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In 1963 filming was mostly by freediving

There were a couple of reasons for only free diving.  Scuba was so new there were no convenient filling stations. Plenty of action existed in water less than fifteen meters deep anyway, and with available light and 25 ASA movie film – the shallow water was where most color was.

In some respects we had it easy with lots more to see and film. In other respects it was more difficult.

Camera’s were mechanical and primitive. It took an expert just to get the correct exposures. These needed to be spot-on especially with Kodachrome reversal film.

For the above pictures Ron Taylor was filming a very large turtle feeding using a 16mm Bolex and a 10mm Switar lens.  This was 1963 when we first met.

I used a 35mm Calypso-phot still camera and 50 ASA Agfa film – which has since turned magenta with age, whereas Kodachrome retains original colors well.

We were free diving at Man and Wife Rocks located between North Keppel and Great Keppel Islands and virtually on the Tropic of Capricorn.

Ron’s movie camera held 2 minutes 44 seconds of film. It was hand-wound which gave about 16 seconds of filming before rewinding was necessary.

The results were superb and probably better than many expensive video cameras today – but the action was short. Just seconds per subject.

The Great Kepple Island Resort has been ‘moth-balled’, shut down and locked-up some two years ago.

The region has plenty of large sharks and venomous sea snakes if you are interested. Much of the surrounding coral is said to be now dead. Perhaps a freshwater flood being responsible?

It’s amazing how things change. During the early 1970’s nearby Yeppoon and the charter boat Coralita was the departure point for voyages to The Coral Sea.

Aboard were the then leading American film making divers – who helped put Australia on the international dive agenda which we pioneered.

Fathom magazine helped attract their initial attention with a very expensive looking production which illustrated that something was happening in Australia.

Scuba diving today has changed and is under strong competition from more adventurous do-once, sports.

The old villain, spear fishing is now seen as the best opportunity for high adventure water thrills once more.

The modern emphasis is on open ocean spearing, away from scuba diving shallow reefs out in the blue water with tuna and marlin the new target.

One thing is for certain, free diving is excellent for your lungs – something every diver learns to appreciate eventually.

The younger and the taller your body is, the bigger will be your VC (vital capacity of your lungs).

Therefore an eighteen year-old who is six feet tall should easily reach 33 meters or more on a single breath – with expert guidance and a lot of training.

Don McAlpine was also an underwater cameraman.  Don has filmed several big budget Hollywood movies.  We attended a lecture he gave at Film Australia.  I ‘d worked with Don on the Great Barrier Reef off Heron Island in 1969 and had not seen him since in all those years.


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Soon afterwards professional abalone diving (and the wealth involved) became a greater priority than spear fishing competitions. Most of the leading Sydney divers went south.

By 1971 the **PADI** TM (Professional Association of Diving Instructors Pty Limited) scuba schools arrived with retail dive shops now running their own social dive clubs.

The original spear fishing clubs that were the foundation of diving activities were no longer the sole gateway to underwater.

Australians have entered world spear fishing competitions since but none has equaled the success that Ron Taylor archived in Tahiti in 1965.

Ron eventually became appalled at the waste of \rubbish fish\ involved with competition spear fishing and retired from all such competitions.


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One of the Australian spear fishing team to Tahiti (1965) – Wally Gibbins, shown walking ashore at a Palm Beach Alliman Shield competition in Sydney.

The large shoulder gun was to become Wal’s trade mark choice.

He told us the secret, when it was tucked under his arm it enabled faster left to right, or right to left following of a moving fish (than a pistol grip gun, which is commonly used). Some people were unable to load a Wally Gibbins shoulder gun.

From an era when fish were larger and more plentiful.
Wally medically disqualified himself from the Tahiti competition after blacking out during a deep pre competition practice free dive.

This left just Ron Taylor and Peter Kemp as the Australian competitors.

FOOTNOTE I bought my first speargun second hand from a kid at Annandale, Sydney. Reg Furtell and Graham Hoare were regular spear-o’s we knew from Jack’s Milk Bar (opposite the Royal Theatre) – and one of the few inner city suburbs to have a pin ball machine and juke box, a magnet that attracted leather jacketed bodgies on motor bikes.

The kids talked about a guy who knew everything about diving. It seemed impossible that anyone could be that good.

The guy they spoke about who regularly collected the pin ball machine money and was none other than Wally Gibbins.

I’d listened to Wally just once. His information seemed impossible to my young and inexperienced ears.

In reality Wally, then aged 29 was more advanced with his underwater experiences than anyone else in Sydney, in those times, summer 1959.