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.
Cheating was rampant among younger guys and impossible to police. It was all-for-nothing, long term.The competitions have changed slightly yet not enough in decades and are overdue for revision.
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.
Kay Milburn was invited to be the club’s entrant in the annual Queen of the Sea quest about the time this picture was made at Seal Rocks, NSW.
This picture will surely quicken the heart beat of her long-lost friends from the days when the Underwater Skindivers and Fishermans Association (later becoming Underwater Spear Fisherman’s Association) was a lot more active than today, (as the Australian Underwater Federation).
USFA somehow seemed a better name in a better era.
In coming posts we’ll examine the nostalgia of this bygone era, a time when the largest outboard was 75 horsepower and only a few dozen guys owned scuba tanks in Sydney. Girls sat on the beach while the boyfriends went spearfishing. Every club had boats so there was always water skiing and a barbecue in the afternoons.
Today the big rock lobster (pictured with Kay) would not be collected. They didn’t guess it back then but these big ones are breeding stock and are best not removed.
It took ‘authorities’ (aka NSW Fisheries) decades to ‘wake up’ and protect big lobster.
Professional fishermen once left these captives in traps as ‘callers’ or live bait to entice others.
We used to name them \crayfish\ but this was changed to rock lobster for export acceptance.
Some still believe these NSW rock lobster to be the best of all, but they are in short supply, and are grossly over-priced.
Wise folk never eat them. There is a link between the regular eating of rich foods like lobster and crab and aseptic bone necrosis (commonly and mistakenly thought to be caused solely by inadequate decompression staging during diving).
There is a crevice at Seal Rocks that used to be favored by these huge migratory lobster. When discovered it held more than a dozen giants all 5 kg to 7 kg each, some with eggs attached. Such a find would be very unusual today especially in shallow water (less than two meters deep).