Aquacades 1949

Aquacades 1949 letter with Bill Heffernan (left) & possibly George Sheen (right)
Aquacades 1949 letter with Bill Heffernan (left) & possibly George Sheen (right)

Sydney will have its first close — up public View of those intrepid sportsmen, the spear— fishermen, at tonight’s premier in North Sydney Olympic Pool of the Aquacades of 1949. They’ll use a variety of equipment, including the famous Salvus outfit which was used by Allied Navy personnel in the recent hostilities for attaching mines to the hulls of enemy ships.

Three different types of spear — guns will be used (range  underwater 40ft.).

One of the experts who’ll be demonstrating tonight is sportsman Bill Heffernan, of Tuggerah, who averages a meagre 451b. of fish daily! The other day before he came down to rehearse for the aquacades he took his gun and nabbed a l6lb. flathead in six feet of water.

The Salvus outfit, incidentally, is being bought up fairly extensively by councils for jobs ranging from harbour diving to the cleaning of swimming pools. It allows the wearer to remain under water at a depth of 30 feet for up to 40 minutes. It’s operated by oxygen bottles strapped beneath the arms.

Sunday 12th January 1949

Diving into Serious Danger

Despite warnings on hyperventilation given by spearfishing clubs and their state association, the NSW Underwater Federation, near drowning from the practice still occur in spearfishing contests.

After making six deep dives during the Australian Spearfishing Championships at Ulladulla last Christmas, Ray Johnson, 18, of Kingsford, hyperventilated for about 45 seconds before making a seventh descent.

He swam down about 70ft. As the fish were “Spooking” – shying out of range – he decided to explore a cave, a rash act at that depth.

“I saw something at the back of the cave and tried to get a better look,” Johnson recalls “but realised I had been down too long”. Continue reading Diving into Serious Danger

Mel Brown – A true gentleman and custodian

Spearfishing’s greatest historical custodian and true gentleman, Mel Brown, has been honoured and humbled by his inclusion on this year’s Australia Day Honours List.

Mel was made a member of the Order of Australia for his service to recreational fishing through an extensive range of representative and advisory roles.

Mel Brown with a Yellow-tail Kingfish in 1975
Mel Brown with a Yellow-tail Kingfish in 1975

The purpose of the Order of Australia is to recognise, by national honour, those who have made outstanding contributions that benefit their communities, and ultimately our country.

The second purpose of the Order of Australia is that it serves to define, encourage and reinforce community standards, national aspirations and ideals by acknowledging actions and achievements and thereby identifying role models at all levels and in all spheres of the community.

The Underwater Skindivers and Fisherman’s Association (USFA) are extremely excited and proud of Mel’s exceptional achievement.

USFA President, Peter Saunders, was especially proud saying, “There is no one more deserving of this national recognition than Mel.  The things he has done for spearfishing and the hours he has put into this sport are just phenomenal.  He is a true gentleman and legend.”

Mel first began spearfishing in 1962 at 18 years of age.  Over the last 53 years he has held numerous vital roles within spearfishing and government bodies.

His first ever dive was on the south coast of NSW at Bulli Point, just off the rock pools.  He affectionately remembers shooting his first fish, a Rock Cale, with his trusty 2-piece brass hand spear.  He then upgraded a few years later to a telescopic model with which he was able to secure fish up to 10kg.  “After losing a few 20kg Kingfish,” he chuckles, “I thought it was time to upgrade.  My first gun was and Undersea Bantam.  I am still using a gun almost as old as that now.”

Mel began his representative duties as USFA Minutes Secretary in 1971, before moving on to other roles such as Treasurer.  He was there when the USFA changed to the NSW Underwater Federation and then again to the AUF NSW Branch.  Mel is now USFA Historian and is Australia’s greatest custodian of spearfishing history.  He has all of the original minutes, magazines, photos, t-shirts, equipment catalogues and documents dating back to April 1948 when Australian Spearfishing first took shape and the USFA was formed.  His records continue on to include the formation of the AUF in the following years up until present day, making for a rich collection of our spearfishing history in Australia.  He also owns what could easily be described as the largest collection of spearguns and early diving equipment ever seen in Australia, which he often takes to displays and events around the country.

In recent years Mel has begun the arduous process of digitising these records for future generations and uploading them to the USFA website.

Mel has been holding positions and helping spearfishing for 44 years and would be one of our longest serving workers.

“Things have changed a lot since those first days”, Mel recalls, “back then everything was written out by hand and then later transferred onto a typewriter.  We then used a Gestetner machine, which was a manual printing press of sorts, using paper stencils.”  “You might run off 50 copies and then they would have to be mailed out to the clubs and executives.  It is much easier today.  I can just send an email.”

When asked how he found the time to get all this done Mel confessed, “I was fortunate to work nightshift a the mines where I was an Electrician.  I’d get on top of my work then duck off to a quiet corner to attend to spearfishing matters.”

It is not practical to list all of the positions that Mel has held over the years and the representative and advisory bodies that he has been a part of.  However, of important significance some of his roles included:  the Advisory Council on Recreational Fishing, NSW DPI (1991 – 2006); Jervis Bay Marine Park Advisory Committee (1998 – 2003); Abalone Management Task Force (1994 – 2002); Grey Nurse Shark Recovery Team.

It was, however, his role on the Rock Lobster Management Advisory Committee (1995 – 2001) that Mel feels he did his proudest work.  Today’s Rock Lobster fishery is thriving and is in the best condition seen for decades.  Mel explained that back when he first joined the committee “the fishery was not doing very well at all.”

“There was no maximum size limit and the minimum size was far too small.  Even today it is still a little small.  They don’t really breed until they are about 2kg in size.  I’d like to see the minimum size increased. However, by us introducing the maximum size limit to protect the breeders and through the success of other management strategies we have seen a positive result.”

Mel Brown with a Cobia in 1975
Mel Brown with a Cobia in 1975

Further to this Mel recounted that “back then the ‘black market’ was out of control and the commercial fisherman had no real controls in place.  Through the committee we established protocols on the minimum/maximum size limits and introduced tagging and quota systems for the commercial lobster fishermen.”  “There was a lot of politics involved back then”, “They were going to close the recreational catch altogether”.   “It is definitely a pleasing and positive outcome that I am proud to have been a part of, especially considering I was the first ever person from a recreational fishing background to be appointed to a Commercial Fisheries Management Committee.”

When asked what he saw as the most critical issue facing today’s spearfishers, Mel indicated that “access issues and Marine Parks were probably our biggest threats” and that “education and the club systems” were our best defences available.

Over the next 5 – 10 years Mel would like to see “strong leadership in both, working with government departments and in running the USFA”.

“I am very pleased to have received this recognition.  To have spearfishing as a whole recognised nationally in such a positive light is just fantastic.  There are a lot of hard working and well deserving candidates.  It is very overwhelming yet satisfying in a humbling way.”

This level of commitment and effort for so many years comes at a personal and family sacrifice at times.  The USFA would also like to acknowledge and thank Mel’s ever supportive wife, Roslyn, for her enduring support throughout the years.

Mel is currently working towards gaining some federal support to realise his dream of truly documenting Australia’s spearfishing and diving history.  He would like to setup a diving museum and have all of his records professionally digitised and catalogued along with all his early spearfishing and scuba diving equipment displayed for all to see and enjoy.  “It would be a terrific thing.  It is important to know your sport.  To know where we have come from and how it progressed.”

“It was not that long ago that spearfishers were wearing jumpers to keep warm and making masks out of truck inner tube tyres and glass.”

“There has been such a dramatic technological development in materials and manufacturing.  It really is marvellous”.

On behalf of all spearfishers, the USFA would again like to congratulate Mel on his national recognition.  It is truly exciting and satisfying to see his dedication rewarded.

He is indeed a true gentleman and legend of this sport

Peter Walsh

USFA Vice President

The Underwater Scene

1951 January

An exploration of the underwater scene answers many queries for anglers. The old adage “fish are where you find them” is undoubtedly true, particularly when you are looking for them in your own element.

Whether it be an angler or an underwater spear fisherman, the movement of fish is of intense interest. Many observers of both methods of taking fish have seen fish captured from what has often been considered barren area. This, naturally, has stimulated interest of anglers and spearmen alike.

The most interesting aspect of being an angler-cum-spearman is that one has the opportunity of observing all the interesting underwater movements of the fish for which one angles from above.

This, in itself, must interest the angler who has never had the opportunity of working under-water.

Having spent the past 20 years fishing with rod and line for drummer and luderick, I feel I can speak with some confidence. As a keen angler, I had often fished a locality where it was customary to catch reasonable quantities of these species and disregard the possibility of fishing in less inviting places.

The Underwater Scene

Like most rock fishermen, I considered the surge and wash in the vicinity of reefs, etc., most likely places to fish successfully. Undoubtedly, fishing in such positions does produce the desired results, but my activities as a spear fisherman has given me the opportunity to explore the fishing grounds with almost a fish’s eye.

This, coupled with my unabated interest in angling, has completely re-educated me, regarding the possibility of catching fish in various places along the foreshores. Places where an attractive “cabbage” or “weed” bait would appear to be of little purpose, now suggest more than just a mere possibility. As a rod-and-line man, I would have by-passed the calmer water. As a spear fisherman, I see extensive schools of luderick feeding in places where, as an angler, I would never have imagined them to be feeding.

On a rising tide at dusk in both calm and milky surging water, I have seen drummer willing to rise to floating food. Often, when below the surface, I have felt confident that a bread bait used in such positions would be a positive.

Places such as this can be shown to any keen drummer angler by an experienced spear fisherman.

Many anglers, owing to physical limitations, cannot be expected to take an active interest in underwater spear fishing. But, would not such information be of value to them?

Fishing spots are a subject of much discussion among anglers, particularly rock hoppers. A glimpse of them through the goggles would end many arguments.

Fish habitats and movements beneath the water are of interest to line and spear fishermen alike.

The drummer, or “pig” (that is, the black gentleman), are about our most common sight underwater. The smaller fellows play in a group of often a hundred or more, but the bigger fish are much more scattered. The “pig” is essentially a curious fish, and its swallow-like movements make it hard to target, except for the experienced.

Even then the shot is a moving one, and there is no greater fighter on spear or hook.

The luderick, another “gorilla” (to become zoological) is good to eat and good to hunt. Occurring mostly in schools, our striped friend is always a wary target and yet has the innate flightiness of his species.

To quote the old hand at this art of spear fishing, one Denny Wells, “There is nothing more exasperating or exhausting than looking for a shot in a flighty school of niggers.”

Red morwong (or red carp) are fascinating rock dwellers. Many a bream angler, hooking “the biggest bream of the night,” has been disappointed to find either his gear busted up or has dragged a morwong from the rocky bed.

The red morwong is relatively easy prey for the spearman. His fighting efficiency when hooked or speared is unquestionable. The approach to him, as an underwater intruder, has two aspects: Firstly, the morwong is undoubtedly a most stately fish. To most, he appears as some proud stallion. He has a lofty air of almost studied indifference to his surroundings. His sheeplike stupidity makes him a comparatively easy target.

As a second consideration, the morwong is an excellent table fish, combining the taste of blackfish and bream.

The black bream is a fish that has always had the respect of the light-line angler.

The keen night breamer, with his insistence on quiet, no lights, and his endless theories on when and how to “hit” a biting bream, is an interesting man.

A visit to the black bream under water would surprise him. Fishing among the boulders, the spearman often comes upon a school of feeding bream. They will never stay around as long as the luderick but their timidity is not so acute as the line angler would suppose. The bigger ones are more wary, but quite a few fall to the spearman’s steel.

The big “blue” – the famous and beautiful groper of the N.S.W. coast – is the spearman’s ambition. Experienced spearmen never take a shot unless reasonably certain of mortally wounding the big fellow. His initial rush is so powerful that 150lb. nylon behaves like cotton under the strain.

The loss of a spear and expensive headwear is a consideration, but wounding and loss of such a large creature is something that the humane fisherman abhors.

The blue groper is often found in quite shallow waters and near a “wash.” He becomes obviously excited upon being approached and his tiny pectoral fins flutter in agitation. A ‘
“blue” will either move rapidly off on sight, or will twist and move in an agitated manner in much the same area, giving the spearman a chance for a breath and a shot.

Fast-moving fishes, such as salmon, kingfish and mulloway, are infrequent catches for the underwater man. A chance school or odd individuals give an occasional opportunity for a shot.

The ‘rays are fearsome objects seen underwater. Their lazy, rippling swimming action and their batlike heads create a rather awesome atmosphere. They are embarrassingly friendly at times and their presence is not welcome, particularly when a glimpse is caught of the ratlike tail, with its enormous barbs.

On one occasion I saw one of these “Army blankets” sink over a wounded luderick and then move on its rippling way leaving no trace of the poor “nigger.”

A lot is heard of the carpet shark or wobbegong. Being a nocturnal feeder, he is seen most often towards dusk. He is a lazy-looking, ugly creature, but capable of terrific speed if scared or on the hunt. This can be proven by the fact that we have found remains of the speedy salmon in the stomachs of some of them.

As a personal theory, I feel that “wobbies” become more active and antagonistic in early summer. Most stories of definite attacks on spearmen have occurred during this part of the year.

Ron Ware, a prominent spearman and sworn “wobbie” enemy was recently bitten on the foot by a large member of this species. Only for the fact that he wore leather shoes at the time, I am sure the outcome would not have been so uneventful. Even so, the shape of a “wobbie’s” dentition, in deep puncture marks, is not a pleasant reminder of his potentialities as an underwater menace.

Spearmen do not disturb fish to the disadvantage of the line angler. For three winters now, I have taken nigger gear and speargun to Pussycat Bay, at La Perouse. There, in rough, southerly weather, we search the washes for luderick, bag a few with the gun and, when the cold beats us, we warm up at a fire, rig the rods, and fish in the same place with good results.

All spearmen return time after time to their favourite fishing spots. Even a break of half an hour between “dips” is enough to allow the fish to return and continue their feeding and usual habits.

Often a spearman will notice that a fish is most agitated and apprehensive when between a rocky projection from the seabed and the hunter. A fish is always a less flighty target when not hemmed in. This is because all fish have a lateral line. This line starts at the operculum. Or gill opening, and runs along the thicker part of the body, curving down to its end short of the tail or caudal fin. It is in effect the fish’s radar mechanism. J.R. Norman, in his excellent work “A history of Fishes,” says: “A lateral line system has been generally regarded as the seat of a sense akin to feeling, but it would perhaps be more accurate to describe this sense as combining the qualities of hearing and touch.”

The lateral line is a concentration of nerve endings that convey sounds and vibrations to the fish’s brain.

Dr. Barton, one of the world’s leading ichthyologists, marvels at a fish’s ability to dash about a pool without injury. . . .”One cannot but admire the marvellous muscular response, the extraordinary rapidity of co-ordination of the body of the fish to the varying stimulation on the lateral line sense on one or other side of the body.”

So it must be stressed to the spearman-learner that quiet and lack of hurry are essentials in good hunting. One’s muscular contractions, even heart beats under stress in quiet waters, are a warning signal to perturbed fish.

This is but a brief resume of fish movements under water, but constant observation by spear fishermen will provide invaluable information, not only for spearmen but for anglers, too.

So much more can be said on this subject. Every phase of it could be enlarged and expanded, which only goes to show that fishing is not just a matter of baiting a hook or loading a speargun, but full of enormous detail and endless interest.

Let us not count our success by the number of fish we bring home. Let us appreciate the relaxation, the friendships, and the wealth of interesting detail that those magic words “Comin’ fishin’ ‘’ bring to us.

From: Anglers Digest January 1951 Pgs. 260-262, 294.



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,
57 Lagoon Street, Narrabeen

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


Chesty Bond Trophy

1951 Chesty Bond Cup W. Gibbins
USFA – Chesty Bond Cup, Heaviest Fish 1950-51 Season by W.Gibbins with a Blue Grouper weight 45 1/4 lbs or 20.5 kgs.


USFA members packed the A.F.A. rooms to capacity on 1st November 1950, to exchange ideas on gear and view equipment. President Dick Charles once more urged members to abide by and promote Association safety rules and ethics, stressing particularly the need to turn their backs to the shore when unloading spearguns.

Former secretary Les Hawley was presented with an inscribed tray with cut glass trimmings, in recognition of his hard work during the difficult early years of the organization; he received a tremendous ovation.

It was announced that Bond’s Industries, makers of Bonds Athletics, etc., have donated a valuable trophy for the heaviest edible fish (sharks, rays, etc., excluded). The competition, open only to USFA members, opened on November 3 and will continue until 4 pm on February 28, 1951.

To give the competition as much interest as possible Bond’s Industries arranged for their super salesman Chesty Bond to go spear fishing in the pages of the “Sun” from November 9 to December 12.

From Outdoors and Fishing December 1950