Married in December 1964, the above picture was the following month in 1965 while returning from the Australian Spear fishing Championships at Kangaroo Island, South Australia. Ron and Valerie returned via Mount Gambier near the South Australian and Victoria border to do the first truly professional underwater shots in the crystal clear fresh water. Ron mostly used color film in a 6x6cm Rolleiflex with wide angle lens – not the usual Rolleimarin housing. This print was made from an inter-negative taken from the color original by Ron in his home darkroom. Valerie often retouched the B&W prints using her skills acquired as a commercial artist on The Silver Jacket (adventure magazine for boys), this print appears to be as original. The fresh water in Picaninnie Ponds isn’t exactly ‘freezing’ but you have a headache after 90 seconds and three minutes might be maximum before common sense says ‘get out’. Here in her late twenties in this picture, Valerie shows enormous will-power that has seen her persist or endure discomforts associated with diving better than anyone else I can think of – either male or female. This picture is from a series first published in Everybody’s magazine that amazed Australian underwater photographers and also established Ron as the leader – a position he could still challenge without difficulty.
Valerie with Silky shark (1965) during filming of “Surf Scene” at Flinders Reef, Queensland
One of my favorite pictures of Valerie is this portrait from 1967 in one of the fresh water sink holes near Mt. Gambier, South Australia. Ron was making his documentary The Cave Divers. I used a Rolleiflex camera with flash fill. Valerie viewed the picture for the first time in July 2010.
Kameruka Creek on the far South Coast of New South Wales is trickle more often than not. It flows to the Bega River which is tuns enters the sea at Tathra. My first underwater view with a face mask was in the fresh water river about 1952. A memorable experience. Every diver remembers the first time they looked underwater. Although babies watch marine films these days, long before entering deep water.
Eight Sydney divers entered the hole on that day. Two aborted the dive early – bad air?
Six continued the deep dive into the underground water-filled chamber a big as any cathedral. Only two of the six surfaced.
Brother and sister, Steve and Christine Millott were missing. Their brother Glenn then aged 25 surfaced. (Glenn was to later perish in another water-related kayak accident in Jervis Bay, NSW).
Christine Millott was to write a regular column in **Fathom** magazine.
With her father and brothers, they owned a popular Sydney dive shop, \\The Snorkel Inn.\\
Possibly one of the best underwater images of Valerie was made in 1966 at a South Australian sink hole. At the end of a dive she sits on a rope ladder, which was how we got into the sink holes.
The crystal clear fresh water is always colder than ocean waters.
This was in her orange wet suit with red stockings era, with an orange colored Tarzan face mask from France and (not shown) blue Cressi flippers/fins from Italy.
Valerie touches the mirror calm surface with her fingers. Much of her body is out of water.
Ron Taylor was filming his 16mm documentary \\The Cave Divers\\ which why the three of us, assisted by Pierre Dubuisson were in the region for a couple of weeks. (Pierre was to lead the mega million dollar Belgian GBR expedition the following year with The Taylor’s).
\\The Cave Divers\\ were Rodney Fox, Valerie and I. We explored while filming at \\The Shaft; Picaninnie and Ewen Ponds; The Pines.\\
With 1000 watt 240 volt lights to illuminate the pitch darkness of underground, crystal clear dives. The electrical cables also served as safety lines.
(Inside the caves fine sediment stirred too easily, reducing visibility to a few inches. A horror situation that was to claim many divers lives in the the decade that followed when they explored without safety lines).
We would return with a crew of about thirty film production people to make a TV commercial the following winter, a Rothman’s project \\The Hands of Man.\\ The theme centered on well-preserved extinct kangaroo bones we’d found underwater by the handful inside \\The Pines\\ cave.
The big budget Mount Gambier project was axed. Somewhere there are a few hours of quality 35mm movie footage showing the sink holes in all their glory. I haven’t been back – except for a quick swim in \\Piccaninnie Ponds\\ – probably the most photogenic of all.
Valerie Taylor descending into Picaninnie Ponds. One of the first 35mm stills to win an International Photo Comp in the sixties.
Ron Taylor stopped off at these ponds while returning from a Kangaroo Island (SA) spearfishing championship in January 1964 and did brilliant pictures with his bride, Valerie, (diving without a wetsuit in the cold crystal clear springs).
And so began several years of photography and filming in the region where numerous limestone caves and sink holes offered a new world of underwater adventure.
In 1966 a 16mm uw documentary “The Cave Divers” was sponsored by WD & HO Wills for free loan from their library. It shows many uw photogenic dives possible in the Mt Gambier area of South Australia. The Pines, Hell’s Hole, Ewen Ponds, Picaninnie Ponds, The Shaft.
The next year a tobacco company, Rothmans, commissioned a 35mm theater commercial (based on the content of that first Ron Taylor documentary) titled The Hands of Man. It was to re-create discoveries made in underground water-filled springs at The Pines- where the high-calcium content water was preserving bones of extinct species of kangaroo.
The same uw team was hired along with an above water crew of more than thirty film production people. It was a BIG project over several days with truck-loads of gear from Sydney.
But the expensive production never saw the light of day. Axed before completion. The fickle world of advertising.
In the following years several tragedies occurred, in one terrible example three young divers (two from the same Sydney family) were lost in the infamous location The Shaft. More about this location eventually. It is also known as The Allendale Hole.
(updated 5 September 2010)