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).