“Ron Taylor’s SAUMAREZ REEF” (1964; 2019)

Saumarez Reef is beyond the outside edge of the Great Barrier Reef, 240 miles offshore. Gannet Cay is located in The Swain Reefs, the southern section of The Great Barrier Reef.  The correct pronunciation for Saumarez is ‘saw-mer- rez’.  or possibly su-mah- ray.

Participants in the 1964 documentary  have  memorable professional diving careers.

 

Ron and Valerie Taylor. World class underwater photographers, adventurers, film cameramen, shark specialists now widely  remembered for their appearance in Blue Water White Death (1969), the filming of Jaws live sharks, and the book “Valerie Taylor an Adventurous Life”.  Both have The Order of Australia AM medal awards. Ron Taylor Reef located in The Swain Reefs has been named in Ron’s memory and honor.

John H. Harding helped promote diving in Australia via work with the Taylor’s 1964 to 1968. John began making his first 16mm film in 1968.  Simultaneously with a leading publisher began Fathom magazine.  Made Australian Seafari  (a 90 minute marine life documentary) as a traveling film show narrated live for many years before a sound-tracked version (inspired by his father John M. Harding, a cinema projectionist at Kings Theatre, Bega NSW pre 1953 and later a Sydney hotelier). Fathom magazine in color revealed to international  divers, film makers and travel agents how advanced Queensland had become. With a world class publication and a  new 79 foot live-aboard dive boat, Coralita the first with an on board air compressor. Now access to offshore crystal clear ocean water of The Coral Sea offering unparalleled shark filming activity was a must to experience.

Marine film shows promoted by John Harding and Ron and Valerie Taylor 1965 to late 1980s.

 

Wally Muller, Captain of the 36 foot fishing vessel Riversong hired by Gulf Oil (USA) to explore The Swain Reefs in 1965. The following year Wally Muller  purchased Careelah a twenty year-old 60 foot charter boat used during The Belgian Expedition of 1967. In 1969 Wally and a partner built the 79 foot Coralita at the Norman R. Wright shipyards in Brisbane, which became a world class live-aboard Commonwealth surveyed (to work anywhere in the world).  The Coral Sea became accessible for international dive trips for the first time.  With Coralita Wally and his young sons Roy and Alexander explored most of The Coral Sea Reefs and accepted risky charters in New Guinea rivers and elsewhere.   Mullers Reef in The Swain Reefs was named to honor this extraordinary pioneer skipper, fisherman and diver who explored most of The Coral Sea often collecting rare sea shells by diving for them at night.

 

Wally Muller in 1971 aboard his new charter boat Coralita.
Twin screw Coralita in 1974.

Bob Grounds held professional abalone diving licenses in three Australian states, worked as a diver on international oil rigs, started and successfully ran a company to repair  marine constructions and historic wharves underwater. Now builds restaurants and marinas in Australia.

Bob Grounds in 1968.

 

Ron Zangari lived a quiet life in Rockhampton, Queensland as a semi-professional diver after working on Riversong as an unpaid deckhand for many trips. Ran foul of the law by driving without a license more than a couple of times. Maintained a good sense of humor with naive mistakes.  A gentleman to the end.

Ron Zangari on cover of Ben Cropp's The Shark Hunters.
Ron Zangari with a Tiger shark became world famous through this picture by Ben Cropp, taken aboard Riversong in The Swain Reefs (1961)

Riversong  the legendary Wally Muller vessel exists today, owned-operated by an indigenous fishing community in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.

Riversong built and designed along the lines of a lugger.

CORALITA: Alby Ziebell, Wally Muller

AlbyZiebell - Alby hitchhikerTSMV Coralita – ‘twin screw motor vessel’.

Alby and Irene  Zeibell became the second owners of the famed charter vessel Coralita when purchased from  Captain Wally Muller.Base of operations for Barrier Reef Cruises was moved from Yeppoon  to Cairns in north Queensland where there was an international airport.  Coralita had a ‘Commonwealth survey’ registration which enabled charters anywhere in the world.  Yjis was unique with Queensland  charter boats at the time.

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 scuba live-aboard boat, catering to advanced divers. Alby was able to concentrate  time on underwater photography and was soon achieving the top quality professional results from macro to very wide-angle. Unique subject matter included the first ‘schooling hammerhead sharks’ at Osprey Reef in The Coral Sea (not a part of the Great Barrier 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 in a current.

After months of repairs Coralita later caught fire from smouldering electrical wiring in the galley on her first dive charter.  Worse was yet to come.

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

Alby was cleared of involvement in the accident after two investigations – although waterfront rumors always blame any maritime accident on the owner.  What can now be revealed (in 2020) was a serious verbal threat from a competitor hours before the accident.

Construction for a newer and bigger vessel were 90% complete but another financial disaster occurred when the builder declared bankruptcy before completion.  (Not uncommon in boat building where new project finances are required to finish existing orders).

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

Christine Danaher

Twin screw Coralita in 1974.

 

More about Coralita  <click

EXPEDITION – CHESTERFIELD REEFS (1971)

Twin screw Coralita

chesterfield

Arriving at these remote reefs the charter boat was surrounded by Grey reef  sharks – at least a dozen on the surface. Normally it’s unusual for sharks to do this – except at places where few boats go.

In this case we’d ventured into the French Pacific Territories in a quest for rare sea shells (by half of the crew). The others, including ourselves were just interested in having a good time.

My trip was sponsored by Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph newspaper, and Fathom magazine.

Also aboard was my father, John Michael Harding who is standing next to Roy Bisson and watching the action below.

Two medical doctors are either side. At one stage they took a blood transfusion kit aboard the small dinghy with Ron and Valerie Taylor – just in case. This gives an indication on how territorial these small sharks were.

It’s more curiosity than aggression – in most but not all examples.

At another reef we experienced how territorial these whalers can be – almost enough to put you out of the water and go elsewhere.

My theory today is that sharks behave like this when divers are something new to them.

On the coast we are no longer a threatening novelty and sharks settle down to minding their own business. Eventually to become “trained” if food is regularly being offered.

These then are no longer wild sharks having become partially domesticated.

This is what dive tourism enjoys. Packaging cheap and relatively safe thrills to the the new breed of diving punters.

The rare, large traveling shark is a different proposition as we learned some years ago at Byron Bay. You can’t do much to avoid one of these monsters if it’s looking for a feed.

DISCLOSURE: The best corals and shark activity were not in the Chesterfield Reef area.  Avon Island was exceptional. Our visit coincided with very low tides at midday.  Shallow coral reefs were exposed to the sun.  Our original destination was Chesterfield Reef. A single dead specimen of rare volute shell had been picked up decades before and collectors aboard hoped to find live specimens.

The expedition was inspired by keen sea shell collectors who comprised half the guests aboard.  The rest of us went along to share what was an amazing adventure into the French area of The Coral Sea.   A Sydney tabloid newspaper The Daily Telegraph sponsored my participation and serialized the story over five double page issues.  Fathom magazine published a report written for divers in No.6 issue.