With Vic Ley we went north to the southern Great Barrier Reef in what Ron later called his East Coastfilm trip to be later exhibited regularly at the Union Theatre, 1964 to 1967.
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.
Meanwhile the thought of a girl joining the trip did not impress Vic or I one bit.
Free dives at Fish Rock, Woolgoolga then Cook Island.
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).
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 movie film. This was when the hedge-cutter scenewas devised. Snowie (reluctant to get near a snake) filmed Ron chopping up a sea snake with the cutters – a form of defense demonstrated. The film was never shown although Ben Cropp learned of the idea from Snowie and used it in his documentary soon after featuring Snow’s former girlfriend Gai Girdlestone.
At Tweed Heads Ron and Snowie returned to Nine Mile Reef, speared a Grey Nurse shark and brought it back to shore where they easily carried it in a tarpaulin to the nearby Jack Evans Pet Porpoise Pool, thus becoming the first shark caught by skindivers for captivity.
Their report was published in our USFA Skindivers magazine.
FLAT ROCK -POINT LOOKOUT 20-8-63 (from handwriting)
We left Tweed Heads at 4:00 am and set off for
Victoria Point where we launched the boat. Had
some trouble starting the Mercury. After a new
clean set of plugs were obtained it started without
any trouble. From Victoria Point we headed out
across Moreton Bay in the ply boat over very calm
and glassy water. The sky was blue and the sun was
shining. The trip across the bay and then up past
Amity and then up to Point Lookout is about 25 miles
each way. There is a treacherous sand bar, just around
the corner from Amity. We anchored at Flat Rock most
of the day. I was first in the water. Ron promised us
we would see Black Kingfish here and sure enough up
from the bottom came 3or 4 big beauties. I couldn’t
get close enough to them for a shot and they vanished
never to return again. There were plenty of Sawtail
around and also a big Black ray. I took the Calypso-Phot
down and took a couple of shots of the ray. Then the
sharks appeared. The first one I saw swam under me.
He was only about 5 or 6 feet. Snowie shot a Sawtail
and another two whalers were trying to take the fish so
Snow swam back to get the powerhead off Ron. He hit
one just back from the gills and it shot off into the deep.
I took a couple of photos of one swimming under me and
another shot of one just swimming away. I hit one with
my big gun and rig and the spear hit just in front of the
dorsal but a little to one side. He tore off into the deep
water taking my spear, gun and 65 feet of nylon rope and
plastic buoy. We didn’t see the gun or float anymore after
that. At one time I had 3 whalers swimming around me.
Two of them were about 6 or 7 feet the other was about
8 ft. That was the most I saw together at one time. I
grabbed the powerhead and tried to get close to a medium
sized one that kept out in the deep water. I would take a
bredath, dive to the bottom some 60 or 70 feet down and
look around. No shark, and then on my way up again, he
would always come in from 100 ft of water and have a look
and turn away. We just couldn’t get near him.
Took the boat around the other side of Flat Rock. Water was
much clearer here. Ron and I took a few underwater shots.
We got onto another medium sized shark and Ron loaded up
his powerhead. I managed to dive and take a close-up of him
before Ron shot him. He then swam away and when he
returned he came straight up from the bottom and came up
at the tip of my spear, then turned off to my left. Suddenly
Ron appeared and BANG hit him somewhere in the guts.
The water was filled with brown dust and mutilated bits of
shark. The whaler swam off into the deep again and we
lost him. Then we all contented ourselves with the spearing
of a few more fish. Snowie got a couple of Blues, 2 nice
parrot fish and some Sawtail. I got a Spanish mackerel less
than 20 pounds and the rest of the catch was mainly
Sawtail. Got one cray at Shag Rock then headed home
after a good day of diving.
Taken from 16mm movie film. All images are second generations from the original film frames. The large image has been carefully retouched by an artist* to make newspaper and magazine reproductions clearer.
While it was generally accepted that Ron Taylor was first to film a White shark underwater, recent evidence shows that film making cameraman Henri Bource was fully submerged in a bouncy shark cage at the same time, capturing the identical action from a different angle.
*Valerie Taylor was a commercial artist at the time and often retouched her husband’s prints, making them a joint-effort with an art aspect included.