Australasian Icon Ron Taylor
Introduction by Dave Moran, interview by Peter Fields
‘I think that’s his tent over there?’
‘Could be - let’s see if he’ll let us look at his speargun’.
‘Er - hi Ron could we look at your gun?’
‘Sure guys come on in’
For a couple of young spearos to be in Ron Taylor’s tent and actually talking to him was as good as being in heaven. He was our hero. In the early 1960s he was already a legend amongst the tightly knit community of Australian spearfishermen.
My buddies and I were competing in the Australian Spearfishing
Championships being held at Phillip Island in Victoria in 1964.
This was the chance for Victorian divers to stick it to those NSW and Western Australia spearos who usually collected the silverware. We were in our own waters.
At the end of the competition Ron (NSW) was miles ahead of the second place getter. He speared fish we Victorians never thought existed off Phillip Island. Ron had swum far off shore looking for 30 metre (100ft) plus depth to hunt for fish - we had never been ‘out there!’
Ron Taylor was virtually unbeatable. He set the bench mark that few could ever dream of attaining. He was the best!
I thank John Harding for his enthusiasm for us to have an interview with this Australasian diving/film making icon. Thanks to Peter Fields for conducting the interview and the support provided by Jayne Jenkins.
Thanks Ron and Valerie for this interview and also for your many years of dedication to the sport of diving and your continuing role in conservation awareness.
Thanks for the memories. - Dave Moran.
Peter Fields (PF): Ron, in the early days of breath hold diving what special techniques did you have, how did you learn about them and what sort of depths were you achieving?
Ron Taylor (RT): When I was first snorkel diving I could only hold my breath for about 15 seconds and that wasn’t satisfactory so I practiced breath-holding. At that time I was an apprentice in the printing industry and I had to walk about four kilometres to the railway station. I would take big deep breaths and see how long I could hold my breath for while I was walking. I would do that going to and from work so that I was practicing breath holding above water. When I went out diving I found that I could hyperventilate and that enabled me to hold my breath much longer as well. It was just a matter of time as I did more snorkelling and breath exercises I found I could hold my breath longer and longer and eventually it got to a stage where I could hold my breath for about two minutes under water. Lying on a bed I could hold my breath for about four minutes. It was just a matter of practice and perseverance.
PF: In the early days did the movies of Hass and Cousteau influence in your diving?
RT: On yes. Hans Hass was my hero when I first started. I saw his films on black and white television and he really influenced me greatly. Not so much Cousteau but Hans Hass; especially when television came to Australia in 1956. I’d been spearfishing for several years before that and I saw the potential because I was interested in photography, even when I was at school. I was very lucky that a friend of mine had a 16mm camera that only had a 50ft load which ran for about 70 seconds. It was a gun camera that they used to use in World War II so the aircraft could see where their tracer shells were going. I built an underwater housing for it and luckily he supplied the 16mm Kodachrome so I learnt at his expense and when I learned all the tricks of shooting film I bought my own Bolex which had a 100 ft load and it was a wind up camera and would run for 26 seconds on a wind. I did all my first filming breath-holding but of course I could hold my breath a lot longer than 26 seconds. That’s how I got started in underwater photography.
PF: Regarding the first white pointer you filmed underwater at Dangerous Reef and the footage – whatever became of that?
RT: I’ve still got that footage of the very first expedition. That was with Rodney Fox, Brian Roger and Henry Bource. That all came about from the Australian spearfishing championships down at San Remo. We met up with Henry and he took us out to Lady Julia Percy Island and showed us where he had his leg torn off by a great white shark. Rodney organized an expedition in South Australia. He met up with Alf Dean who still holds the world record for big game fishing, white shark 2,664 lb I think it is. Alf Dean went out with us on a brand new tuna boat called the Glen Morrie and we went over to Dangerous Reef. What really surprised me was on the way to Dangerous Reef Alf Dean harpooned a dolphin that was playing around the bow of the ship. As soon as we got to Dangerous Reef he unpacked his bag, pulled out his 22 rifle, went ashore and shot a sealion on Dangerous Reef. So we had a dead dolphin and a dead sealion to attract great white sharks. I thought ‘God that’s a bit rough’. This was back in 1965 and nobody really talked about conservation back in those days. Big game fishermen used to kill dolphin and fishermen would kill them for crayfish bait etc. It wasn’t a tremendous surprise but it was just cheap, free bait. It wasn’t long before we had great white sharks. I hung over the side of the boat with my 16mm camera and filmed the great white shark swimming around and I’ve still got that film.
PF: Over the years you’ve made and sold a lot of film. What would be the picture, still or movie that made you the best sales?
RT: I think the most interesting and famous film that we ever worked on was Jaws. We did the live shark filming in South Australia for Jaws because most of the film is a mechanical shark and they didn’t have computer graphics back in those days so they had to shoot real film so we had the real shark in South Australia. So it was either Jaws or Blue Water White Death. Blue Water White Death was in 1969 and that was the search for the great white shark. The great white shark was also called white death in those days so it was Blue Water White Death the Search for the Great White Shark in South Africa. I don’t know why Peter Gimbel took us to South Africa with the whaling fleet because I had already showed him the film that I’d done in South Australia in 1965. His research indicated that he should go to South Africa which, from my point of view, was fantastic because we went out with the whaling fleet and while they were killing whales our boat wasn’t doing any killing although it was a whale catcher. We were able to keep up with the whaling fleet and dive with the harpooned whales. On some occasions it ended up being a couple of hundred Oceanic sharks in and around the bleeding, dead whale - tearing chunks out of it. It was very, very dramatic. Sharks that I had no experience with before.
PF: On a totally different angle, and following the various accidents they’ve had with people drifting away on the Great Barrier Reef, should divers when they’re on the Great Barrier Reef and in difficulty, be taught to ditch tank and belt and swim back to the boat or drift on the surface and hope to be picked up? What would you do if you’d surfaced say 300 metres away from the boat in the current? …
… remainder of interview can be read in the digital on-line version available at Zinio or in the hard copy of issue December/January 2009.
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