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.




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.