THE GREAT BELGIAN EXPEDITION – fifty two years ago.

© John Harding



THIS was a big effort. Ron and Valerie Taylor were contracted to film  underwater scenes along with the other principal cameraman Pierre Dubuisson.

Wally Muller provided support from his charter boat Careelah, and I was aboard Wally’s boat as a deckhand (and casual observer/photographer).

The news of what the expedition purpose was, was rejected as newsworthy by the newly appointed American editor of LIFE Australia, Mr Kenneth Gouldthorpe.

No other publication seemed to fit the 1967 unknown realm of marine biology.

Fifty years later the expedition remains the largest and most costly (and most useless) underwater marine biology filming undertaking on the GBR.

One valid story not overlooked was Acanthaster planci or The Crown of Thorns (CoT) starfish and the obvious damage at Otter Reef off Townsville, Qld.

Pictures I made here and featuring Valerie Taylor and Kay Overell became first tabloid news reports, thanks initially to newpaper journalist Mike Perry.


EAST COAST 1963 Fish Rock to Cook Island , New South Wales.

John Harding (self) and diving mate Vic Ley pose for this selfie at the old jail built during the first world war. since renovated into a tourist asset.

OUR first trip with Ron and Val was in 1963. 
With Vic Ley we went north to the southern Great Barrier Reef in what Ron later called his East Coast film trip to be later exhibited regularly at the Union Theatre, 1964 to 1967 and elsewhere.
For many years Ron and Val  regarded this as our favourite dive trip of all.  (Certainly not to later be in the league of what was to come when their South African open ocean shark scuba dives for the feature documentary Blue Water White Death).
Ron in 1963 had just begun to use the  amateur film stock  Kodachrome 25 color film for his 16mm underwater movies.  An unintentional  wise move as this film stock is unique in that it did not change color or fade as fast as professional film types.
We were financially poor by today’s standards.  There were few paying outlets for environmental marine reports in stills or with movie film.  Selling anything to National Geographic Magazine was a dream out of reach and  TV in Australia would be transmitting in black and white for another 12 years.
The main income for Ron would be magazine cover pictures and a newsreel motion picture sale – which could never amount to much.  Stock footage sales of his movie film was a possibility.
Ron’s partnership with ace and soon-to-be celebrity skindiver Ben Cropp had recently concluded.  Together they had produced a B&W documentary The Shark Hunters which proved successful on TV beyond imagination.
How Ron came to join Vic and I was simple. Valerie had spotted club magazine notes for the Sydney Sea Hunters. Vic and I were planning a trip north and invited interested divers to join us.
Ron phoned Vic suggesting a meeting with both of us at his place – our trip was now in top gear with more enthusiasm.
Vic required six weeks notice to quit his job at a Sydney butchery.  I needed less time to quit my work at the Sydney fruit markets, where my sub-boss had given me an intro to a top diver and friend of Vic Ley….. forever in his debt).
Using plans published in Ben Cropp’s  Handbook for Skindivers, I made a pair of timber spear guns using Silky Oak barrels with Undersee Products trigger mechanisms.  Plastic carpenters plane handles were the suggested grips.  Simple and functional.   Designs  based on what Queensland free divers used with great results on large fish.
One highlight of our first meeting with Ron was seeing and handling his self designed killer spear, as used by Ben in The Shark Hunters documentary.  A 5/16th of an inch five foot (approx.) spear shaft.  Needle-sharp with a triangular-sided point resembling a stitching needle, I thought.  History of shark hunting or in reality, shark defense practical knowledge.
We were in unknown territory with sharks.  Much would be learned internationally and by us in the coming five or six years.  For now we were pioneers in the field.
Ron and Ben had been active in The Swain Reefs (150 miles offshore and at the southern end of the GBR) aboard a 42 foot fishing boat Riversong with a daring captain who was not worried about putting divers in the reef waters with sharks.
Diving from this infamous vessel had been published in Australian Skindivers Magazine as “Two weeks on the Swains” by Ron Zangari.
Not on our radar but a few days on the boat would soon eventuate, and we’d meet author, Ron Zangari now a celebrity in tiger shark pictures (see below) by Ben Cropp) from The Swain Reefs (aka The Swains) trip with Ron and Ben.

Free dives at Fish Rock,  Woolgoolga then Cook Island.

View from South West Rocks old jail. Vic Ley in his White Water Wanderers club jacket.
Camp site made use of a picnic table by erecting our square canvas tent (floor less) over the timber table.
Our initial ‘fish surveys’ were around Smokey Cape where numerous blackfish (Luderick)  and bream existed. This black cod was considered ‘exotic’ at the time when they were permitted to be captured. We awaited the arrival of Ron Taylor (two times Australian spearing champion) who was due to join us.


Underwater film cameraman Ron Taylor was age 28 – several years senior to John age 20 and Vic age 21. The larger fish was a potential state spearfishing record not claimed. It was found in white water near the surface at Fish Rock. Resembling a Jewfish/Mulloway it’s the morehighly prized relative Teraglin (Atractoscion aequidens). The tail shape and mouth color distinguish this from from its cousin the Mulloway.
Grey nurse sharks (Carcharias taurus) from 20 meters of water on the southern side of Fish Rock.


A strong southerly greeted us at Woolgoolga NSW.
At WSoolgoolga this female Eastern Rock Lobster (Jasus verreauxi) was collected for hopeful sale to an oceanarium for live display.
Capture was filmed in 16mm underwater by Ron Taylor who then made this B&W shot with his Calypso 35mm waterproof still camera – a revolutionary new photographic device in Australia from France.
Tweed River with Cook Island, in New South Wales in the distance. View from the border lookout hill of Point Danger. Pictured before extensions of the rock wall.
Ron Taylor returned to Sydney to collect girlfriend Valerie (having checked new friends, John and Vic were acceptable traveling companions for Valerie). The fish survey was now at Cook Island.
Vic Ley was to become a joint Australian spear fishing champion later representing Australia at the world championships attended by Ron Taylor (who had won the title previously) so I was in good company.

Flash forward two years and Ron arrives home in Sydney with his World Spear Fishing Championship trophy.  The first and only Australian to win (so far).



Big, pregnant great white shark caught off Taiwan’s north-east coast.  (20 March 2019)

A Great White shark measuring over 4 meters long was delivered and sold at a fish market in Su’ao Township, Yilan County today, March 20, after being caught as by catch off the northeast coast of Taiwan.

The shark weighed in at 1170 kilograms and was sold by auction at a price of NT$50 (US$1.62) per kilogram for a total of NT$58,500 (US$1,898.90).

The buyer, named as “Taiwan Ocean Art Museum” in various reports, appears to be a company engaged in marine taxidermy.

A researcher from Academia Sinica’s Biodiversity Research Center, Dr Jeng Ming-shiou said it is the biggest specimen of great white that he has ever seen.

When an incision was made in the shark’s abdomen, it was revealed that the shark was a female, and contained 14 baby sharks.

The great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as a vulnerable species. It takes 26 years for a male great white to reach sexual maturity, while the female takes 33 years.

At the same time, among all shark species, the great white shark is responsible for the largest number of shark attacks on humans.

In October 2012, a great white measuring 6 meters and weighing 1750 kilograms was caught off the coast of Yilan County.


Shark bitten survivors, Raymond Short with Henri Bource in 1966
About three days after the stitches were removed. This picture was taken at Kangaroo Island, South Australian during a skindivers convention. 27 December 1963.
Something in common, none of the three free divers saw the white pointer shark before it bit them.
Rodney Fox in 1963 and fifty years later. His former name card.
Tooth of extinct Great white shark worn as jewelry in 1975

EAST COAST TRIP – North West Island, Sea Snakes,Tweed Heads finale

I was on Lederkyn sulphur tablets courtesy of Riversong’s medical kit.  It was a potentially close call for me.  When Captain Wally Muller dropped us on North West Island for our camping and diving holiday, I was still OK to stand-up and walk.

The captain’s last words were, “I’ll be back to pick you up for more spear fishing.  See you in either three days or failing that, in a week from now”.

Fortunately Wally was back in the shorter time. In those three days away my leg ballooned with infection. It was too painful for me to stand upright.  I dragged myself along the sand to the ‘toilet’.

When Wally Muller returned in three days and saw my problem he radioed for instructions.  The treatment was Lederkyn sulphur tablets every four hours with lots of water to prevent crystals forming in my kidney’s. (I picked up his radio transmission on our transistor radio – there was nothing more that could be done).

So the infection was a week old by the time I got to a hospital at Yeppoon.  (The outcome would have been a lot worse, maybe even fatal had bad weather prevented my return to the mainland). The suggested hospital treatment was to ‘lance’ the infection.  The old hospital had a few blo flies coming through the open windows and doors. (No AC in ’63).  A bad sign.

So back to Sydney by plane.  End of the trip for me.  I don’t remember what treatment (if any) happened in Sydney as no notes appear in my book.  Writing ceased from when the infection began to take hold. I must have been ‘crook’.

Valerie (speaking this week in March 2019) remembers the Yeppoon hospital had suggested they amputate my leg!

I only remember a very swollen leg that had a lot of fluid within.

Ron, Val and Snowie then went back to the Man and Wife Rocks to film sea snakes with black and white 16mm movie film.  This was when the hedge-cutter scene was devised.  Snowie (reluctant to get near a snake) filmed Ron chopping up a sea snake with the cutters – an unusual  form of defense  being demonstrated.  That film was included in one of Ron’s live presentation film shows.

Ben Cropp borrowed the idea and used it in his documentary ‘Mermaids in Paradise’ (1966) featuring Gai Girdlestone (pictured) with Kathy Troutt and Van Laman as the mermaids.

Gai Girdlestone working in a Ben Cropp documentary in 1965.

On their way back to Sydney a stop off at Tweed Heads where Ron and Snowie returned to Nine Mile Reef, speared a Grey Nurse shark and brought it, still showing signs of life, back to shore where it was carried to the nearby Jack Evans Pet Porpoise Pool, thus becoming the first shark caught by skin divers for display in captivity.

Their slightly conflicting versions of the event was published in Skindivers magazine.



Val takes pictures with my Calypso camera. Coral poisoning in my leg kept me out of the water. I watched above water from Riversong.

Maori wrasse are very difficult to approach ‘in-the-wild’. In later years we were amazed to see tame versions at scuba diver feeding. First in The Red Sea, later at The Cod Hole (off Lizard Island, North Queensland).sites.
Photograph by Val (Heighes-Taylor)
Because underwater camera’s like the Calypso (later the Nikonos) were new, these are most likely the first underwater pictures taken by Valerie Taylor (who was still Valerie Heighes at the time).
Ron Taylor filmed the catch after the event, not for his own collection. The film was given to someone wlse, a friend of our captain.


EAST COAST 1963 North West Island

Our transport out to the reef was with the fishing boat Riversong and Captain Wally Muller. a friend of Ron Taylor (pictured).
Romance developing here. Val and Ron were married in Sydney 12 weeks later.
At the time we called this a ‘Painted Cray’. Photo by Mrs. Metcalf.
Hut is a remnant of the turtle canning industry on North West Island. It was available for campers except this time it was occupied by two shell collectors from Bundaberg, Mr and Mrs Metcalf.
Painted cray was picked-up by myself within minutes of getting wet. The first I’d ever seen.  Ron got this picture for me with my Calypso camera.
Then Ron used his own Calypso for this shot.
Vic shows a small part of his catch.  Spear fishing from a boat at this part of North West Island’s reef was virtually untouched at the time.
Diving the area called The Fish Tail produced a deck full of fish in probably one or two hours.
Part of the first morning’s dive.
A very large coral trout, not a Blue Spot either.


Snowie had ‘cod fever’ and large Brown spotted Cod were in his sights.


Vic loves his cod. It was a quest the pioneer free divers developed. An ambition to aim for. Here is a dream comes true picture.
I speared this young Queensland groper and asked Ron for help when it got stuck in a cave.
Snowie speared this Hump Head Maori Wrasse at Broomfield Reef. I was out of the water, back on land with ‘coral poison’ in my leg and a large lump in my groin. (Additional wrasse pictures by Valerie).
Venomous sea snake. Stokesi or the Stokes sea snake. Encountered mid water.
Stokesi sea snake, south of NW Island.