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 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.
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).
1. Sharks love the color red. 2. Sharks are said to be attracted to dogs 3. It’s a mistake to bump into a shark with a boat – especially when following one like the above, at any speed. BEN CROPP and I assumed it was a tiger shark by the actions it displayed.
Maybe a cranky Lemon shark – not an uncommon species at Batt Reef, and far out-numbered by the Tigers?
John D. Stevens (CSIRO) when asked for a shark ID, replied (in part): “It’s not a tiger shark, species unidentifiable”.
The confusion came after we saw numerous tiger sharks on the reef shallows earlier the same morning, attracted by – possibly – a harpooned dugong, sea turtle, or stingray – something large enough when injured to provided a stimulus attraction.
These were big sharks, 2.5 meters and upwards, with a single four meter monster seen the next day.
This seemed unusual for so many in a small area.
Batt Reef is a large and mostly sandy and shallow running some ten nautical miles in length, located off Port Douglas, Queensland. It is not a destination for tourist visitors. Quite a private place.