Shovelnose Ray 1965

December 7, 2016 § Leave a comment


SHIPWRECK 1964 -1974 visits

November 24, 2015 § Leave a comment

How the ship looked in 1964

1964  “Francis Preston Blair” (hull number 1230)  was a WW2 Liberty ship.


Showing the explosion hole in the starboard bow below the water line. Legend was a Japanese torpedo hit did this.

Other shell holes in the hull came through target practice by (Royal Australian Air Force) RAAF aircraft. More details elsewhere.

During WW2 USA was supplying UK and Australia via merchant ships. The American shipbuilding effort was incredible, and worth a good documentary being made.

Liberty ships were being constructed at 16 shipyards. A new ship launched every day. At the peak, one ship was built and fitted out in just seven days. The secret was welding the ships together instead of using rivets.

2300 ships were built in 1942-43. The German U-boats could not sink them fast enough. Plenty survived.

Once the keel was laid, sections of the ship fabricated elsewhere would be brought to the site and assembled. The expected life of a liberty ship was five years if not sunk beforehand. Many survived 25 years of service.

These merchant ships were fitted with a 4″ rear deck gun. The anti-aircraft guns were one 12 pounder, 20mm and 40mm Bofors, and PAC rockets.

The Francis Preston Blair wreck was purchased by the Australian government in 1952 for target practice, especially in later years by the RAAF flying F-111’s from Amberley air base near Brisbane.

We were at Saumarez during one of these missions. Very exciting to have the swing-winged aircraft flying low above Coralita (international dive charter boat) at high speed with wings folded back.

The Francis Preston Blair (7 196 tons) was built by Sudden & Christensen, San Francisco. Launched 8 January 1943, hull number 1230,  grounded on Saumarez Reef at 9:30 am 15 July 1945 while traveling between New Guinea and Sydney.

Our captain, Wally Muller, first visited the wreck shortly after the stranding and found a number of empty 4″ shell cases near the rear deck gun, summarizing the ship had been firing when it went aground – perhaps being followed by a Japanese submarine. This might have explained an explosion hole in the bow, below the water line.

The military has no knowledge of any enemy action having occurred causing the the stranding.
Liberty ships were being launched at the rate of one every day to ferry supplies for the war effort. Many were sunk by submarines.

Cameraman Walt Deas reported (August 2005) “Francis Preson Blair has now totally collapsed”.

Liberty Ships built by the United States Maritime Commission in World War II

Liberty ship was the name given to the EC2 type ship designed for “Emergency” construction by the United States Maritime Commission in World War II. Liberty ships, nicknamed “ugly ducklings” by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The first of the 2,751 Liberty ships was the SS Patrick Henry, launched on Sept. 27, 1941, and built to a standardized, mass produced design. The 250,000 parts were pre-fabricated throughout the country in 250-ton sections and welded together in about 70 days.

One Liberty ship, the SS Robert E. Peary was built in four and a half days. A Liberty cost under $2,000,000.

The Liberty was 441 feet long and 56 feet wide. Her three-cylinder, reciprocating steam engine, fed by two oil-burning boilers produced 2,500 hp and a speed of 11 knots. Her 5 holds could carry over 9,000 tons of cargo, plus airplanes, tanks, and locomotives lashed to its deck. A Liberty could carry 2,840 jeeps, 440 tanks, or 230 million rounds of rifle ammunition.

1974 visit aboard Coralita

1974 visit aboard Coralita

The following information tells how the ship became stranded on Saumarez Reef during a cyclone.  The author is the daughter of a crewman who was aboard.

The family consensus is that: Dad said that “It was the typhoon that put the Blair on the reef.”  They had been trying to avoid the typhoon for some time, and it got them off course.  There were high winds on this trip.   He would say that the ship would toss as the water heaved over the bow.  There was always the fear of Japanese subs. For some reason, they were not in a convoy on July 15.

At any rate, Dad would say that the ship went up and came down, nice and pretty, on the reef! and they were stuck!!   Once the Captain realized that the ship could not move, (it was grounded), he immediately gave the order that no one was to leave the ship. He knew that the waters were shark infested, and the reef would cut their leather shoes/boots. The ship offered the best protection.  The order also meant that no one was to get into lifeboats.  No one was hurt.

Officers and crew, all of them, were soon rescued and thrilled to see the Aussies!  The Sydney Morning Herald took a picture of the stricken ship.   I wish I could remember the name of the Captain, as he was quite a character and was well respected.  Our guess is that he would have taken the log books with him.   Wonder what happened to them?  Dad would often wonder aloud, through the years, what happened to the Captain and the other guys with whom he sailed?

FPB - Zangari prop FPB - Zangari gun FPB - side entrance FPB - Coralita


November 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

During the 1970’s  Cairns was put on the international map by big game fishermen. 

Before this the town was a sleepy fishing port and the only tourists were Australians who made the long trek north on a narrow sealed road we called The Crystal Highway (littered with broken car windscreen, one every 2 Km).


Avalon at The Ribbons

The story how black marlin were found as they spawned along the edge of the continental shelf is best told by the experts.

The changes to the town of Cairns between 1972 and 1982 were enormous.  Free  or very cheap vacant land given by the state government allowed international hotel’s and a resort at Port Douglas to be fast-tracked.

Cairns is the major gateway to The Great Barrier Reef. Previously these had been further south Gladstone, especially.

Fishing aboard Peter Bristow's "Avalon"

Fishing aboard Peter Bristow’s “Avalon” – Susan’s Perry. Deckhands Noel Burtt (guiding the chair) and Trevor Hathaway on the other side.


Camera running at 64 frames per second captured this.  © John H Harding

Camera running at 64 frames per second captured this. © John H Harding


The men who put Cairns on the international map.

In this collage  are the boat skippers who went searching for big fish, Peter Bristow, Peter B Wright and Dennis ‘Brizakka’ Wallace.

Peter Bristow  and his charter-boat skipper mates. Tourism experts say it was the big game fishing  by international millionaire fishermen that put Cairns on the tourist map.
Bristow is one of the Famous Trio – Peter Bristow, Peter Wright and Dennis Wallace.


Peter Bristow and TV personality of the past, the great Bob Dyer (a keen big game fisherman).

Peter Bristow and with radio and later TV personality of the past, Bob Dyer (an active  international big game fisherman).

Filmed aboard "Avalon" from the documentary "Australian Seafari".

Tiger sharks (1975) .

Tiger sharks (1975) .

1-Tiger marlin 3 feeds 1-Avalon people


Mr James Perry

Mr James Perry

Zuckerman and Perry

The wire-man in action aboard "Avalon" (1975)

The wire-man in action aboard “Avalon” (1975).

Tiger shark recycles Brizaka's 1006 pound Black marlin (1975)

Tiger shark recycles 1006 pound Black marlin (1975)

CORAL ECO DISASTERS (Background info).

November 16, 2015 § Leave a comment

Insert reef pic here

A cyclone plus the Crown-of-Thorns starfish has completely destroyed this reef**

This is a real picture that would be expensive to replicate. How can you tell? The snorkeler is not a model posing in position for the camera. The ripples on the surface show he is moving. A posed model would not have water movement near him or her.

Does it matter? Not a bit. But in this case it is a REAL picture, not staged for advertising purposes.

If this picture were on a travel brochure it would not say, as I will here, and with 100% honesty, that ALL THAT BEAUTIFUL CORAL (IS TODAY), DEAD AS DOOR-NAILS.

Just after the picture was taken, the Crown of Thorns starfish had a great feed here. This is/was Ellison Reef near Mission Beach, south of Cairns, Queensland, Australia.

It did not affect tourists at all – they go to different locations. Nobody speaks about dead reefs.

“Anyway, there’s plenty of coral in Queensland”. the skeptics have said.

An ‘expert’ might comment that coral reefs regenerate – indicating everything will return to how it was, eventually.

These are just words we like to hear – distorted words they certainly are.

The coral pictured at Ellison Reef will never look like this again, never ever. It’s too close to civilization.
That reef is finished in this form.

Something else, a poorer version, will replace it. Not as beautiful, but nobody will know the difference. That’s the way it is.

Don’t be fooled that everything (the coral reef ecology) is OK and will stay like this forever.

It won’t and it can’t. Learn to live with the changes.


Insert picture here

Here’s a record of the coral reef which surrounded Beaver Cay, out from Dunk Island and offshore from Mission Beach, south of Cairns, Queensland.

One well-intending tourist operator was cutting hundreds of Crown of Thorns starfish in halves, or smaller, believing it was the best course of action to save the coral reef here!!!!!

(That won’t kill starfish – but it may make the situation worse).

Recent news: Another factor that will kill a coral reef, could be for example, a very low tide (exposing corals to the air) with torrential rain at the same time, i.e. heavy rain will kill corals too.


SPEAR FISHING 1969 – Black marlin at Point Lookout

November 16, 2015 § Leave a comment

Black marlin The Group 1969We’d just arrived at the small bunch of rocks off Point Lookout (North Stradbroke Island, Queensland) where the water is quite deep.
A visiting game fishing boat was hooked up with a small black marlin. The fish made a few jumps then the line broke.
Trevor Collins slipped over the side of our boat with a  gas gun and secured the fish. From memory it weighed 78 pounds.
Trev black marlin Trev Collins black marlin
The reconstructed spear fishing scene was included in my first documentary \Aquarius – People and Wildlife of the Sea\ (1970).
It was meritorious as the first black marlin speared in Australia – under unusual circumstances which kept it out of the record book.
The game fishing boat’s name Mercury is visible on an enlarged version.  This post was using dial-up, so pictures were kept small.
I asked Peter Bristow via email if he might know who owned the boat.
Peter is a former Point Lookout- based fisherman. From about 1970 he pioneered big game fishing in Australia at Cairns, North Queensland, and subsequently helped put that once northern sleepy town on the international tourist map of the world.
Here is Bristow’s reply from the island of Madeira where he now lives:
My God yes. The owner and driving the boat is Steve Murphy. He was a close friend of Bob Dyer. The guy on the rod is his son Rick and standing next to him is his son-in- law, Jack. They were all close friends of mine. Steve was chief engineer at Bulimba Brewery in Brisbane and a constant source of free beer!
From memory, that (incident) took place somewhere near Boat Rock off Point Lookout–Correct?
It would have been mid to late 60’s ???
The boat was built by Clem Masters at Cabbage Tree Creek, Shorncliffe, Brisbane. It originally had Mercury outboards; hence the name.
It was 30 feet long. He then replaced them with inboard-outboard drives.
I was a regular crew on it when I lived in Brisbane and even went to the launching.  (Thanks for the memory).

TSMV CORALITA with Alby Ziebell

November 14, 2015 § Leave a comment

AlbyZiebell - Alby hitchhikerAdd pictures here:

Alby Zeibell purchased the famed charter boat \Coralita\ from our other good friend Captain Wally G Muller.**

Alby was a former Tasmanian abalone diver who excelled at most things he set his mind to. He began exploring \The Coral Sea\ aboard his new vessel and soon turned it into the best international boat of it’s kind, catering to leading divers. He was able to concentrate his extra time on underwater photography and was soon achieving the very top quality results from macro to very wide-angle, including the first schooling hammerhead sharks at Osprey Reef.

\Coralita\ was not so fortunate. The first mishap occurred when a giant US warship accidentally \squashed\ the tied-up vessel against Cairns wharf while attempting a difficult turn around. After months of repairs \Coralita\ later caught fire on her first voyage, electrical wiring short-circuited at sea. But worse was yet to come.

Just days before departure for months of pre-paid dive charter work in New Guinea, a mysterious explosion in the sealed engine room sent \Coralita\ to the bottom of Cairns Harbour in seconds.

**Alby was cleared of \involvement** in the accident – although waterfront rumours always blame any maritime accident on the owners desiring an insurance payout.

Construction for a newer and bigger vessel were 90% complete but another financial disaster occurred when the builder was declared bankrupt and everything was lost in the legal mine-field which followed.

Alby then turned his talents to angling and soon became a recognised authority and with a weekly radio slot and many fishing friends. Anglers comprised 95% of the vast crowd who attended his funeral. Alby died from heart complications while returning from a fishing trip up the coast with his mates.


‘THE SUN’ – SHIPWRECKS with Ben Cropp

November 14, 2015 § Leave a comment

(Add pictures here)

Relatively close to the border between Australian and Papua New Guinea, in the northern region of The Coral Sea are a pair of coral reefs.**

Ashmore Reef and Eastern Fields are not include on dive tourism itineraries, being still a little too remote for visits, but yachts en-route to Murray Island may call in.

At the northern corner of Ashmore Reef is an ancient shipwreck, positioned near a ledge which drops onto a shelf 40 meters below, and then falls away into presumably very deep water.

It was interesting country with hump head maori wrasse and tuna. The sort of place where anything could swim by if you were in the water long enough.

The shipwreck scattered in shallower water is \The Sun\ and has a connection to an early white settler, Frank Jardine of Cape York and his long-lost treasure of gold.

Shipwreck explorer Ben Cropp believes the two large iron anchors (pictured) were sitting on the deck of the ship – the timber having long since rotted away, which would explain why they are elevated from the surrounding flat coral platform.

There can be an eerie feeling around such a tragic site – which, in it’s era, would have been equivalent to an airline crash of today. Bit’s and pieces scattered everywhere. Time was against our brief visit as we were heading for Murray Island to film turtle hunters at work. We’d definately enjoy a return visit one day.


November 14, 2015 § Leave a comment


Tiger stingray


(Insert new picture here) I came close to having both hands and forearms included in the gut of this 2.6 meter long tiger shark last Sunday.
A second or so later, the shark was obscured by foam as it ripped the holding wire loop free from the bait, the remains of a large cod. (This ‘hookless bait’ from a seafood wholesaler).

Watching three tiger sharks cruise around before feeding was tedious and hypnotic. Circle after increasingly larger and larger circles, possibly hypnotizing the intended prey (and me).
Then a straight-line swim for the bite. A live prey may not see it until too late. Chomp!
Tigers have a slower mental time-frame than us. Maybe we are just impatient for ‘action’? ‘They’ appear to study the prey with caution. Mostly this offers a diver time to get out, and into a boat.

When tiger sharks do feed, the power is awesome. They bite the entire piece away then swallow, no chewing required.
Just as dangerous in shallow water too. Beware of big shark getting too close. In some respects similar to a white pointer – when they bite, but a slower swimming pattern around the prey to begin with.


Lessons learned’ from the sharks episode of last Saturday** is how necessary an anti-shark device is for people at sea in a life raft. When these big tiger sharks finally decide to bite, nothing is going to change their mind, no amount of shouting, hitting or kicking. And when they bite – the entire piece comes away. No spitting out of anything. South Australian shark bite celebrity, Rodney Fox was fortunate a white pointer mouthed his chest in 1964 and not a tiger shark!

An inflatable lifeboat without an adequate shark repellant aboard as a life-saving device is a foolish exercise in cost-cutting, yet this is how they all are!

The electronic POD and a powerhead (on a handspear) would be my suggestions of the minimum additions to all life saving craft, especially in Hawaii where there are plenty of tiger sharks.

Costly and extra bulk but that’s information. Too many have already vanished at sea without a trace. We can guess their fate more clearly now.

Be prepared for the worst circumstances to happen. If these don’t happen – great. Powerheads are lethal and as dangerous as a bad shark so some form of container with a seal might be necessary.


More: A WARNING that inflatable boats are not much use around sharks. Single cell inflatable boats are a temporary life raft at best. Good for a few hours or until the first shark sees it. All life rafts aboard cruising boats should be fitted with both electronic and explosive anti shark devices, especially for tropical waters where tiger sharks are more frequent. Too many people go missing without a trace.


HELP! We yelled for assistance to these guys, five lads who we’d spoken with earlier. It was the sound of their outboard motor alongside that probably made the tiger shark release it’s grip on Ben’s dinghy after three to five minutes of holding on and dragging the boat down. These guys had a good look at what was happening and would have their own story to tell. “A shark trying to eat former shark hunter Ben Cropp’s dinghy”. 


November 13, 2015 § Leave a comment

Spearfishing convention, Kangaroo Island 1963

Spearfishing convention, Kangaroo Island 1963

Ron Taylor (left) and Rod Fox at Point Lookout, Queensland.

Ron Taylor (left) and Rod Fox at Point Lookout, Queensland.

Both pictures © John Harding (965)

All pictures © John Harding (1965)

Rod Fox used a .303 powerhead to ‘get’ this shark one morning at Point Lookout.  I was out of film and walked a kilometers back to our shack for another roll of Extachrome 120 still film.  Tanya was my choice as a model.  Most of my pictures have been lost by magazines since I did not use duplicates in those early days.  In some shots Tanya is wearing a short sleeve black wetsuit.  A similar pose to this became a front page picture on a Sydney tabloid newspaper (repeated by their Adelaide sister publication), headlined “Girl Fights Shark”.  It was good timing and helped promote  film shows for the Shark Fighters film show which had just begun a 28-day season in a popular Sydney theatre for surf films.


November 12, 2015 § Leave a comment

Japanese longliner Zyuio Maru on Cheetah Shoals, Guadalcanal. Later towed to Japan by Reg Thomas using his tug.

Japanese longliner Zyuio Maru on Cheetah Shoals, Guadalcanal. Later salavged from the reef and towed to Japan by Reg Thomas.

1-Solomon Islands 19872 1-Solomon Islands 19873

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