Archive for category Sydney Sea Hunters
There was an era when underwater photography was rare, unusual and novel. I purchased a Calypso-phot camera in 1963 and on a memorable safari north with friends, asked Ron Taylor to take a single picture of me with a crayfish. This was North West Island in July 1963. When the film was processed I saw for the first time what I looked like as a diver, underwater. No big deal today but back then it was a real thrill. Like looking in a mirror for the first time, perhaps.
The Late John LeBrun pictured
John LeBrun (a professional camera equipment salesman and diver) taught us a couple of points about photography he had learned from his service in the air force.
“When you focus on an object, the area that is actually in focus (also called depth of field) is 1/3 in front and 2/3 behind the point that you’ve focused on”.
You can use this knowledge to some advantage at times.
Generally we were all self-taught photographers. The most difficult part in the learning days was getting a good exposure, especially underwater. Most divers tended to over-expose pictures.
Today the camera’s are automatic in this respect but sometimes adjustments make a nice difference. Sunsets are better if the exposure is make darker, for example.
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Snapper words are coming…….
Picture courtesy RJ Taylor collection
The Tweed Heads to Brisbane area was a super-hot spear fishing zone, Australia 1961. While we were seeing Red Morwong and Blue Groper around Sydney, the real underwater champions senior to us in age and experience were seeing giant Black Cod and Queensland Groper in shallow water up north. Pictures published in Australian Skindivers Magazine whetted our desire for a trip north. With friend Vic Ley our dream came true in July 1963 when we quit our jobs and drove north with a boat, outboard and camping gear. We’d swap speared fish and lobsters for food and fuel. The adventure of a lifetime awaited us.
Me with a typical coral trout. Aboard Riversong, a second trip in 1964. Captain Wally Muller and South Australian Brian Rodger in background. We speared thousands of kilo’s of fish during a ten-day voyage in the Capricorn and Bunker Group.
Vic Ley and myself on our first voyage with Wally Muller, August 1963. We speared fish in exchange for a boat ride out to North West Island – where I developed ‘coral poisoning’ in my leg and came close to dying, sulpher tablets pulled me through, probably not with some harm to kidneys.
Ron Taylor and Vic Ley August 1963, Riversong - Wally Muller‘s fishing vessel became legendary in the sixties. We were later to venture to Saumarez Reef in The Coral Sea aboard this small boat in October 1964.
Photo taken with Calypso-phot 35mm underwater camera
OUR FIRST IDEAS AND THOUGHTS ON
After reading Ben Cropp’s advice and know how on underwater photography (\\Handbook for Skindivers\\) I have given the idea a little thought.
As this Sea Diary’s aim is to record any ideas which come into my head I thought I would like to have a crack at this underwater movies. I would select movie work in preference to still shots are it’s (\\sic\\) (as it’s) field has a greater range.
Ben Cropp suggests the 16mm Bolex and a home-made perspect (\\sic\\) housing. Then there is the cost of a projector. I must make an allowance now. Say camera 50 pounds as a maximum, housing 30-35 pounds; a projector 30 pounds second-hand. This puts the (total) cost at over 100 pounds which is fairly reasonable.
On H.P. (hire purchase) the camera shouldn’t be a very difficult problem.
It looks like we will be very busy from now on with maintainence on Evinrude (outboard motor), Tempest 803 (aluminum dive boat), trailer, all our (spear) fishing gear and USFA competitions & movie work.
Still this is a new and exciting field for us and I am looking forward to tackling new problems.
ROSE BAY TO NORTH HEAD AND LONG REEF - SHARK ALLEY 10.2.1963
We all left Rose Bay (boat) ramp early this morn. about 6:30 AM. The three boats (Ronny Ible, Snow and I) first hopped into the water just under \\The Gap\\. There were a lot of nice mowies and \\niggers\\ where I was, the \\niggers\\ where (\\sic\\) very tame but I missed getting one.
I soon lost the one and only flopper on the (home made) spear and I spent the rest of the day using a “killer spear”. (A slight fantasy – exaggeration based upon the barb-less shark hunting spear technique used by Taylor & Cropp).
We picked up a couple of mowies here & then shot over to North Head. Up past (\\sic\\) Blue Bay we got a few more mowies here. The ones I got were a good size and some of them were very tame. All the day I only lost about 3 fish because of no floppers (on the spear) mostly I was \\stringing them up\\.
The sewerage water (at North Head) became to (\\sic\\) bad at Blue Bay so we went straight up to the reef off LR beach. I got one bug (lobster) out of the same hole as last week. Had a bit of fun getting a small Blue (groper) about 10 – 12 pounds out of a cave because of the straight (barb-less) sharft (\\sic\\).
I borrowed Harry’s (Dowsell) pranger & plowed it into the Blue’s head then got him out. – nice LJ (leatherjacket) over 4 pounds and under 5 pounds.
At about 9:30AM the overcast conditions which we were experiencing brightened up a little & the sun came out. Then we decided to go around to Brownwater Beach & get some tucker.
On the way around the point we noticed how clear the water looked there were bright blue patches everywhere.
On the beach we greeted the arrival of NS (North Shore) members **Tony Smith, Bob Kemp, Ken Sapsford and Tony Leslie** in TL 6 (boat registration number) and the 60 horse power Scott (outboard). They had just come from \\Shark Alley\\ and reported that vis (visibility) was very good and they had encountered about 6 sharks in the morning.
We conned them into giving us the landmarks for the \\alley\\ which is approx. north of the island out the front & in-line with Collaroy Surf Club and a block of flats with a blue roof.
They also had with them a handspear with a device on the tip which held a 12 gauge shotgun cartridge. The idea was to wack (\\sic\\) the shark on the head or spine with this contraption and a pin would set-off the cartridge thus blowing a neat hole in Mr. Sharks’ head.
The only problem they had encountered was that they couldn’t get close enough to any sharks to experiment on them.
After a quick snack we tore off out to where we thought \\Shark Alley\\ was. The water was about 30′ (foot) deep where the boats we(\\sic\\) anchored vis was about 50 – 60 feet at least. There was a very strong current running NW to SE, this made any fishing difficult as also there was a fair north-easterly wind whipping up a chop.
Got a couple more good sized mowies here. Later Ron Ible said a Bronze whaler (shark) came up and had a look at him while he was getting a Blue (groper) out of a cave. We left early as we got sick of waiting.
Maximum temp today was 95 degrees F. The water was very warm on top and nice down deep.
\\(top)\\ **John Michael** (1971) at Loop Island, Chesterfield Reef, French Pacific Islands Territory. \\(below)\\ **John Harold** (2004) at Portsea, Victoria. A portrait by I. Rockman.
**Cape Moreton lighthouse** – A view south
(Composite picture) – Flinders Reef \\(below)\\ a few K’s north of the Cape
As young guys we’d have a diving and spear fishing holiday at North Stradbroke Island whenever possible. It was the first place where local professional fishermen were actually friendly toward guys in wet suits.
We’d learned to live with the mild hate coming from everywhere else. Fishermen and divers were not a good mix years ago.
Things changed at the village of Point Lookout when we told the fishermen we’d just sighted a big school of Spanish Mackerel at Flinders Reef, about 50km EACH WAY and north of Cape Moreton.
In fact we made friends for life that day. Years later the fishermen (Bill Lawler, Les Nash and Ken Cashin, Peter Bristow) could remember exactly how many of the big fish they caught at Flinders, thanks to our accidental good advice.
From that day on, we were welcome visitors forever. Our diving gear could be left on the beach, in our boat overnight. We take cameras out and leave the rest. No thieves on the island. It did not stay that way forever.
Use GoogleEarth for a look at this part of Australia. (Flinders Reef does not always show).
We’d launch our small boats with single 40 horse power outboards and travel 50 km north to Cape Moreton and then Flinders Reef further north.
Flinders was, in those days, probably the best spot on the southern Queensland coast for constantly clear waters, big pelagic fish and a few potentially dangerous very large sharks. The magic ingredients. Coral on the north side of the reef, seaweed representing southern waters on the south. An unusual mix.
Early (1961) spear fishermen found heaps of large Black Cod. These did not last very long. Today a protected species as is the giant Queensland Groper.
Point Lookout (Boat launch beach): 27 25 35 46 S – 153 31 41 64 E
Flinders Reef (Approximate): 26 29 24 00 S – 153 29 24 00 E
OK for the short distances and relatively calm conditions around Sydney and the New South Wales coast.
**Our Len McLeod was Australian Jr. Spearfishing Champion**
First contact with ‘kitten’ lobsters happened one Saturday morning at \\Fairy Bower\\ near Manly Beach, Sydney.
In those days the water could often be highly polluted and bad smelling. Today it’s a different story with waste water pumped far out to sea. I’ve included the extra top picture to show the ocean walking path in the distance that runs from the eastern edge of Manly Beach around to Fairy Bower.
Anyone visiting Sydney should consider taking the ferry trip across Sydney Harbour to Manly.
Sunny weekends are always very busy. The ferry ride can be quite thrilling when there is a large ocean swell entering Sydney Harbour. As young kids we always went to Manly when the sea was rough.
Surfer riders (according to legendary surfer Warrick Smith) were known to jump overboard from the moving ferry with their boards and paddle to wave breaks in Middle Harbour. Quite a stunt and a huge risk in more ways than one. Not popular with the ferry captains no doubt.
The sizes are a lot greater than what might be seen in the area today. I’m holding a very large coral trout. Vic has a huge spotted cod.
We’d been spearing a section called \\The Fish Tail\\ to help pay for the trip to Nor’ West Island aboard Wally Muller’s fishing boat \\Riversong.\\ The catch would be filleted, frozen and sold through wholesalers.
For Snowie and I this was our first barrier reef dive trip.
A former Australian spearfishing champion (with John Black). Both represented Australia at the CMAS organized world championships – the pinnacle achievement for any free diver.
The first divers were finding coins within the very scattered remains of colonial shipwrecks. The lucky “friend of a friend” shown here may have I suspect actually recovered these coins from the \\Dunbar\\ wreck site just outside Sydney Heads.
VIC LEY DRIVING HIS BOAT
One of the best-looking boats of all in 1963. Adequately powered by a 45 HP motor it carried four friends from the White Water Wanderers (the Bondi club) on outing’s every weekend.
The one major difference between those days and now is - back then we got into our wet suits just before a dive. Suits might become too warm in summer.
This luxury not possible in the crowded dive shop owned boats of today. There would be chaos.
Vic Ley was to become an Australian spear fishing champion who represented us at the World Championships held in Cuba, 1967
After that he went professional abalone diving with his mates at Mallacoota, (Victoria) at a time when abalone laws were basic. With the catch steadily declining this forced many others to quit the business.
A short time later, near-free licenses were introduced for those that remained in the game. Today these same license are valued and sell for several million dollars each.
\\Sydney Sea Hunters\\ John H; Len McLeod, Garry Flanagan swimming off the northern rocks at Long Reef – today a marine sanctuary.
Blue Groper, inside North Head, Sydney Harbour, 21 July 1962
Len McLeod (above) was an apprentice plumber who won the title of AUSTRALIAN JUNIOR CHAMPION. The Sydney Sea Hunters was the only inner city club with members living from Glebe, Ultimo, Erskinville, Tempe – all poor suburbs in those times, today the exact opposite. The advised trend was to join a club close to where you lived.
There was a club meeting once per month where we exchanged information and techniques, decided where the outings would be held and voted on matters concerning all clubs.
Also once per month we’d have our own spear fishing competition held within the metro area of say 100km north or south of the city – usually much less.
Once per month there was the competition which involved all the Sydney clubs. A big event with results published in the monthly association publication Australian Skindivers Magazine a very fine effort by advertising guru Jack Evans.
In addition other competitions occurred during public holiday weekends, January, Easter, October and Christmas.
This was how we got together and learned from each other. The senior guys helping the juniors with advice. Enough boats were owned to carry all the members. It was expected that fuel costs would be shared by the passengers.
Today dive shops have replaced dive clubs. Nothing much is free. Diving is over-priced. Face masks that cost the importer $5 are retailed for over $100 and so on.
Where we did not have BCD’s (buoyancy vests) when using scuba and compensated for this by adjusting our weight belt and breathing accordingly – today a compulsory BCD costs over $1200 and is the most expensive item of all.
The split swim fin is marketed as producing more power. Not one fish in the ocean has a split tail fin. It’s a gimmick which allows poor athletics to appear equal to others.
Deep free divers in competition use the largest fins/flippers possible. Nothing with splits.
Club President, Bob Taylor is now retired and lives at Currarong in a beach front property. Bob would like Ken Campbell to make contact with him again to hear an important and interesting story and an apology. (Ken was last known to be living at Townsville where he was a book binder by trade).
Other members. Mike Melville is a professor at the University of New South Wales. Garry Flanagan often spear fishes at Hat Head NSW, Bruce Brown may still be involved in the fresh foods industry at Ermington, Sydney, John Tregaskes was involved with fresh seafood retailing. **Lee Kain** was in a similar business at Tully. North Queensland. Miss Kay Milburn was in a North Sydney advertising agency. Ken Hines, Jim Read whereabouts are unknown. Who knows the whereabouts of John Magill last known to be an accountant with Qantas.
A great aspect of the spearfishing club lifestyle was the weekend camping trips along the coast. The biggest event was the New South Wales state championships.
The more grander title event was The Australian championships – held in a different state each year.
The 2007 event was expected to attract only about thirty to fifty participants. A sign-on fee of $350 per person seems steep.
The rules of spear fishing competitions needed a complete review with new challenges added, decades ago. Something that would make it a true sport that might attract sponsors and TV coverage much the same as what is happening with surf.
The sport itself is a fantastic “man versus the sea” test.
The old rules of spearing competitions allowed divers to secretly swap the many extra fish between themselves. Worse was the wasted fish that would never be consumed. This oversight turned the once beautiful shallow underwater rocky reefs into virtual deserts.
The existing spearfishing association today blames the media for destroying its image with sensational pictures (some of which are elsewhere on this blog) when the real destruction came from within.
Australia’s only WORLD SPEAR FISHING CHAMPION (1965) became fed-up with the waste of fish involved in competitions and left the sport in 1967.
This was shocking and inexcusable \\rubbish fish waste\\ as witnessed at weigh-ins by all, including the general public. Nobody enjoyed it. Most would have welcomed a change. It did not happen.
This waste was reef fish taken only for points, later thrown away.
Cockies, cale, ruxton, wirrah, maori, parrotfish, ling, silver drummer, by the tonne.
However, this is nothing compared with what a prawn trawler wastes in a single night. It did matter as these fish lived in shallow water mostly less than 15 meters deep. This is snorkel country which was accessible to the majority. To families who could have enjoyed snorkeling together with something worth seeing. Plus underwater photography competition possibilities galore.
Sharks, sting rays and lobster were not included in competitions.
Blue Groper were voluntarily banned and promoted to the fisheries department as a species to be protected – which did happen only after 95% (a guess) of them were wiped out. There was a time when you could not get anywhere near a “blue”. Today they are common and quite tame.
The same could apply to all the fish that were hunted for what has become points that are represented today by old tarnished trophies identical in design to tennis, golf, football or whatever.
(The world championship trophy was an art form, a statue replica of antiquity – being French this could be expected. What could we produce – a silver boomerang)?
Spear fishing with scuba was not allowed in competitions and this too was promoted into a legal ban now enforced by fisheries departments. The ban gives deep water reef species some protection. A big plus.