Made in Australia
John Black remembers when boats, motors and diving gear were literally hand-made. These developments opened up a whole new world of islands and reefs for these early pioneers to explore.
NARRATOR: John Black remembers when wetsuits, boats and breathing apparatus were hand-made. These early developments in the 1960s enabled divers' access to offshore islands.
JOHN BLACK: Going back to the early 50s owning a boat was impossible, so round about the 60s we started to build these timber ‘rowfloats’ as we called them, and that was we could actually row out to little off-shore reefs and swim around. And these rowfloats didn’t have outboard motors – they were another thing that was probably just being invented then, but they did invent this thing, it was actually an addition to a Victor lawnmower, you could actually take the lawnmower motor off and put a thing on the bottom and it’d putt you along the water so we had one of these and we thought we were Mickey Mouse, we didn’t have to row anymore.
From the old timber floats some of the blokes built wooden boats and Quicktrex started with the aluminium boats so we were able to have wetsuits, boats, outboard motors and we devised this system of getting those big gas cylinders they used to use in hotels for C02 gas for the kegs and we had a bloke that’d fill them up with air for us. He was lucky he didn’t blow himself up! We used to pump them up fill of air, lay them on the floor of the boat and run a hose off them down to the bottom, so all of a sudden we had wetsuits, we had boats and we had underwater breathing apparatus that’d work pretty good in fairly shallow water.
So we were able to catch abalone with air and we started to dive on the off-shore islands instead of just along the shoreline, finding new reefs and travelling to other states of Australia and diving other states, you know, every state of Australia I’ve dived in.
Back in the 60s, I think it was probably the early 60s, they started having a convention on Herron Island and we went up there on one occasion and that was another eye opener to be able to get on the Barrier Reef on an island that far off shore and have a look at the fish was just mind boggling.
What you’re used to seeing around Sydney and the south coast where the water was cold to go up on the Great Barrier Reef way out to sea on this coral island and jump in and the water is warm and the fish were top to bottom and all sorts of colours, shapes, sizes, it was just amazing, it was something you couldn’t believe. And a lot of this time was before television I might add so you’d never seen anything like this anywhere until you’d actually jumped in the water and had a look at it. And Ronny Taylor then was starting to dabble into underwater photography and used to have little movie shows, it was an exciting growing up time of diving, it was just fantastic.
I think the divers themselves are very individuals. I’m not a believer in this buddy diving bit – I think that’s totally wrong you seem to drown people two at a time instead of one at a time. I mean, if you’re gunna get in the water you’ve got to be very confident and you’ve got to be able to do it yourself and if you get into strife you’ve got to be able to get out of it yourself.
We would never work in deep water for any long period of time. Even though we bent the rules a lot we spent a fair bit of time in 60 feet, 70 feet of water and then you’d signal to your deckhand you were going to shift your boat in and he’d move the boat in while you swam along the bottom. I mean the rule book says you’re not allowed to do it but we done it and it was just trial and error. There wasn’t too many errors. And you’d be working around the seals, and I dived for 30 years – I seen just two white pointer sharks.
I look back now – we had an Australian Spearfishing Championship at Kangaroo Island and we were swimming around there with a bag of fish tucked up under your belt. Now I look back at that now and think that wasn’t a real smart thing to do at the time. But at the time it didn’t matter much – it was just part of the course and away we went.
NARRATOR: To find out more about Victorian shipwrecks search the Victorian Heritage Database at http://heritage.vic.gov.au