividly remember about mid 1955 walking into Mick Simmons Sport Store at the Haymarket in Sydney after work on a Friday afternoon, to buy a set of snow skies, it was the middle of winter and after seeing a display of new scuba diving equipment in the shop window, I soon changed my mind. It consisted of a rubber hood, a rather small face mask, a small 40 cf steel cylinder with canvas straps and a twin hose regulator. The brand name now escapes my memory. I think it may have been an old British "Sealion" regulator, a pair of rubber boots, two gloves and a small weight belt and fins. From that moment as I gazed at the equipment in the shop window something inside me changed forever, and lasted for well over 60 years. After buying the outfit for approximately fifty pounds ($100) the sale representative said to me. "Well son, you have just bought our entire stock of scuba diving equipment". My reply was. "Is there any air in the cylinder?". He said. "I do not know try it out in Cordons Bay at Clovelly and find out". I did the next day, Saturday. Now remember, I had no instruction about scuba diving, had never used any type of scuba equipment before and was by myself. Within minutes of entering the water without a wet suit because at that time there were none, and just a bathing costume in the middle of June, I was very cold. Then I started to swim underwater, after a while I could not see a thing, the inside of my mask fogged, water was beginning to get up my nose, my ears began to pain, and breathing became extremely difficult, I was running out of air. Then I started to swim toward the surface as fast as I could and found myself out at sea a long way from land, or so it seemed, at the time.The swim back on the surface was difficult, particularly when free styling. Back on the beach with lungs half full of sea water and blue with cold, I pondered whether I had made the right choice in buying diving gear that cost more than two weeks wages, at the time I was earning 25 pounds ($50) per week. A week or two later I decided to have another attempt at scuba diving, but there was little air in my cylinder and I knew of no one who could fill it for me. I thought there were bound to be one or two people in the telephone directory. But there was nothing. What a mess, a brand new scuba unit I cannot use, so back I went to Mick Summons at the Haymarket with the cylinder under my arm hoping they could fill it for me, or would know of someone who could.                             The salesperson was most helpful. He said he did not know of anyone in Sydney. "So why in hell did you sell me the equipment?' I said, and left the store. Well that was it. My career as a deep-sea diver was over before it started. The following weekend I took my girlfriend Renee, to Clovelly Sea Pool for a day's outing, and you guessed it there as large as life was another person in the water with scuba equipment. He had air in his cylinder and I did not. After he came out of the water I approached him and said. "Hi Mate, where did you get the air in your cylinder?" He told me that at Clovelly was a person who had one of those things that pump air into diving cylinders. He said, it was in his backyard under the house and introduced himself as Col Peard. After he finished mucking about underwater in the sea pool I followed him back to his house and there it was. After he pumped air into the cylinder he put out his hand and said. "That will cost you two shillings and six pence". (Twenty six cents). I thought it was a bit of a rip off at the time. That was my first introduction to scuba diving. One thing I must mention is the fact that in the early days very few if any scuba divers got into trouble as far as the bends were concerned. The one thing preventing this was that early regulators were very difficult to breath beyond a depth of about 50 feet (15 metres). So few ventured beyond that depth. Later on things changed a lot and regulators were easy to buy and could breath well below 100 feet (30 metres) without restriction. For the next four years I dived by myself at places such as Clovelly Sea Pool, Wattamolla, Thompson's Beach and at various places around Sydney Harbour. Those days there were no dive charter boats to take divers to various locations. One day I met another diver by the name of Ray Gillies, he had a rubber suit and I was still using a pair of overalls and thick woollen jumper to keep warm, for about five minutes that is. I soon changed my overalls and jumper for a new rubber wet suit. By this time I had also changed my old Sealion regulator to a new Heinkie twin hose from England. One thing that I can still remember is at that time scuba diving was new, most people had not seen a diver before. So where ever I went there were dozens of people and I mean dozens watching me and asking all sorts of questions. After the dive when I arrived back on shore what do you think the first question I was asked. You guessed it. "Did you see a shark"? Of course one always stretched the truth a little and the answer was always yes I did, and then the question would start all over again. During 1961 I met some other divers from a new scuba club that had just been formed, South Pacific Divers, and joined. Our club meetings were first held at Dennis Robertson garage at Beverly Hills, in Sydney. Over the next ten years I dived with club members at areas all along the New South Wales coast. In 1964 I started to write for the old Skin Diving and Spear Fishing Digest magazine editored by Jack Evans and when that folded, Barry Anderwatha started his new magazine, Skindiving in Australia, I then wrote for that magazine and a few years later also for Dive Log. Thirty years ago I commenced to write my first book, Scuba Diving the New South Wales Coast with 233 pages, that was followed by 11 other books. From 1955 to about 1964 there were no instructor agency in Australia so no divers that commenced diving during that era had C-Cards. In 1976 I still had not a certification card, yet I had been diving for about 25 years and owner a dive shop in Sydney. So an old buddy of mine who was then an instructor, I asked to sign a C-Card for me. He refused and said I would have to go through a course, now I had been diving for a long time so I said to him how about $20, he still refused, then I upped the ante to $50 and in a flash I had myself a C-Card. A lot has happened during those early days through to the time just before instruction agencies appeared in this country, about 1965. There were no wet suits, no buoyancy jackets, and only twin hose regulators, although there were one or two early single hose regulators appearing on the market. We wore heavy jumpers and overalls in an attempt to keep warm and most of us taught ourselves to dive. Long before 1955 a few divers made their own fins out of sea ply timber shaped the way fins are designed today, then glued or nailed sand shoes to the blades, it worked well until fins appeared on the market in large numbers. Today 2012 I am still diving and enjoying it as much now as now as then.

SEARCH FOR THE WRECK OF THE SCOTTISH PRINCE: Brisbane. On October 3, 1886, the 1000 ton steel barque Scottish Prince sailed from Glasgow for Queensland, laden with 1500 tons of mixed cargo that included stoves, sewing machines, Scotch and Irish whisky, pig iron, barrels of ale, iron piping, lime juice, ginger, vinegar, roofing iron, merchandise of all descriptions and 28 passengers. On February 3, 1887, Scottish Prince sailed serenely off the Queensland coast. That night. the last before she was due to arrive off Brisbane, seas were smooth, wind light and the vessel tacked her way past Southport just north of the Queensland, New South Wales border. The Captain, thinking he was well out to sea, put her on a land tack course and before anyone realised an error had been made, Scottish Prince was virtually on the beach. The boat shuddered to a halt, hard aground about a quarter of a mile off shore of Southport. Consternation reigned but as conditions were good, the passengers were placed in boats and stood by awaiting further developments.

The Scottish Prince bound for Queensland before she ran aground at Southport.

As time went on the situation deteriorated and passengers were taken ashore when it was realised that the ship was doomed. The weather became worse and efforts were made to salvage the cargo. All goods which would float, were thrown overboard and washed ashore, and as much as could be taken by small boats in the short period, were removed. However, a storm came up and wrecked the ship. When the storm abated the Scottish Prince was completely submerged. Belated efforts were made to salvage further goods but these were eventually abandoned. Whisky was periodically washed ashore, and the local finders kept customs officers busy locating hidden hauls. Slowly but surely, the ever moving sands engulfed the Scottish Prince completely and she joined the ranks of forgotten ships, her cargo hidden away in Davy Jones locker. This could have been the end of the chapter but, as stories are retold, so too was the story of the Scottish Prince. Nearly a century later, as tales were heard, the Queensland Underwater Research Group took up the threads and sought to probe the past. Lyle Davis hired a small Austere monoplane and, with Don Weston, our field officer, and Bill Hughes, photographer, we headed out over the calm blue Pacific Ocean. An hours flight and the wreck of the Columbus Wallace was located off Jumpin Pin, some miles north of Southport. Very little remained visible above the sandy seabed and as conditions were good, we decided on a run, to the area in which the Scottish Prince was believed to be, with the hope that the sands may have moved and again disclosing their secrets. After slowly circling at 500 feet (1500 metres) for half an hour, to get the sun at the correct angle, we were about to head for home with slight pangs of disappointment when a dark outline showed up about half a mile offshore. Could it be that we had located the long forgotten Scottish Prince or only a shallow reef? We circled at varying heights and at the right light and angle there was no mistaking, it was definitely the outline of a ship, and quite a big one. We made runs cross the wreck towards different landmarks to take bearings, then headed for home excited by the thought that we had perhaps renewed a link with the past. It was October 1956, just 70 years since the Scottish Prince left on her last voyage. Then began an intensive search of records to acquaint ourselves with everything that was known about the wreck. Next came the difficult job of locating the ship from the water itself. As interest ran high, it was decided to hire a launch to take the whole club out on the adventure. However, as is always the case, the good weather which had prevailed during the week changed on the Sunday and by the time we arrived in the vicinity of the wreck, seas were rough and dirty. My large ski was thrown overboard and with Don McMillan and Tex Kenny, I boarded it with difficulty. Unfortunately, the bearings I had taken from the plane could not be sighted as the sand hills on the beach were completely blocking our view. Conditions were getting worse with a stiff north-eastern stirring up the murk and although I knew we were close, we realised our task was hopeless, so we returned to the launch and headed for home. To avoid further waste of money and time we decided to form a reconnaissance group from the most experienced members of the club and tackle the problem from the beach on the few good skis we had which were suitable to carry men and necessary gear. To get bearings to ski’s out on the water, two of us walked along the top of the sand hills, until we had the correct reading on our prismatic compasses, the same bearings taken from the plane.

An early photograph of Ben Cropp with a bottle of whisky found on the wreck of Scottish Prince.

Then we faced the sea and signalled to other member on the beach near the edge of the water to move to a reciprocal bearing position. The ski then went out to sea and lined the men on the beach up with the men on the sand hills or that was to be the procedure. Again, the old man of the sea resented our intrusion. After heavy breakers swamped the outboard motor, John Muirhead, Norm Wheatly. and John Goldsmith endeavoured to row out but were swamped by big breakers. Again, our attempt was abandoned to await Father Neptune's pleasure. Being summer in Queensland we could not count on getting any good water until the weather cooled off, but we had reported the finding of the wreck to the Receiver of Wrecks in Brisbane, and made application and received permission to dive. The next move was to get a friend to fly over the wreck and drop the buoy on it, or near it, and then send us a note on the beach to relate the position of the buoy. We were assembled on the beach with the skis and gear in readiness at the appointed time when the drone of the plane was heard and she circled overhead right on schedule. Harold Kenny, the pilot, located the wreck easily and dropped the buoy. It was almost a direct hit and the note he sent us advised that the wreck was only 15 metres (at 120 degree from where the buoy was bobbing. After several attempts one ski made it through the breakers and Ron Isbel and Hal Rignold donned their aqualungs, located the wreck and moved the buoy over the wreck and tied it to a part of the Scottish Prince the first time man had touched it for 70 years. Conditions were too bad to remain here long as the skis were pitching and tossing badly and a strong rip was running. Immediately the buoy was secure, the skis returned to the beach. On Friday night, April 3, 1956, at a committee meeting, it was decided to make another attempt on the following Sunday, particularly in view of the tremendous interest being shown by the local press. On the Saturday, a westerly sprang up and our hopes rose a little as this wind flattens the sea close inshore. We decided to leave at 4.30 am to be out on the water before the seas began to rise as they usually do from about 10 am onwards. For once, they were perfect and we had no trouble getting out beyond the breaker line. Ron Isbel and Vic Ellem on Ron's catamaran, that was now powered by a small inboard motor, Don Weston, Harry Cotton and myself on my ski, Ron Johnston, Hal Rignold on Ron's ski, and Bill Hughes on his we all tied onto the catamaran and easily located the wreck. Visibility was too poor for good photography, but was good enough to dive. We donned our aqualungs and broke into two parties of four, Ron Johnston, with his robot underwater camera, Ron Isbel and myself to explore and Vic Ellem and the rest of the group to start at the bow of the ship and work their way along the wreck. Bill Hughes, with his robot camera, Harry Cotton, Don Weston and Hal Rignold were to go to the stern. It was an eerie feeling entering this fantastic underwater world of relics. Amazing sights unfolded before our eyes in every cavern of twisted cungie covered plates. Fish of all shapes and sizes swam leisurely about accepting us as marine creatures, as they had obviously never before seen a man-fish. We cruised slowly around the bow and back towards amidships, entering dim caverns here and there in search of movable relics. In every cavern, there was at least one repulsive whiskered wobbegong shark up to 6 feet long (2 metres). Most of them grudgingly moved over to allow us to enter their domain but some openly resented the intrusion and snapped with their whiskered mouth fitted with hundreds of small needle like teeth, like angry dogs. We located some galvanised iron in a surprisingly good condition when Vic's air supply reached emergency, he turned his bypass valve on, gave me a signal. and I escorted him to the surface. I was about to go down again with Ron Johnston, when Hal Rignold broke the surface about 50 feet (17 metres) away toward the rear of the wreck, waving a decrepit old barnacle covered bottle. We could not believe our eyes when we saw a broken lead seal on the cap that read "Only Genuine when Bearing our Signature" Ewart and Burke. Bottled in Dublin. Everything then stopped whilst we sat on our skis and heard Hal describe how he located the bottle. He and Don Weston were probing about in the sand a little aft of amidships when he came across a bottle top sticking out of the sand. He pulled it out but the bottle was empty, and he thought it was probably one that had been dropped overboard by an angler. However, just in case, he probed in the sand beside it and to his great delight and amazement came out with a bottle filled with amber fluid and bearing a lead seal. He nearly spat his mouthpiece out gurgling and pointing out the bottle to Don. They decided they just could not wait any longer before proudly displaying it to the boys. Then we headed back to Southport beach. On our return we were met by crowds of curious sightseers, among whom was Bob Miller, senior person at the Brisbane Courier Mail newspaper. The bottle was taken to the Government analyst via the Health Department and the analysis showed that the whisky was 77% proof spirit with 9% impurities in the form of dead sulphur bacteria. Although we are certain that this is the wreck of the Scottish Prince, we need to find the bell or something marked with the ship's name to put the matter beyond doubt. Perhaps the seas may uncover her bones still further or they may decide that we have seen enough and once more lock her away for another generation to explore.

Go to top of page

EARLY VICTORIAN SHIPWRECKS: Melbourne. In the year 1622 the sailing vessel Tryal an East Indiaman en-route from England to the East Indies, when after rounding the Cape of Good Hope, blew off course and struck Bello Reef off the Western Australian coast. Not a great deal is known about the Tryal except she was a soundly constructed ship and sailed well in any sea conditions. Her weight was 500 tons. She carried a crew of 143 men and left Plymouth with a full cargo on September 4, 1621. Her captain was a man by the name of Brooks. The Tryal arrived at the Cape of Good Hope to replenish supplies before sailing across the great expanse of the Indian Ocean to Batavia. Brooks sailed south to latitude 39 then east but the Tryal had sailed further east than expected, and on May 1st sighted the Australian mainland somewhere in the region of North West Cape. He then set course for Batavia and sailed a long the west coast of Australia past Barrow Island and Monte Bello Islands toward a group of uncharted reefs. On May 25th, one hour before midnight the Tryal struck submerged rocks and came to a grinding halt. Sighting neither land nor reef the ship was stuck in 4 meters of water. By 4am the Tryal had broken in half and the captain with nine men and his cabin boy left the wreck amidst curses from the stranded crew.

An artist impression of a very early shipwreck.

Another seaman by the name of Bright managed to launch the longboat with 36 men aboard and remained near the wreck until morning reluctant to abandon the other 97 men left on the wreck. With a heavy heart Bright then set course for Batavia and arrived there a couple of days after Brooks. So the British ship Tryal became the first recorded shipwreck upon Australian shores, the remaining 97 souls on board were never heard of again. This is the first wreck recorded along the Australian coastline. Since then there have been over 4,000 similar marine disasters in Australian waters. It was not until 1837 that the first wreck occurred on the Victorian coast. The sealing schooner Isabella, en-route from Launceston to Kangaroo Island, foundered in Portland Bay, on Saturday, March 30th. One hundred and twelve years later Victoria's last major shipwreck occurred on August 23 1949, when the coastal freighter SS Tirries entered "The Rip" with a cargo of sugar from Queensland, she developed a fault in her steering gear and drifted helplessly onto the ill-famed Corsair Reef. From the day Isabella went down to the present time, a space of just over 122 years, Victoria has been the unhappy host to 245 officially recorded wrecks. For some of these, the details and stories are remembered only too vividly by those who were lucky enough to survive the disastrous event. Most stories have been passed down from the descendants of survivors or local people connected with rescue work at the time. By far the worst period for shipwrecks was in the early 1850s. This was during the gold rush, when many ships that came out to Victoria from England under the command of captains who were unfamiliar with the Victorian coastline. The mistake made by several skippers was their reckoning of Cape Otway light as that of King Island. Five miles from Princetown, on the South West coast of Victoria, lies a rocky inlet known as Loch Ard Gorge. It's here that the ill-fated clipper Loch Ard was so tragically wrecked in 1878, with the loss of all but two of her passengers and crew. The Loch Ard was a three mast iron clipper of 275 tons, owned by the Loch Line of Glasgow, whose sailing ships were world renowned for their comfort and good management. They carried passengers and general cargo on their outward run to Australia and usually wool on the return trip to England. On March 12, 1878, the Loch Ard sailed from London under the command of Captain Gibbs, who had been married just a week previously. On board were a crew of 33, general cargo and 17 passengers including a wealthy Irish Doctor and his family of seven. The passage out was uneventful and pleasant until noon on May 31, when solar observations showed the position to be about 150 kilometres south west of Cape Otway. At this time the passengers were already packing to disembark at Melbourne next day. The Otway light was expected about 2 am. next morning if conditions were good. That night a thick haze developed and the expected Otway light was not seen. At 5 am the lookout called "land ahead," and the ship was seen to be about a mile offshore and heading straight for rugged cliffs. Captain Gibbs gave orders to set the spinnaker, mizzen and mizzen topmast stays in the effort to pull the stern of the ship around and head for the open sea. But the ship would not come around. Both anchors were then let go with 50 fathoms of chain but the anchors dragged. Now head to the wind, the anchors were slipped and sails set to try to get on to the port tack just as the ship was beginning to answer, she smashed broadside on to huge cliffs just east of the gorge. The ship started to break up fast and only one boat was launched, but it capsized immediately. One man from the boat, Tom Pearce, managed to get to shore and half an hour later he swam out and rescued a girl Eve Carmichael daughter of the Irish doctor. She was clinging to a spar about 200 yards from shore when rescued by Pearce. These two were the sole survivors of the unfortunate Loch Ard. A tremendous amount of wreckage was washed up which indicates that the ship was badly knocked about before she finally foundered. A great loss to the early people of Melbourne.

SCUBA DIVING IS HERE TO STAY: Sydney. Few salt water sports have ever mushroomed with such velocity as the currently booming, scuba diving along the entire Pacific Coast of Australia. Nor has any new sport ever so stimulated the imagination of adventurous people or given up, so quickly so many secrets. During the past few years a young army of masked divers has been invading Neptune's front yard. They have grown from a handful of devotees to thousands, presently engaged in probing every nook and cranny of the Australian sea rim. The amazing popularity may be because a majority of initiates into scuba diving have had little or no previous contact with salt water fishing. Most development are due to people outside the angling fraternity. Although the sport is considered a new one, spear fishing is as old as man's desire to obtain food from the sea. It is history repeating itself. The spear is the earliest and most primitive of fishing weapons, still used by Eskimos and by aboriginal tribes of the South Pacific Islands. Going beneath the surface in search of fish postdates the spear, but Polynesian pearl divers developed a crude form of face mask hundreds of years ago to improve their vision under water. Biblical history reports the use of tubes for breathing beneath the surface, so the whole business of undersea diving has an ancient and rich history. Modern skin-diving as such, is credited to the Japanese who developed the face plate or mask to aid in their cultured pearl industry. Working at great depths, the eye goggles pressed against the eyeball itself and were an occupational hazard. To overcome this dangerous condition, the faceplate was developed. This distributed the pressure over the entire face, and at the same time, greatly improved underwater vision. At the instant of the dive, the lungs filled with air inhaled through the mouth. As water pressure compressed air out of the lungs, it is forced into the face mask thus equalising automatically. It was work in the French Mediterranean by divers which led to the development of the modern day aqualung by Capt. J. Y. Cousteau and Engineer Gagnan. This piece of equipment brought changes that are even more revolutionary in underwater sport. The experience that fires the zeal of the fish man is not the capture of an undersea creature but the unveiling of an entirely new world which words are inadequate to describe. There is a wonderful suspended, timeless feeling in a fairyland of unexplored flora and fauna.

A group of early scuba divers during the year 1956.

The famous underwater pioneer William Beebe said that the only experience that could compare with a few hours spent underwater might be a trip to the outer planets. It is this sudden discovery of wonders that lie beneath the mirrored surface of the sea that wins so many followers. Once the first visit is made to the submarine world, the desire to revisit increases. The basic theory of underwater cruising is simple. The shortcomings of the human body to accommodate itself to life beneath the sea from which it originally evolved must be overcome. Human vision is limited. This obstacle is surmounted by goggles and pressure equalising face masks. Man's lungs could not equipped creatures of the sea. The snorkel tube and aqualung solved this problem. Water pressure at great depths prevented man from going too far beneath the surface. Now the Cousteau aqualung, with its demand valve that equalises water pressure with air pressure in the human lungs has solved that one. Human beings may now submerge to great depths and remain for extended periods with a minimum of equipment and no direct connection with air. The equipment for enjoying scuba diving is simple. Underwater goggles have given way to the face mask. A more recent development from Italy, is the snorkel mask. In this design, the faceplate is much larger and the rubber housing of the mask covers the entire face from the forehead to under the chin. Projecting from the top of the mask are two plastic tubes through which a scuba diver can breathe whilst swimming on the surface. On the end of each snorkel tube are valves that close by means of large cork floats whenever the diver wishes to surface and prevents water coming into the mask. Other types of snorkels have a reverse bend like the end of a walking cane. In this curve is a small plastic ball that rises and cuts off the tube on submersion. The basic principle is the same in each case. The advantage of this type of mask is that the user is always viewing beneath the surface and breathing normally. The first type of mask limits underwater viewing to the time a diver can hold his breath, in most cases no more than one or two minutes. Because of the invention of the aqualung, man has freed himself from the bonds of land where he was marooned. He can now move back to the sea, whence he came many thousands of years ago. 

BILL SILVESTER PIONEER DIVER: Melbourne. If I was to ask if you knew the name Bill Silvester, most new divers of today wouldn't recognize the name. Similar to Bill's own diving history was a fellow Melbourne skin diver named Ted Eldred who, in 1952 designed and manufactured the world's first single hose scuba regulator. Bill on the other hand was a teenager with a passion for the ocean. By 1955, he and four of his fellow skin-diving mates created one of Melbourne's first diving clubs called The Black Rock Skin divers. In years later the club was to become the Black Rock Underwater Diving Group (BRUDG), along with The Associated Divers Academy, and FAUI, the Federation of Underwater Instructors. Then in 1973 he and his wife Sharon opened the first dive store in Byron Bay. There are so many great stories between times and it is all written in Bill's book titled "Down Under Magic".
He talks about his first snorkelling experience with his father, Jack, in Melbourne's Port Phillip Bay. It rekindles early memories of my own first glimpse of a shallow reef off of Mornington, only I never had the same encounters with 4 metre long bronze whaler sharks. I also know how cold the waters can be in Melbourne so I can't imagine wearing several layers of woollen jumpers to keep warm.              

Bill Silvester.

Throughout the next 5 years the family lived both in Melbourne, then Perth, but in 1951 they returned to Melbourne and made a permanent home in the coastal town of Black Rock, just 25 km's south east of the city. Bill recalls many memories, but there is one which would have great meaning to all young boys with dreams of adventure. He talks about his bedroom in the new house, and says ''this was a very special room. It was situated on a bluff on a sweeping bend where I had the only view of the sea. I could see the rocks and reef McGregor Rocks were right in front of the house". In August this year I came across Bill's book by chance, at a cafe in Rosebud on the Mornington Peninsula. I started reading and was absorbed by Bill's story. It's a great read and it reflects on so many facets of the sport of snorkelling and scuba diving which most of us would have experienced, even if it was just the sense of adventure, or that first wet suit, or the apprehension as we used a scuba regulator for the very first time. Bill goes back to the mid 1950s when he was first introduced to skin diving. It was my father that introduced me to skin diving when I was 17. Our first skin dive was to Fossil Beach near Mornington. I had a round mask, no safety glass, Turnbull fins (not flippers), a ping pong ball snorkel that made me panic when the ball got stuck shut, and a hand spear with multi-pronged head. I speared a small sea sweep. My father said it was important to eat my first fish even though it was very small. So I did. It was OK. Because skin diving was so new to me, and most people too, I was scared that even the humble sting ray would attack me, or an octopus let alone a shark. Because I did not want to show fear to my father, I just had to show I was brave. Dad then bought me a copy of Hans Hass book "Under the Red Sea" and Hass became my hero from then on. No wet suits then, or even any personal protection, it really was skin diving and I got bloody cold too. I was in total awe of sharks and scared too. I was somewhat comforted however, by the Port Phillip Bay statistics that recorded only one shark fatality and I think that was back in the 1930s. The event was told to me by a witness Steve Abbott who was the father of a girl friend at that time. Nevertheless, I was always looking over my shoulder as his graphic story was a fearful picture in my mind. When graduating to SCUBA in the late 50s there were so many other factors to deal with that sharks were the least of my concerns. To this day the near death incident that nearly took my life at the Cerberus is still so clear in my mind. That is why I wrote it up in my book. Perhaps it is the aspect of being totally submerged with SCUBA and being able to see and breath underwater, that seeing sharks have become an exciting experience and not a fear. My most terrifying experience took place when I was building a blood line for FJ Walkers Meat Works in the late 1970s, and I met a white pointer just under the swirl of excrement coming out of the pipeline's exit. I thought my time had come that day. That is another story. Not many divers really know of then history of scuba diving in Australia and how much of it was related to Ted Eldred and stuff that went on in Melbourne. There is of course a story about who was the first to invent the single hose two stage regulator. I suppose one would have to say that Ted Eldred was the first one to do so. This original regulator was taken up by Bob Wallace-Mitchell and sold commercially. However, Lionel Martin was not far behind. This is where we came in. The Sea Bee regulator was actually made by Lionel Martin but Jim Agar refined it to become one of the best of the early used models and a must use for Hookah use.

A group of early scuba divers about 1964. Bill Silvester second from left.

Lionel was a genius and a wonderful man to get to know and befriend. We spent hours at his Delta Instrument Company shop taking the copper wire off the 26 cubic foot disposal bottles, cold zinc galvanizing them to keep away corrosion, and making up the primitive demand valves and hoses to connect to the Ace-weld reducers procured by Lionel. When we completed the new SCUBA gear Geoff Hume and I had our first dive at Half Moon Bay along with other Black Rock Skin diver members. The establishment of The Associated Divers Academy became a natural progression from voluntary teaching of SCUBA in the BRUDG. We had an ally in Keith Webb who worked at the Melbourne Sports Depot in the underwater section. He had a lot of people asking him where they could learn to dive. As a member of the club he suggested that if we formed a teaching organisation he thought we would do well. Geoff Hume, Ray Lyons and myself, club members of BRUDG, made the decision to go for it. When I met Brian Farrell, the then manager for a sports department, he offered to equip us with White Stag equipment and Voit snorkel gear for free if we sent all our pupils back to his store, we jumped at it! We received 10 sets of gear from Del Cantando the CEO of White Stag and we were in business. We negotiated with the then YMCA to use their pool on a Tuesday evening. The reason for the setting up of FAUI was to avoid the government stepping in and legislating the sport. If the government had legislated SCUBA diving it would have meant that Australian navy personnel would take over the teaching of SCUBA. A disaster for free agency. With Ern Ireland who also owned a dive school, FAUI was formed with the support of Tony De Fina, the president of the Underwater and Spear Fishermen's Association. Collectively we wrote the standards and so the first instructor agency in Australia was born. At this time both Ray Lyons and Geoff Hume had resigned from ADA and David Perry came on as my partner, and his expertise was brilliant in writing up and improving the quality of our teaching. I first dived Byron Bay in 1960 when there was still a number of giant groper in the cod hole. Giant Jew fish too. I had never seen such a proliferation of marine life before even at Montague Island. It was enchanting to dive there and the sea temperature that summer was around 25 degrees C. At that time i gave my heart to the Julian Rocks and the then very sleepy little town of Byron Bay. I just wanted to live there one day, but the time was not yet right. The right time came about in 1972. I was on a business trip to sell wet suits for Ron Harding. When I walked into Ponto Bell's sports shop in Jonson Street Byron Bay, he told me that he was going to sell up, build a trawler and go catch prawns. I immediately inquired about his asking price, and it was low enough for me to think I could borrow enough to buy it. There was another catch however, Sharon and I needed to have some security before we accepted the deal. About that time there was a land auction at Wategos Beach. We bid on a block and it was knocked down to us, a paltry $3800. We negotiated to buy the shop from Ponto Bell, went to the National Bank wrote a detailed marketing plan and the bank loaned us the money. We were in. On February 1973 we moved to Byron Bay, took over the shop and then began Australia's first offshore dive charter business.                                                                                                                                                                                  

ATTEMPT ON WORLD UNDERWATER ENDURANCE RECORD: Perth. Theo Brown entered the water at Woodmans Point, beginning his attempt on the World Underwater Endurance Record. After one hour in the water, Theo complained (via a slate) of the onset of a stomach cramp, but considered the pain would go away. At 4 pm Theo was in worse pain, and soon was unable to sit on his underwater seat. He released his aqualung and lay down on the bottom to ease the pain. At 7 am he was in dire straits, having vomited a number of times, but he refused to leave the water. At 7.45 pm, Theo was very ill, and moved into shallower water, where he collapsed into the arms of Tom Osbourne, who then passed him from the water to attendants on the jetty nearby. Theo was taken from the water after 7 hours 6 minutes, setting an inaugural State record, or is it an Australian record? Theo's second attempt again took place at Woodman's Point. He entered the water at 12.30 pm but a leaking rubber suit forced him from the water at ten minutes to two. At ten past five, he re-entered the water, and this time, things proceeded smoothly, with divers Veronica Ryan, Ken Holmes, Bev Marshall, Tom Osbourne, and Don Ende tending him in shifts. Herb Ende, Harry Dols, and Colin Elvert were supervising the refilling arrangements. Betty Lee and Betty Ende were keeping hot food up to the diving team and Theo. At about 8 pm manager John Lee dived down to have a word with Theo, and on returning to the surface announced that the night was presenting no difficulties. At 9.15 divers jumped to action stations when the red buoy signalling a shark alarm popped to the surface. About ten minutes later the red buoy was pulled down and the white emergency buoy came to the surface. John Lee answered the emergency and, when he returned to the surface, told us that the shark he saw was a ten foot brute, dark brown in colour. Veronica Ryan had just left the water after serving Theo a hot thermos of soup, when both red buoy and white, surfaced together. Ken Holmes grabbed a triple rubber Bazooka and leapt into the water. Don Ende grabbed Barry Martin's camera with a flash bulb of five-million lumen illumination and went below. On reaching the bottom, they found a state of chaos. Theo's seat made from a 44 gallon drum, filled with stones and which 3 men could barely lift had been knocked over. Theo had been knocked sideways. The shark had bitten a piece from the leg of his rubber suit and left four teeth marks in it and had then disappeared with his Alcedo compressed air gun. It seems that as Theo sat patrolling the deep water in front of him with his spotlight, the shark (unidentified) sneaked around the light and attacked from the side. Sixth sense made Theo look around, just in time to see the huge fish right on him. In the same movement, he swung his gun around and fired. The next thing he knew he was on his back with water seeping through his underwear. Where the spear went he did not know. Theo left the water three quarters of an hour later because, again, his suit was full of water. Early next morning Bev Marshall found Theo's gun some distance away, with the barrel bent at about thirty degrees. The spear, which lay nearby had the head snapped off and bent at approximately 60 degrees, it was obvious that he had scored a hit.

UNDERWATER EXPLORERS CLUB SEARCHING FOR DUNBAR WRECK: Sydney. Off the cliffs south of Sydney Heads, aqua swimmers dived where they thought the Dunbar sank with the loss of over 300 lives in 1857. The Underwater Explorers Club had nearly a score of aqualungs, and other compressed air equipment available. Two row-floats carried on a larger craft through the heads limited the number of divers to seven. After searching in deep water down to 80 feet (24 metres) without finding the wreck, they believe that it has broken up and disappeared in shallow water. One diver discovered a large piece of brass, which is evidence of how close they were to the wreck site.

AIR FILLS TOO DEAR AT $1.00 EACH: Sydney. In the Sydney suburb of Maroubra an enterprising dive shop is selling compressed air at half the price charged by competitors, 50c per fill. This is a step in the right direction to encourage more people into the water, and to give every diver a better deal. The normal price of $1.00 per tank fill is a bit stiff for any diver. If air prices keep rising then there will be fewer divers diving with cylinders and we may see a decline in the sport of scuba diving. Spear fishing is almost free of cost and scuba diving should be the same.

AUSTRALIAN DEEP DIVING RECORD BROKEN AGAIN: Perth. Western Australians Gordon McLean and Graham Anderson have dived to 200 and 250 feet (60 and 77 metres) on aqualung equipment. Unless something is done, interstate rivalry is on, and it will not be long before some young and useful lives are thrown away. And for what? Not to make progress or effect useful research. We have known for several years that at 200 feet (60 metres) or more mixture breathing is safe and compressed air is dangerous. Daredevils breathing compressed air at these depths will not find out anything not already known, and interstate rivalry will add to losses beyond monetary value in humans. We are not out to belittle McLean or Anderson, who are our kind of blokes, and we like all we have heard about them, and neither are we against the spirit of adventure nor research. We also believe that our attitude in New South Wales is not dog in the manger about our records. If it were, we just would not be adults. We also happen to know that in Victoria this foolhardy rivalry and silly press publicity is deplored as much as it is here in New South Wales. The Victorians and the Underwater Explorers Club of New South Wales have had deep records before. Let us hope that all can see where this kind of thing could end. Overseas there have been numerous accidents because of excessively deep diving. The only thing that it attracts is publicity for all the wrong reasons. Divers conducting these stupid deep dives are nothing but publicity seekers. Let them obtain their type of notoriety in other sports than scuba diving. The Association does not endorse this kind of diving and hopes that its members do not participate in deep diving activities. It's a risky business even for experienced divers and nothing can be gained from diving deep.

HANS HASS VISITS SYDNEY FOR THE FIRST TIME: Sydney. Veteran scuba diver, photographer, and author Hans Hass passed through Sydney, en route to the Great Barrier Reef, stopping just long enough to have a club badge pinned on his chest by Dick Charles. Hans Hass commented that he had believed France led the world in spear fishing techniques and development, but is now convinced that Australia leads both France and America. Hans Hass could not believe that the assembled spear men and families at La Perouse were only a small section of the Underwater Spear fishermen’s Association of New South Wales, the largest amateur fishing club in the world and there is also clubs in other States of Australia.

WRECK OF STEAMSHIP YONGALA FOUND BY DIVERS: Townsville. The Adelaide Steam Ship Company, had operated a southern coastal service since 1875, and entered the northern run in 1893. One of the ships, the SS Yongala, lost during a cyclone in 1911, provided a Great Barrier Reef mystery that was solved nearly fifty years later. The Yongala sailed from Brisbane on her last voyage on March 21, 1911. Off Rat Top Island at Mackay, North Queensland, Yongala discharged cargo onto a lighter and continued her run on March 23. She was barely out of sight of the island when the signal station received a cyclone warning. It was too late for the ship, which did not carry a wireless so the station could not pass on the warning. Yongala was sighted from Dent Island in the Whitsunday Passage later the same day. She was due in Townsville early on the 24th, and when she did not reach her destination by late 25th, after several other ships had arrived from the south. An intensive search was mounted in an attempt to find her. A week later wreckage from the ship began to come ashore. The Marine Board of Inquiry found that after becoming lost from view by the lighthouse at Dent Island, the fate of the Yongala passed into unknown history and added one more to the long roll of mysteries of the sea. There were no survivors or bodies found. The loss of Yongala was forgotten, but just after the Second World War in 1947, a survey ship, the HMAS Lachlan investigated an obstruction that in 1943 had snagged a minesweeper just off Cape Bowling Green. The Lachlan concluded that it was the wreckage of a fair sized steamer but nothing was done until two Townsville divers, Don McMillan and Noel Cook, located it again in 1958 and brought a steel safe to the surface, which was identified by the manufacturers as being from Yongala. That much the wreck was forced to surrender in its 50 years beneath the sea.

LADIES ADMITTED TO CLUB MEETINGS FOR THE FIRST TIME: Sydney. A notice of motion was presented to the Association, that women be admitted as full members and accorded the full privileges of men. Subscriptions to be the same as male members. Dick Charles states that in all his experience in the Skindivers Associations of Australia, New South Wales is the only state that does not admit women to their meetings. He says, if you want to encourage ladies into scuba diving this is not a good thing. Ladies can now apply for full membership of the Association. All ladies are now eligible, if they wish, to compete in all facets of the sport, to competitive scuba diving and any other related sports that may evolve in future years.

MAKER OF AUSTRALIAN'S FIRST UNDERWATER CAMERA HOUSING DIES: Sydney. Following a long distressing illness, Rod Fackeral died last month. Powerfully built and extremely popular, Rod was a first class scuba diver with a special regard for underwater photography. He built the first underwater camera case ever made in Australia, with which he shot many highly entertaining feet of 16mm film. He obtained many interesting sequences by coupling the camera shutter release to the trigger of a spear gun.

WOMEN SCUBA DIVERS MAKE HISTORY IN AUSTRALIA: Sydney. There are hundreds of spear men around Australia, but the numbers of women is well under a dozen, if the present tendency continues this will soon cease to apply, for women in every State of Australia are becoming more active under the water than ever before. Last week three prospective underwater girls, Diane Dewer, Cynthea Leech and Pam McGee swam into deep water for thirty minutes, wearing aqualungs, making a first in history, as far as Australian girls are concerned. Some of the ex-aqua showgirls tested for the film “Deep Down, Down Under” have been scuba diving to amazing depths, staying down longer than one would have thought possible, and are pestering their boyfriends and husbands to buy them regulators and cylinders. It is good to see girls entering the sport of aqualung diving and there is no reason why women cannot become as good as men at the sport. After all it is not a sport where lots of muscular power is needed.

ANOTHER DEEP DIVING RECORD-114 FEET: Sydney. We were only down for 20 minutes. We would have stayed longer but events, as you will read later, prevented this. For these 20 minutes, though, we worked hours in preparation for the dive. When a deep dive, with its concurrent dangers, is planned, one must sift out many details. There must be boats for transport to the deep area, row floats to be towed, medical checks to be made on each diver, underwater maps pinpointed, a free running light line for the dive leader, row float contact and a “party line” to be spliced. This is a piece of cord-line in the shape of a triangle, the leader pulling the apex and all members of the diving party joined to the sides of the triangle by easily shed wrist loops. By this method, even in the murkiest of water, no one loses the party, and specially the leader, who has a wrist compass and watch, essential in a medium where direction is a confusing thing. All lungs and multiple bottle sets were thoroughly serviced. The party for the dive included the original team that searched for the Dunbar wreck some time ago. These divers were Don Linklater of Undersee Products, Jack Cahill, intrepid Sydney Daily Telegraph reporter who covered the dive, Wally Gibbons, underwater photographer and ace spear man, and myself (Rod McNeill). Michel Calluaud, pioneer of free swimming compressed air apparatus in this country, and Evan Davies, crack naval diver rounded off the team of six. Wally was to be the roving cameraman, shooting anything of interest with his 35 mm Robot camera. As professional fishermen reported that March this year was the worst they had known for years for sharks, we decided to dive down the underwater contours to where the charts showed 17 fathoms off North Head, at Sydney Harbour Heads. This we considered, was safer than spinning around a shot line in the wide blue channel. We rigged up, then Dr. Norman Lee, a member of the Underwater Explorers Club, checked each one of us. So on to the row floats and in towards the immense cliffs of North Head. With a last minute check with row float crews regarding our only signal a hard single tug on the nylon line to indicate that the dive preparation was completed, we flopped off the floats. Evan Davies sorted us out and we took our positions along the rope triangle. I headed for the vertical underwater rock face of the Heads and we swam slowly down through a dark green water. I pushed my head into the pressure barrier at about 30 feet (10 metres) and miraculously a mere swallow was sufficient to clear my Eustachian Tubes. A couple of the others, though, were having difficulty and by sharp tugs on the intercommunicating line, caused me to wait whilst they cleared. Don Linklater unselfishly surfaced so as not to delay our descent. Soon after he came down slowly alone through our bubbles and rejoined the team. We swam down the wall and reached the bottom at about 60 feet (20 metres). I turned and checked the others and all were comfortable. We followed a north east direction previously agreed upon and the depth increased. We saw very few fish, but the seabed had a different quality from shallower terrain. Strange, tough cup like growths, purple and mauve flower like seaweed were scattered sparsely along the bottom. One hundred feet (30 metres) showed on our depth meters. We were there. Again, I checked the team. All were happy so I pressed on, searching for deeper water. We swam slowly further out to sea, and gradually slid down on to a sand bottom. There the depth gauge crept to just on 114 feet (35 metres) the deepest we had been. As the team crowded around to verify my reading, Evan Davies screwed around to turn the tap of his second bottle. Nothing happened. He gave me a quick signal that he was ascending, and Don, the previously arranged “trouble man,” rose with him. As they bubbled up and the green haze swallowed them, we held a hurried sea bed conference with our hands. Finally we all gave the “up” sign and ascended to the sunshine. The row floats were on the spot and we quickly clambered aboard. On Dr. Lee's insistence, we all hopped overboard again and decompressed at 10 feet (3 metres) for four minutes. The pin pong ball in Evans was flat and he admitted that he could not remember the abrasions occurring. Michel Calluaud's right eardrum had ruptured, but he was unaware of it for some time after surfacing. We agreed that even at a mere one hundred feet (30 metres) there was an overconfident vague, "couldn't care less" mental feeling. The depth estimated was a conservative 114 feet (35 metres). We knew that another hundred feet (30 metres) down would have been simple but for the danger of depth narcosis, the "rapture of the deep" from Cousteau stories. This dive will be easily beaten in Australia, but those who do follow will benefit by the experience and pioneering spirit of we, who were the first to reach 114 feet (35 metres).

AUSTRALIAN DEEP DIVING RECORD BROKEN: Sydney. Three Aqualung divers from Sydney, Dave Rawlings, Ron Harding, and Don Brown made a record breaking dive to 200 feet (60 metres) near Sydney Harbour recently. The boys went along well prepare, and took every precaution before making the dive. Dr. Lee gave them a thorough physical check and Don Linklater was on hand to help where he could. The three members went down a drop line used for guidance and to check the depth. Don Linklater took a trip to the halfway mark to see how the boys went and to make sure that they did not ascend too quickly. The divers reported that from about half way the visibility started to get bad and at the bottom, there was complete darkness. The only way that they could be sure in which direction the surface lay was to feel the air bubbles from their compressed air units.

THE ADVENTURES OF LADY DORIS: Sydney. It all started with my love for the sea. I Carlo Fillepeth arrived in Australia in 1951, I settled on the South Coast after having spent five years working in the Snowy River Hydro Electric Scheme. For the next nine years Australia, the land of plenty became Australia the sea of plenty, during this time I formed a partnership with Leo Griffin and we started a Commercial Diving Company, working in dams, harbours and rivers and, teaching Scuba Diving. The fascination of wreck diving grabbed hold of both of us and every spare moment we travelled the coast of southern NSW recording all the wrecks. The largest concentration of wrecks we found were at Bellambl Reef and at Green Cape and, by the early 60's we were ready to start salvage operations and, get rich. We were young and adventurous and owned compressors, cylinders, underwater tools and communication equipment. Leo was an expert in explosives and we were keen to get started in the salvage business further south on untouched wrecks.

The Lady Doris used by Carlo Fillepeth for collecting scrap metal from the sea bed around Green Cape.

The only thing we did not have was a good sized work boat, so I decided to talk to my mate Col Peard a person of wheeling and dealing who always had lots of contacts. Col had previously given us the information that had enabled us to get all our diving equipment which, in the early sixties, was hard to get. I was very excited after talking to Col as he told us to come up to Rose Bay where he had just bought at auction the very boat we needed. Next day at the Rose Bay Wharf my enthusiasm ran wild as I was introduced to the 120 foot "Lady Doris" and dreams of adventure and riches ran through my mind. Lady Doris would make an ideal dive boat, being big and beamy with room on deck to land a plane. We spent the next month in preparation for our salvage trip loading and storing compressors, provisions, explosives, lifting devices and, on the deck of Lady Doris a 16 foot runabout and a Land Rover. So the crew of three was Col, skipper and navigator, Leo was diver deck hand and cook and myself as diver, deckhand, engineer and cook. We were ready to sail with the first destination, Green Gape. Someone suggested we have a few drinks before departure and all of Sydney turned up; a good mixture of bottles, women, hippies and intellectuals. The party was never-ending. We said our good-byes a thousand times and, at 12.30 am, cast off towards unknown adventure. I was at the helm as we slid past South Head with a gentle North-East breeze when the excitement and the alcohol of this long day caught up with me and I fell asleep. Next thing I knew I was being wakened from my sweet dreams. "Wake up, wake up you drunken wog" called out a very cranky Leo. "Waz ze matter Leo?" I queried. "What's the matter, what sort of a idiot we have here we have a problem. Captain Shallow Water, know nothing about navigation. "Who is Captain Shallow Water?" I asked Leo, as I came out of my drunken haze. I'll give you one guess said Leo pointing at Col at the helm as my eyes came into focus and I noticed we were very close to land. Col likes to stick close to the shore line we have to put some distance between the land and this boat. Did you plot a course? No. You don't know the meaning of the word and besides, there's another thing, we have a stowaway on board who is as sick as a dog, Leo continued. "What's she like?" I asked with a grin on my lace. "She's a male hippy Porn, I'm tired and it's your tum at the helm", he replied as he collapsed in a heap in the comer leaving me at the helm. One thing I was to learn during the trip about Leo was that he could and would go to sleep at the worst time, just when he was needed most. The sky was clear with a gentle breeze. "Hi Col, how are you going? he came to life again, go and have a little rest... umm, Col, what about the stowaway?" "He's OK, he's going to cook for us. "Did you ask him to come along?" No, answer to that. Carlo just follow the coastline. Here I was at the helm of the Lady Doris as I steered southwards. My common sense told me to put a lot of water between us and the land as I steered southwards and the next period before we reached our destination we spent time getting her ship shape, checking equipment and getting to know her down to her ribs. What ribs? She didn’t have any, she was built for river work, not to go out in the ocean. This we had to find out in a strong gale wind with up to 7m waves. She was sliding all over the place with her timbers grunting. Her deck was working with ripples running through her deck every time she was on the crest of a wave and tried to take on the contours of the wave below her, but never once did she try to broach. By the time we reached the halfway point. Captain Shallow Water had been demoted to deck hand and engineer with Leo and myself navigators, deck hands and divers (we didn’t know much about navigation but was a lot more than Captain Shallow Water). Mate, the stowaway couldn't even boll water. Leo and myself kept busy in plotting the navigation course I would plot my course and we would then checked against each other, most of the time both checked close to each other and that the way we sailed and, with Lady Luck. Last land fall was Eden where we unloaded the Land Rover. In mid afternoon we down the anchor just south of Green Cape. Leo and myself just had time for a dive before a strong south wind picked up which kept us busy putting extra anchors down to secure the vessel. It got to a near gate during the night but Lady Doris held on. Leo slept right through while the rest of us kept watch for fear of drifting. Next morning the sea and wind abated to a clear and sunny day. Well, at last, here we were (deep inside me I knew that Lady Luck had a lot to do with us, not just because of our navigational skill. We didn't waste any time in lowering the runabout over the side and motoring a little north to Bntanga-Bee inlet. It looked ideal to bring Lady Doris in and set up camp and, after a through inspection, we brought the Lady Doris in and took the rest of the day off. With Col at the wheel of the runabout, Leo and myself spent the next three days on an underwater sled checking out the wrecks and putting marker buoys on the wreckage. The following weeks we spent blasting and lifting the non-ferrous metals from the wrecks of the Ly·ee-Moon, City of Sydney, S.S. New Guinea, and some other mysterious wrecks. During this time Leo ran me to Eden with the runabout to pick up the Land Rover and I made it back with some provisions via a dirt track to Blttanga-Bee. It came in really handy because we made a few trips back to Eden from time to time for provisions and refreshments at the local pub. The weather was really good to us and with everyone's spirits high, the lady Doris holds were filling up with loot. More underwater sled time up and down the coast, more discovery and salvage, the most memorable being a brass nozzle cannon presumable belonging to Captain Cook as well as the bow section of a whaler boat with a capstan winch and spokes still in good shape but encrusted in marine life. There was also a submarine in deeper water to deep for us to consider any salvage, what kept us more interested was the finding and recovery of precious valuable ingots. With the holds full to the brim, time for us to return home to our other commitments, time to end the adventure. On the return journey we very nearly became part of history ourselves because a strong southerly gale caught us out to sea with 7 metre waves and water breaking over the deck. With the helm at the stem of the vessel, the cabin in front of us with only a very narrow corridor of sight towards the bow section I was scared almost shltless looking behind me the waves looked like mountains, looking down at me from a great height. Leo, as usual, slept right through. Lady Doris, was grunting, climbing and sliding up and down the waves as if she were talking to the elements. Before we reached Sydney we called in at Kiama Harbour where we learned that the word had got around and the Receiver of Wrecks was waiting for us up there in Sydney. After a few phone calls Col managed to get a number of trucks onto which we loaded and sold all the metals and valuables, dividing the spoils three ways. Col kept the bridge canon. Leo and myself got of at Kiama and, in parting, we promised to reorganisation, regroup and start another trip in two or three months. As we got in the Land Rover and drove toward our homes, we looked each other grinning... that has been a lucky good trip with lots of cash, let do it again in a couple of months. Before two months came up, Lady Doris was resting on the bottom of the sea near Green Cape. Yes, a few weeks after we had parted company, Captain Shallow Water took a team of abalone divers back down there as the abalone were as big as saucers. Captain Shallow Water made one too many bad judgments, and the Lady Doris was destroyed when she hit the rocks in a big sea, the heavy price for anchoring too close to the rocks. The Grand Old Lady was tired of climbing waves, she was borne to ride rivers, she looked more like a Brig than a Scow. The sea will give and the sea will take away. I lead a quieter life these days at Umlna Beach where me and my wife Margaret retired from the diving business in 2007.

 

Contact me at: tombyronpublishers@hotmail.com

Go to top of page


Copyright 2020: Tom Byron History of Scuba Diving in Australia The First 70 Years -1950 TO 2019