All posts by David Birch

Wally Gibbins

A touching presentation speech for the Wally Gibbins Trophy read by David Birch at the 2015 USFA Awards night.

Walter Hammond Gibbins was born January 16th 1930 in Sydney. In the early 1940s he harpooned leatherjackets from the jetties of Sydney Harbour to feed his family before entering the water with his  homemade mask, snorkel, belts, a scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) system and speargun to chase bigger game so successfully that most speargun manufacturers use his speargun design even today.

Wally Gibbins - 68lb (30.8kg) Fairy Bower 1952
Wally Gibbins - 68lb (30.8kg) Fairy Bower 1952

Wally’s adventurous aquatic life was often compared to the leading French marine explorer Jacques Cousteau. He was a pioneer diver who spent thousands of hours exploring fish, shells and underwater salvage sites. He filmed many of this exploits for TV or films along with a team of high-profile names, including Ben Cropp and Ron and Valerie Taylor. Wally pioneered the trigger mechanism still used today in many guns.

He caught his first shark, a wobbegong, at Middle Head in 1947, and shot and landed the first man-eating shark in Australia - a bronze whaler in 1950. The capture of a shark by a skindiver (rather than a man being caught and eaten by a shark) created headline news. He also caught with a spear a 400-kilogram tiger shark at Sykes Reef near Heron Island in 1963.

In 1948 he helped form the Underwater Skindivers and Fishermen's Association at Long Reef , winning spearfishing competitions for the next 10 years, as well as the 1952 contest between anglers and spearmen. Wally single handedly caught more fish than all 37 anglers who had fished from the shore or boats. The rest of the spearos that turned up that day, may as well have stayed at home! Continue reading Wally Gibbins

We’ve sunk the Boat!

It was New Years Eve in 1995 when Mark Colys and Zane O’Brien phoned me up. They were camped at Park Beach Caravan Park, Coffs Harbour, for their annual holidays with family. Mark and Zane were keen for a dive on New Years Day.

I had met Mark down at the National Titles in Eden in 1994, one year earlier (which he won).  It was over 1,000kms drive each way to the Aussie Championships, so I talked my good mate Wally Gibbins from Sawtell into accompanying me for some companionship.

I was living at Sandy Beach, NSW, and the long drive to Eden was one never to be forgotten with Wally as Co-pilot, and Ted Lehman from Sydney also. The stories that Wally told us in great detail of his adventures in the Solomon Islands - how he salvaged all the scrap bronze propellers he could from wartime wrecks, to how he and the natives collected tons of both live and dead ammunition from the sea floor for sale – seemed to be both adrenalin filled, and endless. Wally was to spear-fishing, what Zane Grey was to game-fishing – a pioneer sportsman, avid storyteller, and adventurer the likes of which we may never see again on the planet. Continue reading We’ve sunk the Boat!