(Flat Rock and surrounding dive sites – a history in pictures)
SKINDIVERS COVERS – STORIES BEHIND THE PICTURES
The first free divers to ‘hit’ Flinders Reef got there in small boats from the mainland. A long crossing of Moreton Bay from Victoria Point being the chosen method. The reward was docile Black Cod, lots of them and very large to about 40 kg.
In later years the ideal free diving vacation was to rent a holiday cottage at North Stradbroke Island. In the sixties a house with seven beds could be rented very cheaply. Not so today. Point Lookout has become a holiday destination for high salary earners, although camping grounds still exist.
There’s also been a dive shop at Point Lookout for years that caters for back packers and scuba dips at Flat Rock, (now a fish sanctuary).
Local professional fishermen were selling from their freezers (direct to the public) imported fish fillets instead of the locally caught reef fish.
No longer possible to safely leave your dive boat and outboard on the beach overnight, unattended. When we first visited the island in 1963 we’d leave our diving gear in the 14 foot long boat overnight, unattended. There was no thieving then, and few people.
The small hotel even had kerosene lighting throughout. Patrons regarded divers as very brave people (crazy idiots) because the surrounding waters were plentiful with large, angry and very wild sharks.
Most people do not realize there was a time when all sharks were ‘wild’. Many sharks today are food-trained and semi domestic.
The original hazard has been reduced to almost zero at dive sites where food is offered to sharks.
“Fathom magazine was a perfect fit for its time. The 48-page publication first appeared in Sydney December 1970, produced by Gareth Powell, an eccentric, entrepreneurial British publisher who knew, above anything else, how to employ talented people and give them the freedom to work. Fathom quickly came to reflect the new scuba diving and marine environmental awareness inspired by the Save the Barrier Reef campaign, and the crown-of-thorns starfish plagues threatening coral reefs world wide”.
The John Harding Australian Marine Picture Library
“OUR FUTURE – A NEW ADVENTURE”
Marine Photography: 1960 – 2010
fathom (Reg. TM, Australia)
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Perhaps this was the first magazine cover picture published that featured a picture by Ron Taylor. Top left is Dave Rowlings, lower left is Ted Louis – both leading pioneer free divers in the era. Grey nurse shark speared by someone at Wattamolla, south of Sydney. (Above) The original Sydney free divers involved with Ron Taylor’s first documentary The Shark Hunters. Ben Cropp came into the filming project later, as a 50% partner and the leading diver. The photo caption has an error, mixing Dave Rowlings and Ted Louis. It should read: Left to Right, Ron Taylor, Dave Rowlings, Ted Louis and Norm Smith. L-R. Ron Taylor, Ben Cropp, Tommy Thomas, Ron Cox after a day at Flinders Reef, Cape Moreton, Queensland (1961) The fish are Black Cod. Reads well. A few minor errors which I’ll attempt to correct in the order they appear under. Very minor stuff but worth correcting – Ron would appreciate it. The husband wife underwater combo began with Hans and Lotte Hass filming in The Red Sea in the late 1950s. Their work must have inspired Valerie and Ron. Valerie was an accomplished stage actor at The Ensemble theatre in Sydney working under noted director Hayes Gordon who was to later do the narration for our film Revenge of a Shark Victim. (I was a part owner of that and of another production Slaughter at Saumarez, made in The Coral Sea in 1964). I met Ron and later Valerie in 1963, later they joined a friend and I on our spearfishing-seeking-adventure quest along the New South Wales north coast to Proserpine and the Whitsundays of Queensland. Unknown to many people who appreciated underwater photography, The Great Barrier Reef was in reality just a single bommie at Heron Island. During the 1970s this is where most of the photography featuring ‘the reef’ occurred. A single mound of coral representing 2,500 other reefs all with varying characteristics – some better – most not so good. Ron and Val were stationed on Heron Island while filming underwater action scenes for ‘Barrier Reef’ a fictional TV series made by the company that had produced ‘Skippy -The Bush Kangaroo‘. The TV series was only successful, many said, due to the high quality underwater scenes. The above water material was taken further north around Hayman Island – in the Whitsundays, featuring a large sailing ship. The ‘barn storming’ the east coast with film shows probably means ‘road showing’. This was where I helped by following the lead established by surfing films showing in theatres. At Canberra in February 1966 the Prime Minister, Harold Holt (a keen spear fisherman) attended the second of three showings. Next day Ron and Valerie were invited to have tea and biscuits with the PM at Parliament House. I missed out. Later Ron filmed underwater scenes for Hollywood productions, I’m not certain about ‘Return to the Blue Lagoon’ – but ‘The Blue Lagoon’ was a definite commission. Kathy Troutt (my future fiancee) was part of that production – Kathy originally hired to find and train dolphins that were required by the script. When this was found to be impossible, Kathy remained part of the team as the main actress’ body double – appearing in much of the film in close-ups and underwater nude scenes. The Shark Hunters was a 50-minute TV shocker that proved so popular on TCN9, the Sydney station repeated it a week afterwards. The documentary showed grey nurse sharks being speared by Ben Cropp Ron’s diving and business partner at Brush Island (NSW south coast, not Seal Rocks as written). Ben was considered the leading diver in Australia at that time – a school teacher with overseas diving and travel experience. Their film did not explain that grey nurse sharks were not the man-eaters we all thought them to be. That revelation was still a decade away. The infamous sequence of a young white pointer shark snapping in front of Ron’s camera was filmed during the promotion of the traveling film show ‘Shark Fighters’ during it’s Adelaide season in December 1965, January 1966. Rodney Fox was handling those showings and had arranged a shark hunt for promotion of the film using the experience of big game fisherman Alf Dean to attract sharks using whale oil. The team invited a local TV station to show nightly news reports filmed by Ron. Three shark bite victims would be aboard. Rodney Fox, Brian Rodger and Henri Bource – all free divers that had been badly bitten in the previous years, Henri losing a leg, the others surviving with serious wounds. The infamous ‘shark snapping sequence’ was recorded by two cameramen simultaneously. Underwater in a badly rocking cage attached to boat was Henri Bource using a heavy metal camera housing.
Henri’s sequence shows Ron Taylor’s hands and camera immersed underwater, perhaps with Ron’s face slightly visible as well, while a young shark snaps in front of Ron’s camera. It’s the identical action and appears in “Savage Shadows”, Henri’s 90 minute feature length documentary made for theatres. Unfortunately for Henri, his camera is further away and the framing is terrible. With modern facilities and cropping a good sequence should be possible to recover to help highlight Ron’s historic material. That film sequence is often referred to as the first underwater white pointer footage taken outside a shark cage, which it is. It was several years later before Ron Taylor and friends including George Askew actually did venture outside a shark cage in South Africa to dive with this species. In the meanwhile Blue Water White Death was made during 1970. One incredible letter from Valerie to me detailed their experiences. I passed the letter to journalist friends at the Sydney evening tabloid newspaper The Sun who turned it into a news story. I was always promoting Ron and Valerie like that – and did so for years. They were my hero’s and the same applied to many other young divers of the era. The originally shark footage (featured on the video above) was on 16mm Kodachrome II. Ron told me a production company trusted with the material had lost it. Many copies had been made prior, but nothing replaces original material. Maybe it turned up eventually. Stills from the tiny frames appeared in National Geographic in 1968 and again published in Fathom magazine No.2 in 1971 – the magazine that was employing me as the founding editor between 1971 and 1973. On the same expedition, that the film was recorded Ron and Henri both filmed a white pointer feeding upon another white pointer shark above water, that had been caught and brought alongside Alf Dean’s boat. It was graphic material with the gill area of the equally-sized four meter long shark being chewed away. More recently Ron was encouraging me to get a digital camera and a laptop. A couple of years later in 2002 I did so and now publish in about twenty different blogs. Ron and I last spoke on the phone about four months ago. He was depressed when answering but picked up with his voice tone during the conversation. After about 15 minutes he had to excuse himself as he was becoming mentally too tired. Our mutual friend Vic Ley would keep me updated regularly with Ron’s condition – and it was not getting any better for him. A slow decline and a sad one for his close friends. Multiple blood transfusions and experimental cures that may have cost a fortune. It went on for years. Much more could be written. I wonder what my underwater career would have been had we not met Ron in 1963. I knew one thing, after viewing The Shark Hunters I wanted a movie camera to film sharks also. I did so from 1968 but never with white pointer sharks. The charter boat fee was always too high, starting at $10,000 per person in the 1980s. Prices have come down since. The best location appears to be in the blue waters of Guadalupe. off southern Mexico.