Category: History

Victoria vs New South Wales – Interstate Spearfishing Competition

Vic Ver NSW R.MontcalmAfter nearly 10 months of planning, the first official Victoria versus New South Wales Interstate Spearfishing Competition took place at Eden on the Far South Coast of New South Wales over the Queen’s Birthday weekend in June of 1967.

Over 200 skindivers and their families from as far away as Avoca and Warrnambool in the Western Districts of Victoria and Canberra and Sydney arrived at Eden for the weekend.

Most of Saturday was spent looking over the fishing areas and preparing for the big competition.

On the Saturday night at Eden’s “Hotel Australasia” had never had such a packed beer garden in its history and I think that also went for the Hotel Eden and the Eden Fishermen’s Club.

Ross Page, of Port Hacking, Sydney, was on the loudspeaker bright and early on Sunday morning and pretty soon the camping ground was a hive of activity. Just before the word “go” was given at 8:30 a.m., we noted the sign on was 198 competitors, one of the best sign-ons for a spearfishing competition for the last couple of years. And, just to make it an extra-successful weekend, two late sign-ons brought the total to 200.

At 8:30 a.m. sharp 200 skindivers raced to boats moored off the beach and to cars and were soon scattered over 60 miles of coastline.

At 2:30 began the massive task of weighing-in nearly 3,000lb. of fish. With two weigh-in areas going flat out this was not completed till 6:30 p.m. that night.

While this was going on the organisers were also flat out working out scores and allotting the 60-70 separate prizes.

On the Sunday night we had hired the Eden picture theatre and with two of Ron Taylor’s top underwater movies were due to start at 8:00 p.m. with the presentation of prizes at interval.

The films got underway around 8:30 and once again the old town was in for a shock. Nearly 300 people packed into the theatre and by 9:00 there was standing room only.

At interval the presentation of prizes got underway and it was noted that the individual winners all had fantastic scores. Open: Robin Montcalm, 663; Junior: Rick Baker, 605; Ladies: Robyn Page, 342.

Highlights of the evening were the announcement of The Most Meritorious Fish Overall with the prize of a “Tudor Oster U/W Watch”, donated by Angus & Coote of Sydney, and the drawing of the lucky sign-on number for which the prize was a “Nikonos U/W Camera”, donated by Maxwell Photo-Optics of Melbourne and Sydney. These prizes went to Doug Trinder of Mid-South Marlins and Allan Potter of Port Hacking Penguins in that order.

After the presentation of prizes, we all settled back to the second half of the programme.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank every skindiver who travelled to Eden to compete in the competition, plus everyone who helped with the organising, plus all the generous companies and people who donated the $1,000 worth of prizes.

Report by Barry Andrewartha (Marauders Club, Victoria), Australian Skindivers Magazine July, 1967 Pg.17

Spearfishing and the USFA – NSW’s Pioneering Years

Bill Heffernan 1949 - NSW’s Pioneering Years
Bill Heffernan in a Sladen Suit and Salvus Oxygen Re-Breather taken in April of 1948 during the meeting to form the USFA in NSW’s Pioneering Years.

Indigenous Australians were skilled at spearing fish from above the water surface and ventured underwater while breathing through hollow reeds to capture water birds and turtles, but it was not until 1917 that spearfishing as we know it was introduced to Sydney by Alick Wickham. NSW’s Pioneering Years.

Alick Wickham was the son of Frank Wickham, an English sea trader who in 1875 had settled in the Solomon Islands after being shipwrecked. Frank settled on the Island of Hopeka, managing a Copra plantation. Alick’s mother was a Melanesian from the nearby settlement of Munda on the shores of Roviana lagoon.

Pacific Islanders had developed their breathhold diving skills over many centuries and certainly were spearing fish underwater long before Europeans. It is fitting therefore that our first record of spearfishing in Sydney Harbour was from a young man who was born in the Solomon’s. Alick gained fame as the person who introduced the swimming stroke which became known as the Australian Crawl and in 1918 attained international fame with a 62.7 metre world record high dive from a cliff-top tower in to the Yarra River, 6 metres higher than the roadway of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Alick remained in Sydney until 1926 when he returned to Roviana Lagoon following the death of his father.

In 1920 when Bill Heffernan was 12 years of age and living at Tamworth he began to look under the water in the Peel River. After making a spear by inserting a sharpened piece of fencing wire into a wooden stick he was successful in spearing his first fish, a catfish. Bill pioneered spearfishing around the Tuggerah Lakes entrance area commencing in 1940 and was also a designer and manufacturer of spearfishing equipment.

During 1926 16 year old Denny (David Denzel) Wells began diving around the rocky shores of Sydney Harbour wearing a pair of goggles. These were soon discarded and goggles with a single faceplate made. Upon finding that he suffered from eye squeeze a facemask was designed which incorporated a space for the nose.

Denny was very inventive, designing and making all of his spearfishing equipment. Denny was responsible for the design of the speargun trigger mechanism that is still in use in the “Undersee” range of spearguns today. It has been widely copied throughout the world.

By the time of the great depression during the 1930’s Denny had married and his wife May took up spearfishing which provided a valuable supplemental food source during this difficult time. May has the honour of being the first female spearfisher in this country.

By 1940 other spearfishers had arrived on the scene. Frank Cunliffe became interested in diving after seeing a youth wearing diving goggles. He experimented with them and finally made a single lens mask which covered the eyes and nose and gave something like normal vision underwater. He began spearfishing in 1940, spearing his first fish at Lake Conjola on the 17th March 1940. From Frank’s notes “My first catch by new method of fishing. I have a 4ft. By ¼ inch steel spear which is fired by means of a catapult arrangement. The spear can be fired about 20 feet through the water but to use it I dive down and sneak up to within 3 feet of a fish before firing. I have a greenhide belt containing 9 lbs. of lead to facilitate the ‘sneaking’ upon the fish. I can get quite close by avoiding sudden movements”.

Frank tried many different speargun designs before settling on a successful design. He applied for a patent for this and a diving mask during 1941 with the patents being granted in 1942. He began making sets of spearfishing equipment consisting of mask, weight belt and speargun which he sold for six pounds and ten shillings under the name of the “Ming” speargun outfit.

Dick Charles had become interested in spearfishing in about 1937. Using an old mirror with the silver scraped off and fitted into an old tyre tube he made his first mask and ‘opened up an entirely new world’. For a spear he bought some shark hooks, straightened them out and fixed them to an eight feet piece of wood. Dick was a convincing salesman who would try his hand at anything and had established a motor trading business in Hurstville in 1924 and also built and sold caravans.

Goff Gapp and Keith Vagg, boyhood friends had become interested in diving when seeing a party of Solomon Islanders spearfishing off Bondi during 1936, however success eluded them until one day in 1942 they saw a face mask made from a jam tin and inner tube for the first time. They made a spear from a six foot length of hardwood with a knitting needle set in one end and were finally successful in hitting, but not catching, their first fish in Clovelly Pool.

During the Second World War many servicemen had experienced duty in the Pacific Islands and had seen and been taught to spearfish by the Islanders. One such person was Don Linklater. Don had seen action on many fronts before being promoted to Lieutenant and given command of a company from the Torres Straight Light Infantry Battalion. It was in Torres Straight he was taught to dive by the Islanders and discovered an intense passion for the underwater world which was to become so much a part of his life.

In 1947 Don commenced manufacturing skindiving equipment from his Bondi home with his first product advertised as the Undersee Swimmers Mask, leading to a complaint of patent infringement by Frank Cunliffe. In December of 1949 his first speargun, the Loxin was introduced at a price of Six Pounds Ten Shillings. This speargun was so named due to its unique trigger mechanism which enabled the spear to be ‘locked’ in place.

In these early days, before the advent of flippers and snorkels, individual spearfishers were unknown to each other, developing and making their own equipment, gaining ideas from the limited publications dealing with the sport. An article in the July 1939 issue of Popular Science Magazine entitled “Human Submarine Shoots Fish with Arrows” had attracted the interest of George Davies who, with his brother Trevor, had ventured in to the shallow waters of Lake Macquarie during 1946.

Another, Jim Linquist had gained his knowledge of spearfishing during the war and upon his return to Cudgen made his own equipment and began spearfishing in the Tweed River. His spear consisted of a broom handle with a fire poker that had been sharpened to a point fastened to one end. He soon began to attract a large audience whenever he entered the water. In one session he speared 135 Luderick in less than 3 hours establishing a formidable record.

Following the 2nd World War the number of spearfishermen started to grow, and so too did the antagonism between anglers and speargunners (as they were then known).

Protest letters were being sent to the Chief Secretary’s Department and letters to daily papers calling for the banning of the sport. Finally during 1947 an incident occurred which formed the catalyst for spearfishers to band together and form the USFA.

Dick Charles and Bill Heffernan were spearfishing in the channel at the entrance to Tuggerah Lakes and had speared a few fish when they heard a Sergeant of Police calling out to them to get out of the water.  They were told they were to be arrested and to get dressed and accompany him to the Police Station. They argued there was no law to say they could not go in the water and spear fish. After much argument on both sides the old sergeant was not too sure of whether he was coming or going and in the end away he went without carrying through with his threat.

At this time they only knew two or three other spearfishers, but both agreed the only thing to do was to form an association to protect the rights of spearfishers. The problem was how to get in touch with others who were interested.

Dick had a thought that the newspapers would print anything and ‘phoned the chief-of-staff of the Sydney Morning Herald telling him that a meeting had been called for all those who were interested in spearfishing, to be held at 3 pm at Long Reef on April 4, 1948 and afterwards there would be a mass dive by over 100 spearfishermen. The Sydney Morning Herald ran this as a front page article.

When the appointed day arrived it was cold and raining. An early arrival saw the setting up of a table and a large Calico sign. Lunchtime came and it was still raining and cold and no one had arrived and they were getting a little worried.  About an hour later cars started to arrive, then more and more and they were flat out answering questions and taking names and addresses.

By 3 o’clock there were hundreds of people there and Dick Charles arose to address the crowd. He explained why they would have to form an association and band together if they wanted to continue spearfishing. It was a case of “united we survive, divided we fall”.

Amongst others to speak at the meeting were Bill Heffernan, Frank Cunliffe and Les Hawley. It was decided that the association be formed. Dick Charles was elected as president, Frank Cunliffe and Bill Heffernan as Vice Presidents and Less Hawley Secretary/Treasurer and a committee of 15 appointed. Thirty two signed up as members and the association was on its way.

The meeting then closed and about 50 men went into the shark infested waters, giving the press a field day with a few fish and a large ray being speared. Bill Heffernan stole the show by dressing in a World War two vintage shallow water diving suit. The public had never seen anything like this before and photo’s featured prominently in the following day’s news.

The first committee meeting for drafting rules and getting things underway was held at Dick Charles house at Hurstville the following week.

The “Aquamatic” an Historic Australian Speargun from the 1940’s

Aquamatic DiagramAquamatic DiagramThe brothers, George and Trevor Davies, pioneered spearfishing in the Newcastle area taking up the sport in 1946. They were certainly talented and inventive. They made facemasks from car tyre inner tubes, started the Newcastle Neptune’s Spearfishing Club, made one of Australia’s first Scuba sets and designed the Aquamatic speargun.

On new years eve of 1960 Trevor was killed in a tragic accident when, whilst filling a cylinder with air, a water trap on the compressor exploded, spraying jagged fragments of metal over a wide area.

Trevor was the inventor and designer, George the engineer. They experimented with several speargun designs and during 1948 the design principles of the Aquamatic were conceived by Trevor and then further refined by George during the next five years.

Over this period every spare minute of the brother’s spare time was put to use with exhaustively testing and refining the gun, experimenting with it until George was satisfied, proclaiming “This speargun is, without fear of contradiction, the most powerful in the world”.

The first Aquamatics produced had a two inch diameter cylinder with a one inch bore and when charged to 359 PSI of pressure contained 45 cubic inches of compressed air. Later the cylinder was changed to one made of stainless steel, one inch in diameter with a one half inch bore. This cylinder, when fully compressed by the spear contained about 1800 PSI.

The gun has an overall length of twenty two inches, with the barrel extending eighteen inches behind the handle. The gun’s barrel was made to take any one of three spear shaft sizes of either five sixteenths of an inch, three eighths of an inch or seven sixteenths of an inch in diameter. Spears were usually 54 inches (four and one half feet) long with 23 loading notches.

To load the gun the trigger is depressed and the spear, with notches facing upward, is pushed into the barrel until it contacts the piston. The lever is then raised and lowered with a pawl engaging the notches and using a ratchet action forces the spear into the cylinder.

The nose of the aquamatic has a line discharge attachment clamped to it. The line is attached to the spear and wound around the rear movable arm and forward to the fixed arm. This is repeated several times with the other end of the line terminating at a reel.

The air in the cylinder lasts indefinitely. The gun has been used continuously for twelve months without any loss of pressure. When fired there is no explosion underwater and no discharge of bubbles as in a CO2 gun. It has tremendous power, propelling a spear for 350 ft out of the water. Its spear, with the head removed, can penetrate two inches of seasoned hardwood.

George considered the main essentials for a speargun were power, accuracy, manoeuvrability, balance, reliability and durability and believed the Aquamatic encompassed all of these traits.

Fifty to sixty Aquamatics were made, with most being sold in and around the Newcastle area. Dick Charles, the founder of the USFA bought one and one was sent to America, however it was never paid for, the purchaser denying ever receiving it. Later a similar gun was produced and sold in the USA as the “Airmatic”.

Alec ‘Curly’ Alliman

The Sydney Metropolitan Zone’s Alliman Shield competition is named in honour of Alec 'Curly' Alliman.

Curly Alliman, the 1955 NSW Spearfishing Champion, was attending the USFA outing at Malabar on March 11th 1956 and while wearing Scuba was walking up the hill behind the Anzac Rifle Range when he collapsed and died of a heart attack. He was only 26 and had recently passed a medical prior to enlisting in the army.

The following tribute was published in the Australian Skindiving and Spearfishing Digest:-

IN MEMORIAM

Ben Cropp (Left) with Alec 'Curly' Alliman (Right)
Ben Cropp (Left) with Alec 'Curly' Alliman (Right)

Curly Alliman (Right) with Ben Cropp (Left)

Whatever our colour, creed or sport, somewhere, sometime we must all leave this world. That is inevitable.

When a man reaches his six score and 10 he is prepared to go, but when it strikes a healthy, happy-go-lucky club mate of 26, there seems a tragic waste. “Curly” Alliman was a club mate in every respect of the word, a good spearman and aqualunger, ready to lend a hand when work was to be done.

Always smiling, Curly’s passing is a big loss to his friends and club.

The first heat for the “Curly” Alliman Memorial Trophy was held on Sunday 8th July 1956 at Bilgola.

It attracted 64 entries with all clubs represented, but with only three feet visibility only four fish were weighed-in, two small groper, one drummer and a Sergeant Baker.

The newly formed St. George club was declared the winner with D. Rowlands 1st with 20 points and N. Shaw 2nd with 6 points.

A meeting following the weigh in confirmed the following rules to apply for future Alliman Trophy competitions:-

  1. Staring time shall be from 10AM – finishing time 2PM.
  2. That the next seven monthly meetings will be conducted by the Branch Club’s Captains, who with their committees, will set down the programme for the day and attend to all amenities etc.
    The August Day Outing will be in the hands of “Parramatta”.
  3. Boundaries. No boundaries for monthly competitions, except State Championships.

Dick Charles – Founder & first president of the USFA

Australian Junior Spearfishing Champion Gary Hunter and Dick Charles Tallebudgera Qld 1958 - Image supplied by Ron Taylor
Australian Junior Spearfishing Champion Gary Hunter and Dick Charles Tallebudgera Qld 1958 - Image supplied by Ron Taylor

With his ever present yachting cap perched jauntily atop his balding head, burly 5 feet 11 inches tall, hazel – eyed Dick Charles was an imposing larger than life character.

Richard Stanley (Dick) Charles was the youngest son of Laura and Edward, a master builder and was born in England at Moseley Worcester on April 23rd 1901. The family moved to Canada and Mexico before settling in Hobart during 1913. Dick was successful in obtaining an apprenticeship as a fitter and turner with the IXL Jam and Sauce company and went on to become an aircraft mechanic, being employed as a ground engineer with the Australian Aircraft Engineering Co. at Mascot, obtaining licence no. 15. During 1923 he married Ruth Kelly and in 1924 they moved to Hurstville where he established a motor trading business.

In 1927 he was a founder of the St. George Motor Boat Club. Having a need for speed he built his own boat which he named the 'Eagle'. Powered by a 360 hp Rolls Royce aircraft motor it could attain a speed of 89 mph and for a time held the record as the fastest boat in Australia.

In 1937 he began to manufacture and sell caravans from premises in McEvoy street Alexandria. Named the “Charlavan” it was Australia’s first pop – top van (Australian patent no. 3587) and was produced in 3 models, the Charlavan Junior for 67 pounds, the Charlavan Senior for 95 pounds and the Charlavan Senior Deluxe for 120 pounds.

During World War 2 he joined the National Emergency Service and became chief instructor at the Hurstville branch. He heard that the Australian Government was looking for inventions to assist the war effort, so he invented a special pulley system which was used for carrying injured soldiers down the Owen-Stanley Ranges of New Guinea.

Dick Charles1

During his time with the NES he was informed that Vaucluse Council was in need of cliff rescue apparatus to be used by the Police Rescue Squad to retrieve bodies from the bottom of the Gap.

He drew up plans for a system and was asked to construct it which he did, building it at Hurstville. It was found to be satisfactory and put into use. The apparatus was later improved by Hurstville Council Engineer, Mr. Webster.

It was during 1937 while on a camping holiday to Lake Conjola that Dick’s interest in spearfishing was born. He described it in these words:

I had been out hand fishing in my 10ft dinghy. Coming into the bank, I could see fish darting all over the place – mostly blackfish. On impulse, I got into the water, but as every skin diver knows, you can't see much with the naked eye.

This set me thinking; you can see alright when you look through the sides of a fish tank, so if you looked through a piece of glass, kept water out of your eyes, you should be able to see under water.

You know what it’s like when you're away camping, fellas! Something new gets into your bonnet and you can't rest until you try it out.

Dick Charles2By using a round piece of glass, in fact an old mirror with the silver scraped off, fitted into an old tyre tube, I made my first mask and, at the same time opened up an entirely new world to me. I bet all of you got a great thrill out of your first sight underwater! I know I did.

There were all the big niggers swimming about, getting me excited. I grabbed an oar from the boat and tried to stun one underwater. How silly can you get!

Next, I sharpened a six feet stick and prodded at them. I actually hit one, to my amazement, but didn't get it.

We were due at Burrill Lakes the next day, so we packed our gear and, on the way down, I bought some shark hooks, straightened them out and fixed them on an eight feet piece of wood. There were always plenty of fish under the bridge at Burrill, so I went down after them. I got one or two, but it was always a job to stay down because I was too buoyant”.

Dave Rowling described Dicks first attempt at breathing underwater “Snorkels were unheard of and Dick tried one memorable day at Minnamurra to put a full face contraption on with an air hose attached to a free floating 4 gallon kerosene tin and with a typical ‘she’s apples fellas’ jumped off Minnamurra rail bridge.

It was after that day he became aware it is impossible to suck air down 12 to 15 feet underwater. With 30lb. lead round the middle and safety catches completely unheard of, it was a very bulgy – eyed, purple faced Dick some two minutes later who clawed himself to the mangrove edges'.Dick Charles3

At the time Dick began spearfishing there were very few others, but as the numbers slowly grew, so did the complaints and harassment. The angling clubs were up against us and everywhere they went spearfishers were met with a hostile attitude. Finally the last straw came when Dick Charles and Bill Heffernan were spearfishing in the channel at the entrance to Tuggerah Lakes. Hearing a loud voice yelling at them they looked up to find it was the local sergeant of police telling them to get out. They were then told they were being arrested and to get dressed before being taken to the police station. Then the arguments started. Why were they being arrested? Where was the law to say they could not go in the water? Where was the law that they could not spear fish? After quite a lot of argument on both sides the old sergeant didn’t know if he was coming or going and in the end away he went.

The pair then agreed they will have to do something or they will be stopped altogether and the only thing to do would be to form an association to regulate the sport properly and to protect our rights. At the time they only knew two or three other spearfishermen between them.

On going home Dick pondered the situation and then ‘phoned the chief of staff of one of the Sunday papers and told him that a meeting had been called for all those who were interested in spearfishing to be held at 3 pm at Long Reef on April 4, 1948, for the purpose of forming an association. Afterwards there would be a mass dive of over 100 spearmen. The newspaper gave the story a run on their front page.

When the day arrived it was cold and showery and Dick remarked “it’ll be a bit funny if no one turns up”. They arrived early and set up a table and erected a calico sign. Lunch time came and went and it was still raining and no one had turned up. About an hour later cars began to arrive and then more and more cars. By three O'clock there were hundreds of people there and Dick got up and addressed the crowd, telling them why we would have to form an association and band together if we wanted to continue spearfishing. It was a case of “United we survive ... divided we fall.”

After a few others spoke it was decided to form the association with Dick Charles being elected the president, Frank Cunliffe and Bill Heffernan vice presidents and Les Hawley Secretary-treasurer. A committee of 15 was also appointed. The meeting was then closed so that about 50 men could brave the shark infested waters. Bill Heffernan created quite a bit of interest with a shallow water diving suit as the public had never seen anything like this before, a large ray was speared and the news boys were having a field day. Everyone had a good time, the association was off to a good start and the newspapers played it up. Dick was well pleased with the way things turned out.

Dick Charles4Dick continued to guide the association through its formative years and was president from 1948 to 1953 when he organised the first Australian Spearfishing Championships at Tweed Heads that same year. He donated a perpetual trophy for the event and to this day it still attracts keen competition from Australia’s best.

During the championships Dick Charles chaired a meeting to form the USFA of Australia with representatives from other states. Dick was elected the first President and Dick Barton the first Secretary.

Also during 1953 concerned about the near drowning and tragic deaths of skindivers Dick announced at a USFA meeting that he was working on a device to make spearfishing safer.

Shortly afterwards tragedy struck when at Harbord on Saturday 5th September 1953 a very popular USFA member Merv Caulfield got into difficulties while spearfishing and lost his life. Two others also got into trouble while trying to assist and only just managed to make it to shore. Merv left behind a young wife and infant son.

By October Dick’s device was at the point of going into full production and an advertisement of the time announced “The Dick Charles Safety Belt has been specifically designed for all spearmen and anglers who at times are in danger of losing their lives. A pull of the trigger and you float to the surface. Easy to wear you don’t know you have it on. All belts fitted with shark repellent. The first 500 belts should be ready end of October”.

The Safety Belt was of plastic construction and worn around the waist. It was inflated by triggering a small CO2 cartridge and had a pocket that contained a shark repellent dye of copper sulphate.

During its production it was credited with saving 20 lives and assisting many more in difficulty. Worried about its plastic construction Dick discontinued production, but re-introduced it during 1960 this time made from “the best insertion rubber money can buy’.

Dick withdrew from active involvement after a few years, but always maintained his interest. He suffered a fatal heart attack in July of 1994 and was cremated at Woronora Crematorium.

His contribution will be long remembered.