Tag Archive: riversong
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
Ron Zangari was the deckhand aboard Riversong when Sydney divers Ron Taylor & Ben Cropp wrote to him with an inquiry as to how they might get to the outer barrier reef.
The result was, Ron and Ben made two exciting trips aboard the Riversong with Wally Muller and Ron Zangari. They spear fished in The Swain Reefs – a very exciting unknown destination in 1961-62.
The tiger shark featured on the cover Ben’s book shows Ron Zangari with the killer spear that penetrated the large shark easily.
The tiger was attracted to fish frames and skins being slowly dropped over the side as Wally filleted the day’s catch. Film of the shark appears in the hit documentary The Shark Hunters. The film proved so popular when it was first shown on TV, it was repeated the following week.
The revolutionary killer spear was a conventional 3/8″ shaft with a three-sided triangular point, like a needle. It was designed to paralyze sharks IF the spear touched the spine. Without barbs to hold the spear it would pull out if the shark was to swim away. Thus saving a lost or bent spear.
This was an experimental device demonstrated in their documentary. Underwater cinematography by Ron and featuring Ben as the star diver.
The spear was never commercially marketed, the shotgun power head was about to make tabloid headlines around the world as the first anti-shark device for shipwreck survivors and others.
(Like all weapons, it was prone to misuse in subsequent years. It would be interesting to learn how many were commercially manufactured in Australia).
Ron Zangari (top picture) was employed by Wally Muller of Riversong for several years in the early 1960′s. The two men attempted to bring home 4000 pounds of fish fillets from each trip. This mostly occured as they were the only fishermen working this area.
Despite the good catches Ron Zangari often complained of not getting paid in full. In time bitter feelings developed. A consequence of too much time spent in isolation at sea together, often with bad weather preventing work.
On shore Wally had two young sons (born 1956; 1960) running wild. That marriage eventually failed.
Ron Taylor and Ben Cropp were working guests aboard Riversong who made the first underwater films and photographs in the Swain Reefs. They paid for their passage by spearing fish, mostly coral trout.
A large tiger shark was caught by Wally Muller in The Swains, Ron Zangari posed for graphic underwater pictures (at the time) which helped skyrocket the Taylor & Cropp names around the world.
(Bottom picture) Wally Muller at the stern of Riversong.
The Swain Reefs remained unchartered until the mid-1960′s. Wally Muller was the only navigator known to go there for many years. His dream was to explore The Coral Sea further east and that would require a larger boat. In time he dreams came true only to be later destroyed by a combination of factors, especially the dreaded drink called rum.
Fishermen know to avoid the northern Swain Reefs east of Mackay, Queensland, known as Rip Tide Country.
The currents flow far too strong for most vessels. It is the last true frontier of the Great Barrier Reef(s). Note the extra “s” which could easily be included, a suggestion promoted by (the late) Dr Robert Endean the University of Queensland reader in zoology.
Both photo’s: Ron Taylor collection. 1961, 1963
Built of Tasmanian timbers along the lines of a pearling lugger the 42 foot long commercial fishing boat Riversong worked the Swain Reefs at a time when maybe just one or two, vessels went there. With a beam of 12foot 6 inches she had a 48 HP Gardiner engine which delivered 8 knots. Planks were 6″ thick, deck planks were 1.5″ thick.
The problem with navigation into the Swains was ‘knowing where you were when you arrived’. From a known starting point (in 1965) the rough hand-sketched maps (or charts) that were passed from friend to friend, would get them part of the way. The Swain Reefs was a **’no man’s land – at sea.’**
It still is a maze of submerged coral bommies, and in the far north, \\rip-tide country\\ where there are currents of six knots or more – sometimes more powerful than what a small boat could steam against. Full speed ahead and the boat is still moving backwards! Very treacherous and in a lonely part of the world. No one went there.
Except one man. Captain Walter G. Muller aka Wally Muller who pioneered most of the southern Great Barrier Reef aboard his now legendary Riversong. At one stage the leading authority on this part of the world. (He was hired by Gulf Oil to help them make the first aerial charts of the southern Great Barrier Reef (aka The Swains).
A single coral reef called Riversong Cay is the sole maritime recognition of his pioneering days on the GBR.
In the early 1960′s \\Riversong\\ made several noteworthy diving expeditions, the most extraordinary being through the Swain Reefs to **Gannet Cay** and later **Saumarez Reef** beyond Australia’s continental shelf and into the southern Coral Sea.
(Saumarez is an adventure destination but more so 40 years ago.
1. No GPS or weather forecasting then.
2. Greater than usual shark activity.
3.Underwater visibility of 65 meters.
4. USS Liberty Ship aground on the reef with live ammunition.
5. A dangerous voyage in a small slow vessel. (Any serious bleeding injury could be fatal).
Riversong was sold several times and her whereabouts today is unknown.
Built in 1947 at Mackay, Queensland from spotted gum timber (maybe with an Oregon pole), by W. Beatie a ship builder formerly from Tasmania. Twin freezer could hold 4500 pounds of fish fillets.
A gypsy anchor winch used a WW2 aircraft starter engine.
(Information subject to an update. Pictured is only known photo of Riversong under power according to Wal, with W.G. Muller outside the wheelhouse).
Footnote: Wally Muller’s next vessel was Careelah (native word meaning south wind). Former name was the Norman R. Wright. 66 feet in length, 15 foot beam, hardwood construction with Hueon Pine from waterline to deck. Deck was of beech. Built in 1949 by Norman R Wright.
His last vessel was the famed Coralita which was the premier dive boat during the 1970′s which hosted scuba diving Prime Minister’s. 79 feet in length with 19.5 foot beam she was built of beech timbers. Twin 190 HP Caterpillar diesels 160 KVA and 125 KVA generator sets.
Planks are of 8″ and 2″ spotted gum each plank with a length of 40 feet or more and requiring five men to handle each one. Launched in 1969. Built by Norman R. Wright of Brisbane.