Ban on Scuba Fishing in NSW

1969 27 June

The N.S.W. Government has banned the use of self – contained underwater breathing apparatus (Scuba gear) for spearfishing.

The Chief Secretary, Mr. E.A. Willis, said that the new regulations issued yesterday under the Fisheries and Oyster Farms act would make it an offence to take or attempt to take any fish except abalone while wearing the apparatus.

In effect the only breathing device that can be used is a snorkel.

Mr. Willis said the regulations had been recommended by the NSW Amateur Fishermen’s Advisory Council, and had been endorsed by the Underwater Skindivers and Fishermen’s Association.

The USFA of NSW Committee expects every affiliated club and member to respect and enforce this law, aimed at conservation, and report any breach of same.

From: Australian Skindivers Magazine July/August 1969

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.

Skindiver Dies in Championships

1962 23rd April

Newcastle, Sunday – A young experienced skindiver was drowned when competing in the Pacific Coast Spearfishing Championships at Broughton Island, near Newcastle.

The man, Kevin O’Sheehy, 23, of Villawood, Sydney was a diabetic. A doctor who attended him said he could have died while in an insulin coma.

(Canberra Times 23/4/1962 pg. 1.)

Tragedy at Bendalong

1987 1st November

The running of the Southern Zone’s Taylor Shield Competition at Bendalong on the 1st November 1987 was unfortunately marred by a tragedy.

The day began as any other competition for the area with the promise of a great day despite some wind – blown choppiness at the start.

At approximately 11:00 AM an unattended float was observed at Berrara Reef by the crews of Gary Allen’s and Bob Crook’s boats. On inspection it was found to belong to Emmanuel Mifsud.

In the ensuing search it was his brother George that eventually found Emmanuel on the bottom. Out of respect for Emmanuel the competition was cancelled and all competitors were informed as they returned to the venue.

Emmanuel leaves behind his parents and two younger brothers, George and David. He was an energetic person who threw himself wholeheartedly into anything he believed in and in all sports in which he competed.

A tireless worker, having held positions within soccer and spearfishing circles, both locally and state-wide he will be sorely missed by all. His contributions to meetings and other events were always entertaining where he could be relied on to liven things up. His efforts behind the scenes at many events such as the 34th National Underwater Championships and numerous coaching courses will also cause his absence to be felt.

Emmanuel G. Mifsud: 31/5/1962 to 1/11/1987

1st NSW Premier Club Competition


In an effort to determine just which club was the best the Sans Souci Dolphins decided to organise a “Premier Club Competition”. An invitation was sent to Mid-South Marlins, top Southern Division Club, and Newcastle Neptunes, the best from the north. Both clubs readily accepted.

The rules were as follows – the top ten from each club fished, with one diver from each club in each boat. The scores from each diver were totalled for the club’s result.

Plenty of hard work by Bob Searl ensured that everything was right, except for the weather, but even the strong southerly and rough seas did not dampen enthusiasm and friendly rivalry. It was good to see the Dolphins able to supply the ten boats required, but special thanks go to John Stone and Barry Heywood for taking their boats out even though they did not fish in the competition.

Scores were low due to the dirty water, but they were sufficient to cause excitement in the weigh – in ring as, with only George Davies and Jack Jones to weigh in, only nine points separated the Neptunes and Dolphins. The final result put the Dolphins in front by 23 points.







1.   J. Black


1.  G.Budden


1.   R. Montcalm


2.   L. Austin


2.   R. Hatch


2.   G. McCauley


3.   A. Badger


3.   F. Swinkles


3.   D. Tinsley

4.   J. Waples


4.   J. Merlo


4.   B. Pauling


5.   J. Jones


5.   A. Nunn


5.   S. Isles


6.   P. O’Connor

6.   P. Gibson


6.   N. Leibeck

7.   B. Raison


7.   L. Siemek


7.   D. Skelton


8.   R. Searl

8.   P. Wilkinson


8.   P. Rourke

9.   P. Britton


9.   K. Lewis


9.   D. Pepper


10. S. Harvey


10. G. Davies


10. D. Birch








The most meritorious fish was a Black Reef Leatherjacket weighing 2lb. 4oz., scoring 46 points by John Waples and the biggest fish was a Mulloway of 21lbs. caught by Phil Gibson.

It is intended to make this an annual event. It is hoped that the top club of each division will compete for the perpetual shield which has been donated by the Dolphins.

(From Australian Skindivers Magazine November 1967)

The first Australian Pacific Coast Spearfishing Championships

APCC 1960Promoted and run by the Newcastle Neptunes Underwater Club, the first Australian Pacific Coast Spearfishing Championships was held at Shoal Bay, Port Stephens over the Easter Long Weekend from 15th to 18th April 1960.

Fridays programme featured a mystery trio spearfishing event during the afternoon and whilst this event was in progress judging took place for the photographic competition. Friday night featured an Open Air Theatre screening of the winning slides followed by a showing of the film “The Silent World”. Best underwater transparency was won by Walt Deas with a magnificent photo of a Giant Groper. The mystery trio event, which was a novelty competition designed to get everyone used to the three man team event was won by Russ Smith, Newcastle Neptunes; J. Wynne, Canterbury Underwater Club, and G. Mathews, Western Sub-Mariners.

On Saturday 16th the Pat Helsham Trophy for the Premier Club of the Australian Pacific Coast was contested from 8am to 4pm. This competition was decided on the aggregate scores of the top eight competitors from each club. Most competitors fished Broughton Island but others fished as far south as Rocky Point. The day proved quite eventful and quite a few competitors encountered sharks.

The Neptunes became the Premier Club with a score of 4,268 points. Runner up club was St. George Sea Dragons with 3,440 points, followed by North Shore Sea Hawks with 2,551 points.

Just over 160 competitors signed-on and were limited to one fish of each species. Top scorers for the day were Allan Whitford, Newcastle Neptunes; Dave Rowlings, St. George and George Davies, Newcastle Neptunes, each with more than 20 varieties of fish.

A Cabaret was held at Shoal Bay Country Club on Saturday night with most competitors retiring early in preparation for the teams event the following day.

The sun shone brightly once again on Sunday and competitors were on their way at 8am sharp. Thousands of spectators crowded the control centre area as competitors raced back to deposit their fish in the weigh-in area by 4pm. The Premier 3 Man Team Trophy was won by Bill Lewis, Jack Evans and Jim Harper, all from ST. George Club with 1,566 points followed by the Sans Souci Dolphins team comprising Johnny Black, Brian Raison and J. Lock with 1,245 points.

Trophies were presented at the Country Club Hotel in the evening and a representative from Belmont Apex Club was presented with a cheque for seventy seven pounds, ten shillings and six pence, being the proceeds from the fish auctions held over the three days.

The closing competition held on Monday from 7am to 11am brought in some really good fish. The winner of the most meritorious fish prize was George Schulz of Newcastle Neptunes with a 66lb. 8oz. Kingfish.
The final days trophies were presented to the winners and so ended the first Australian Pacific Coast Spearfishing Championships.

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.

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

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.

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:-


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.