|CLASSIC DIVE BOOKS
Edward du Cros.
Alick Wickham is not a household name. He was never mentioned by the over-enthusiastic commentators at the recent Sydney 2000 Olympics. I doubt that Ian Thorpe or Michael Klim would know of him, nor anyone else who has ‘done the Australian crawl'. But Alick is credited with introducing the crawl to Australia just a year or two into the 20th century. He was a young fellow on a visit from the Solomon Islands. In Sydney he beat anyone who cared to challenge him. In Melbourne is was challenged to dive from a 100-ft tower into the Yarra River. When he arrived, he found the tower to be built on a 105 ft cliff. He made the dive, and set a world record that stood for nearly forty years. He was a also a great skindiver, and probably introduced many white Australians to the sport. The islanders of the Pacific had been diving for many centuries - for how long they had actually speared fish whilst underwater is uncertain, but it was long before the western world even contemplated the feat. The Australian aborigine speared fish, but from shore, or a dugout canoe. There is no known record of indigenous people spearfishing, however folk lore has the aborigine using a short reed to breath through whilst swimming underwater to catch water fowl by their legs.
It is fitting that
du Cros includes Alick in the first chapter of his excellent book, even
though there is no specific mention of his skindiving activities. Spearfishing
skindivers appeared in Australia around the late 1920s, their spearguns
powered by strips of motor-tyre tubes. Masks were make from round glass
inserted into one end of a short car tube section, the other end cut to
form a strap. Fins and snorkels were rarely seen. Denny Wells could
lay claim to being one of the earliest skindivers, taking to rocky shores
off Sydney in the late 1920s, well before Guy Kilpatrick taught Hans Hass
how to dive. The sport developed further after the second world war,
and continued enthusiastically after a visit by Hass in 1953. In that year,
‘Aqualungs' became readily available in Australia.
Du Cros's book, published in 1960, was the first of its kind in Australia. His initial history of the sport is brief, but he successfully manages to entwine a history of the early days of skin and scuba diving in Australia into a basic text book on the sport, remembering that there were no Australian "how-to" books around, although many Australians would have been able to purchase the American Fawcet series of books on skindiving and scuba diver. (See later for a review of these books).
Equipment, tactics (of spearfishing) and techniques advise that "owners of rubber suits should lay in a good supply of talcum powder"; "good marksmanship is of great value to the spearfisherman"; "hyperventilation experiments should only be attempted by experienced divers, and should never be attempted without planning and preparation"; "it is dangerous to use ear plugs when diving with SCUBA equipment". Sound advise, but Du Cros does not deserve my apparent cynicism, as his advise in ‘tactics and techniques' is, in general, just as important now as it was half a century ago. He censures indiscriminate killing of fish and respects the unwritten laws that were prevalent in these times. He condemns the fool who shot a huge friendly grouper on a wreck by "... a man growing bored with the search for knowledge, losing his zest to explore, and giving way to the temptation to kill, another squeeze of the ready trigger-finger".
In these ‘early days',
men dominated the sport. And, apparently, for good reason. "Women probably
possess a more highly developed fear of the unknown...they have less determination
to get to the fore in the sport and excel at it. Another reason might be
that the tendency toward exhibitionism present in many women is not adequately
catered for in this sport". Hey, don't go crook at me - these are Du Cros'
words, not mine.
But Du Cros continues with an interesting essay on sharks, and encounters therein. "When a shark eats a human being, it is either an accident, an experiment, or a case of a shark that has lost its youth and agility needed to catch his ration of fish, and is spending the evening of his life on a diet of sea garbage". Rodney Fox may have something to say about this. Du Cros mentions and quotes from V.M. Coppleson's classic Shark Attack, rebukes a few of the myths, and rightly complains about the popular-press reporting of shark sightings - every one is a tiger shark, and all at least twelve feet long. (When I was a lad, all shark attacks in Victoria waters were by the Grey Nurse. Absurd!) Unfortunately, du Cros becomes rather complacent when he states that "In Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria shark dangers exist, but the position is not serious". This is fairly broad statement, but he continues with the absurd comment that "In New South Wales, it is usual for a skindiver to meet only one shark in about thee years of diving." (His italics). That's a silly statement really. And are there no sharks in Tasmanian waters? He doesn't list the various species of shark, and makes no mention of the Great White, which has, in just the previous week of writing this review, been responsible for two deaths in South Australia within five days (the victims were surfing, not diving).
It appears that du
Cros has bundled all sharks together with the one label, and makes little
mention of the many relatively harmless species found regularly in tropical
and temperate waters. In spearing a harmless and sedentary creature such
as a carpet shark, du Cros offers a rather remarkable observation:
In discussing the use of scuba equipment, du Cros asks and answers the question, "Does the development of SCUBA equipment mean the end of the full-dress diving suit and helmet? Most emphatically it does not. There are still many purposes for which the older type off diving equipment is the most suitable. The heavy helmet and boots plant the diver firmly on the deck of a wreck or on the sea-bed and enable him to stay still and use his tools. He also has a suit that will resist the cold for long very long periods, and telephone contact with the surface." Kirby-Morgan has the last say on this matter. The advice given to scuba divers is reflective of the technical development of the sport, expected safety standards, and economics. "Most Australian divers carry a depth-gauge attached to their wrists" (what, both of them - sorry); some diving clubs advise the use of a snorkel clipped on to the harness"; - and he speaks of cylinders of 27 or 42 cubic feet charged to 2000 psi.
‘Wrecks, Salvage and Treasure Trove' is an interesting chapter, and one dear to my heart. He mentions the Dutch wrecks off the WA coast with the comment that "The chances of a large treasure strike by our Australian underwater men are not very promising. ... the Gilt Dragon appears to be swallowed up for ever". Graeme Henderson can have the last word on that comment. Some of the more popular wrecks are mentioned: the Dunbar is well covered and the information on the early relics recovered is important; the more recent Gwydir appears to have been popular with Sydney divers, and the John Robb, Norma, and Star of Greece in South Australia. The Tasmanians have the Katherine Sharer, the convict ship George III, and the Lintrose. Queenslanders have the Delhi Queen, Scottish Prince, Cambus Wallace, Alberta, Marietta Dahl and Young Australian - and the early discovery of the Yongala is interesting. Unfortunately, he makes no mention of Victorian divers, and their wealth of 19th century immigrant ships.
In Chapter Ten, du Cros covers ‘The Sport Australia-Wide', and whilst he acknowledges that the sportdiving commenced in New South Wales, he mentions many men who were prominent in their respective states - Bob Wallace-Mitchell and Commander M. Batterham in Victoria, Dick Charles and Don Linklater in New South Wales, Fred Aprilovic in Queensland just to name a few. Underwater photography gets a chapter of its own, covering early equipment (twin-reflex camera in housing), theory and technique, and the early cinematography of Noel Monkman who was possibly the first to shoot an underwater adventure film in Australia - called Typhoon Treasure. (Monkman wrote the best-seller Escape to Adventure). I was surprised to read that Eric Jolliffe, the great Australian cartoonist, was an avid spearfisherman. Chips Rafferty is mentioned at great length (as he was), working with Noel Monkman. And Alan Power, well known to anyone who has dived the wreck of the President Coolidge in Vanuatu.
Skindiving in Australia concludes with a directory of clubs, dive shops and sports stores selling dive gear, and airfill stations.
written with an occasion attempt at eloquent opinion.