REMEMBERING 1963 – when the largest outboard was 75 horsepower and only a dozen guys owned scuba tanks in Sydney. Girls sat on the beach while their boyfriends went spearfishing. Every club had boats so there was always water skiing and a barbecue in the afternoons.
Spearfishermen of the early days were considered to be either very brave or fools. Sharks were the number one threat and there were a lot larger ones in the sea than today.
The Bondi spearmen were a hard bunch, Ron Ibel – a handsome yet tough, beer-drinking, street-wise guy that could have been a star (like Errol Flynn) in movies today seemed to lead the club. A mentor for many. Ron was a truck driver for the wholesale fruit market of Haymarket until he won the lottery and bought a prawn trawler.
The club guys met Saturday mornings at a hotel, got ‘half-tanked’ (courage for shark-infested waters) then went spearfishing, ‘off the rocks’ around Bondi Beach and Maroubra in the era before speedboats became popular.
The twice monthly spearfishing competitions were well attended by hundreds from a dozen clubs until the beginning of professional abalone diving attracted the keenest divers to live away from the city, nearer southern waters.
The limited shallow rocky reef around Sydney was stripped of all fish over 400 g in a mindless quest for ego gratification. There could have been other ways to find champions, and there still is.
Other leading spearmen (Ron Taylor, Ben Cropp) became the first media conservationists shunning the mindless waste where poor quality fish were speared, weighed and then dumped.
New tests of skill and stamina may be devised for the open ocean. Swimming pool competitions are ‘a sham’ to mask the environmental vandalism of the mindless waste elsewhere. It’s been happening for far too long.
Free diving with a speargun is still a great test of underwater ability, and a confidence builder like no other. But spearfishing competitions belong in the 20th century. (14 October 2004)
Sydney Sea Hunters was a small membership inner city spearfishing club of the past, it no longer exists but they had lots of fun without winning anything major in the battle of the clubs at monthly Alliman Shield competitions.