Tag Archives: Spearfishing History in the 1940s

Old Sport – New Method – Jan 1949

Old Sport

Fishing by spears is an ancient method, but they've really brought it up to date in the last few years, with the use of guns to propel the spears.

So much so that underwater fishing is now in the organised sport class, with a rapidly growing list of followers and a stiffening opposition from the orthodox rod and line anglers, who regard the practice as unsportsmanlike.

The Underwater Spearfishing Association of N.S.W., formed last summer, now conducts regular outings.

Equipment for the sport varies. The most popular consists of a gun, spear, diving mask, and a weighted belt, at a total cost of about five pounds. Other outfits are more complicated – and expensive.

The most widely used gun has a barrel about nine inches long, to which is attached a strong rubber band in the form of a loop, and a shoulder piece to steady the gun. The spear, of quarter-inch stainless steel, has two moveable barbs. The top barb opens at right-angles after the fish has been speared, to prevent it slipping off the end. The lower barb opens if the fish slips down the spear.

The rubber mask has a glass oval front, and covers the eyes and nose but leaves the mouth free for breathing.

The webbing belt has about 5lb. lead attached to steady the spearfisher against currents and to enable him to get to the bottom quickly.

From: A.M. for January, 1949 Pg. 58

Formation of Speargun Fishing Association

March 1948

Dear Sir,
Many followers of this popular sport are concerned that as a result of the general hostility and organised protests by line fishermen, the Fisheries Department may be obliged to add to the restrictions already existing at Tuggerah Lakes and at other places.
A recent deputation of speargunners to that Department at which it was disclosed that a Speargun Association was contemplated was favourably received and it could be inferred there might be some official recognition of our interests.
It has been arranged to hold an informal meeting of all interested in the formation of an Association at Long Reef, Collaroy, at 2.30 p.m. on Sunday, April 4th. Please invite every speargunner known to you to attend and incidentally to bring his gear as there is plenty of room and fish and the tide will be O.K.
The rendezvous will be in front of the Long Reef Golf Club House premises. We shall be glad to learn of your intention to attend or otherwise.

Yours Sincerely,
F.M. CUNLIFFE
57 Lagoon Street, Narrabeen

R. CHARLES
47 The Avenue, Hurstville

Spearmen Went In After the Fish

1948 5th April

Spearmen Went In After the Fish
Spear fishermen formed an association yesterday to educate the public in the sport and then gave a demonstration at Long Reef to show how they caught fish.

Mr. Dick Charles, of Hurstville, who is president of the new body – the Underwater Spear Fishermen’s Association of New South Wales – told the meeting the public did not understand spear fishing.
He told members they were in danger of having it banned. For this reason the association was being formed.

About 50 enthusiasts expressed willingness to join.

Mr. Andy Armstrong of Neilsen Park, last week annoyed an orthodox fisherman by his success with the spear and received a blow on the head from the butt of the rod. He agreed that the interests of spearmen must be protected.

About 40 members gave the demonstration. Conditions were cold and overcast, but the spearmen caught about 30 fish up to 4 ib. in weight. They included red carp, black-fish, morwong and one big stingray, almost three feet across, which was earlier thought to be a shark.
The spearmen, watched by hundreds of spectators, were not deterred. “See you later if a shark doesn’t see me first,” was one characteristic comment as the took to the water.

All types of spears were used from a simple barbed rod with bamboo handle, with which Mr. Don Linklater, of Bondi, landed a fish within a few minutes, to elaborate spring guns like that of Mr. Charles.
Most of the fishermen wore face masks and held their breath while submerging for short periods.

Others had more elaborate apparatus, including small rubber floats to which tubes were attached, carrying air down to spearmen below the surface.

One man wore a “frogman’s suit” of rubber, with a diving helmet and air tube which enabled him to stay below indefinitely.

Mr. Jack Egan of Potts Point speared the stingray, using a rubber-powered sprin-gun.

From: Sydney Morning Herald Mon. 5th April 1948

USFA of NSW Foundation Members

April 1948

JOE BROMWICH
RICHARD S. CHARLES
RON CLISSOLD
NEVILLE COOK
FRANK CUNLIFFE
A. DE GRUEN
BRUCE DIXON
TIM EALEY
JACK EGAN
JIM FERGUSON
RALPH FLEMING
LES GLEESON
ALLAN GREEN
TERRY HAGLEY
LES HAWLEY
BILL HEFFERNAN
G. JEFFREY
DON LINKLATER
LOIS LINKLATER
ROLLO MOORE
COL MYLES
GEORGE OWERS
NOEL PETTIFER
D. PHIBBS
J. PHIBBS
B. ROGERS
J. SHAFFRAN
GEORGE SHEEN
DENNY WELLS
M. WELLS
L. WILSON
R. WISE

Dare – Devil Adventure: A Blast from the Past

This storey reprinted from the June 1949 issue of “Outdoors and Fishing” magazine documents the first recorded outing by spearfishers to Jibbon Point on Port Hackings southern headland. At this time fins were unknown in Australia. My how things have changed.

Spearfishing has caught the imagination of the adventure – loving Australian and the ever increasing membership of the Underwater Spearfisherman’s Association of NSW is indicative of the growth of this sport.

To many who are familiar with the formation of the rocky foreshores along the coast, the task the spearmen have set themselves in seeking this sport under the ledges and among the caves in the reefs, leaves the average angler aghast at the daring and adventurous spirit of these aquatic dare – devils.

It would be foolish to ignore the element of danger in respect of this sport and, while the spearfisherman may take every precaution against attack, it is agreed that the Wobbegong shark is a prevalent danger. Quoting from “The Fishes of Australia” by G.P. Whitley, F.R.Z.S. this shark is described as follows, ‘The Wobbegong Shark, or carpet shark, is noted for the beautiful colour patterns of its skin, which is ornamented with symmetrical designs in brown and greys. They live among weed – covered rocks where they feed on whatever swims their way and generally lie dormant on the bottom.

They have long, sharp teeth and curious weed – like outgrowths around their mouths. Unless by chance a wader’s foot or hand comes within reach, these sharks are not dangerous to man.”

Despite the hazards attached to this form of fishing, three members of the spear fishing fraternity recently made an investigation of the rocky foreshores of Jibbon Head.

One of the party, Ron Clissold, dived into eight feet of water and, in the process of investigation, found himself sharing the vicinity with a huge Wobbegong shark. Ron surfaced, called his companions and a plan of action was decided.

David Rawling was sent down to reconnoitre the proposed scene of battle. The Wobbegong was still in his lair and after further discussion with John McColl, the third member of the trio, they decided to attack in force. With spearguns loaded, the daring trio prepared to go below and engage the shark. Adjustments to belts and knives were made in case of urgent need and an inspection of the surrounding reef was made in readiness for the possibility of a quick escape if required.

Prepared for the task ahead, the lads went down. Approaching the lair with care the trio spread out to give each other cover. The baleful eyes of the shark watched the swimmers with a calculating gaze that boded ill for careless mistakes; and the hunters were on the alert for the sudden rush that might come at any minute.

The first spear flashed through the water and found its mark in the tough hide of the shark, followed by two more as the guns were brought into action. The force of the spears as they entered the body caused the shark to be dislodged from its position, but it quickly regained its place ready to charge. The spearmen surfaced for air, keeping a sharp lookout for attack from below as they regained their breath. Ready for a renewal of the hunt, David went down and approached the wounded shark with caution.

The blood from its wounds misted the water with a thin film of red as the hunter grasped the spears in an effort to force the shark away, but it charged him as he stood on the uneven sea bed. With the threshing shark fighting against his grip on the spears, David saw his mates enter the fight.

A tough battle ensued and the shark was finally forced into shallow water and held down on a ledge three feet under the surface with the help of David pushing from below. With super – human effort their quarry was finally manoeuvred on to the shore.

The estimated weight of the “catch” was in the vicinity of two hundred pounds while its length was seven feet six inches. The danger in this episode can be fully appreciated by the following extract from Mr. Whitley’s book:

“As long ago as 1789, Phillip wrote of the Wobbegong in his ‘Voyage to Botany Bay’ , he stated; ‘this fish was met with in Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, by Lieutenant Watts and is supposed to be as voracious as any of the genus, in proportion to its size; for having lain on the deck for two hours, seemingly quiet, on Mr. Watts’ dog passing by, the shark sprung upon it with all the ferocity imaginable, and seized it by the leg; nor could the dog have disengaged itself had not the people near at hand come to its assistance ...’ “

The spear fishermen of Australia will no doubt continue their adventures, and let us hope that only pleasure will be the result.

The ‘Ming Diving Mask’

ming mask patent drawingFrank Cunliffe of Waverley NSW applied for a patent for a diving mask in June of 1941, ‘for use for short periods by trochus, pearl and beche de mer divers and also for use in fish spearing and generally seeing underwater as in the location of submerged objects’. The patent was granted on 7th April 1942 (Australian Patent No 114,992).

According to the patent document ‘This invention has been specifically devised to provide a simple and handy diving mask which is adapted to be slipped in place on the face and covers an area thereof embracing the eyes and nose and is suited for seeing things underwater in a clear and comfortable manner as long as the diver can stay down without breathing, also it is of cheap and durable construction’.

Frank Cunliffe became interested in diving after seeing a youth wearing diving goggles, which he borrowed and tried out. He experimented with goggles 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 and tried out many different speargun designs before settling on a successful model, which he also patented. He began making sets of spearfishing equipment consisting of a mask, weight belt and speargun which he sold for six pounds and ten shillings.