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 Hunterswas 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.
The big speargun. Wally at a Palm Beach, Sydney competition in 1972
Wally pictured by Jeff Carter. Stunning image from the 1950s.
The smallest and largest Gloria maris found by Wal in the Solomons.
The Chesty Bond trophy for largest fish.
Tiger shark at Heron Island – the largest for many years.
Wally was the Host Diver during more than one diver’s convention at Heron Island. He’d take his own five meter boat from Sydney to Gladstone by trailer then motor it out to the island.
This enabled spearing on nearby Wistari Reef and others.
When the island kitchen was running low on seafood one morning they asked Wally to \”spear them a few fish”. \
In his typical manner, Wal (with dive mate Warner Power) happily went to work with their spear guns.
Brown spotted cod and Queensland Groper seem to be the bulk of this catch. There would be a few coral trout in that pile also. The large fish with Wally on the left is a Queensland Groper. (See fish pictures on his blog Diver of Fortune listed below as a footnote).
Alan Power diving from Wal’s boat, Heron Island (1963)
Last portrait of Wally Gibbins at the Sunday markets – Coffs Harbour, 9 July 2006
A possible victim of Severe Depression Virus was the late Jacques Mayol who made a serious decision to leave this world on Dec 23, 2001 in Italy.
Jacques Mayol (centre) with Australia’s shipwrecks expert Johnny Sumner (left) and Australia’s legendary diver Wally Hamilton Gibbins in 2000 at Las Vegas, USA discussing the “Mr Wally Expedition” to the Solomon Islands, among other things, including Hollywood movies.
The cult movie The Big Blue (1988) was based on the free diving skills and rivalry between Jacques Mayol and his mate Enzo Maiorca.
Jacques was born in Shanghai to French parents. An exciting time for his conception. The city is described then as: Whore of the orient, Paris of the east, city of quick riches, ill-gotten gains and fortunes lost on the tumble of dice; the domain of adventurers, gamblers, swindlers, drug runners, idle rich, dandies, tycoons, missionaries, gangsters and back street pimps – Shanghai 1927″. Lonely Planet CHINA.
Jacques Mayol learned to freedive in Japan at age 15. His inspiration to become a world record breath-holding free diver was sparked while watching nude girls descend 75 feet without flippers (aka fins) to collect pearl shell oysters. Not a bad start to his diving career.
The fact that his own father was later to die in a diving accident is worthy of note.
At the amazing age of 56 years, Jacques Mayol set a world free diving depth record of 105 meters, yet less than 20 years later he chose to end his own life with a rope. Many prisoners on death row would have gladly changed places with him. But the depression virus is a powerful enemy.
Australia’s first team to the World Spearfishing Championships. French Polynesia (Tahiti) `1965
Update: October 20 2004. Wally Gibbins admitted to Coffs Harbour hospital. (Peter Fields preparing major interview for popular magazine featuring this legend of the sea, born 19 January 1930). Wally’s collection of spearguns and diving gear is ear-marked for Legends Surf Museum (Scott Dillon).
UPDATE JAN.7 2005. Only a brief but ‘scary’ stay in hospital. A burst blood vessel and great loss of blood. Back to normal as of this moment.
What defined a good diver in the early days was the ability to invent, design and improve equipment. To be a good diver it was advantageous to be also skilled with a lathe and other things. Most equipment was home-made from the 1950’s to 1970 and we all relied on friends for help or guidance or both.
The famous Sea Hornet (trade mark) speargun trigger was a design from Wally Gibbins.
Pictured at home in Sawtell 1990 with the most popular regulator of the late 1950’s – the double hose Aqua Lung (trade mark) regulator – quieter and easier to breathe from. Terrific for photographers as the exhaled air did not rumble passed ears and eyes.
Footnote: Wal Gibbins worked in many Ben Cropp’s underwater documentaries around Australia, PNG and the Solomon Islands for two years full-time. They share the same birthday, January 19th with a six-year age differences. Wally in 1930, Ben in 1936.