- Fathom was a marine diving magazine published by Gareth Powell & Associates in Australia. It is considered to have played an important role in raising international awareness of the status of Australian marine life, especially sharks with underwater photography, and established new standards in terms of quality, content, design and accurate marine journalism at a time when most was being sensationalized in the popular press.
- It was said to be better designed and printed than the leading USA publication, Skin Diver.
“Fathom magazine was a perfect fit for its time. The 48-page publication first appeared in Sydney December 1970, produced by Gareth Powell, an eccentric, entrepreneurial British publisher who knew, above anything else, how to employ talented people and give them the freedom to work. Fathom quickly came to reflect the new scuba diving and marine environmental awareness inspired by the Save the Barrier Reef campaign, and the crown-of-thorns starfish plagues threatening coral reefs world wide”.
- Gareth Powell has been quoted as saying the title Fathom was one of three suggested by editor, John Harding who had canvassed the idea of publishing a dive magazine to him on three occasions. The design was similar to Surf International which was soon to cease production.
- A major influence on the style of the magazine was the designer, Roy Bisson. In Fathom the freelance contributing photographers and marine journalists were among the best that Australia had produced and included Ron and Valerie Taylor, and John Harding. The art director (an accomplished diver) had full responsibility to choose the photographs used and to decide how they should be displayed. No other magazine company in Australia, at that time, allowed this level of involvement by their creative staff. The only person who was kept well away from the creative process was the publisher, Gareth Powell. He knew printing – and Fathom was to set new standards for the international diving world, attracting attention from many experts in this field, including the aloof Philippe Cousteau who granted an exclusive and rare interview during his Australian visit. The editorial content of the magazine was under the control of John Harding (a photojournalist and underwater film cameraman) and Roy Bisson.
- It was the responsibility of Harding & Bisson to devise stories, write, photograph and sell advertising and assemble all pictures rather than rely on haphazard contributions. Dive shops were initially reluctant to advertise until after issue number six.
- 1971 was the beginning of P.A.D.I scuba schools franchise being available to Australian dive shops.
- In early 1973 the magazine ceased production with issue ten and before completion of a proposed “Annual”. Various reasons contributed to the closure despite a rapidly rising circulation in Australia and USA. A plan to publish Fathom Yearbook much later was actively supported by all former advertisers.
- The magazine was printed in Hong Kong and Singapore to obtain better quality than anything available in Australia.
- Fathomag.wordpress.com now features 480 pages from all ten issues. Copyright applies.
The John Harding Australian Marine Picture Library
“OUR FUTURE – A NEW ADVENTURE”
Marine Photography: 1960 – 2013
fathom (Reg. TM, Australia)
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Solitary Island has become a popular scuba location since the formation of the Solitary Islands Marine Park. The lighthouse went auto during the late 1970′s.
At the lighthouse Solitary Island are the southernmost coral formations on the Australian east coast.
Selling pictures to magazines and newspapers was lucrative in the sixties. Sharks proved more popular than whales – which were almost an unknown species then.
The whale shark story was bigger. It culminated a five-day shark special being run by The Daily Mirror. Extra newspaper pages were run containing our pictures. Proceeds from that sale enabled me to get into making 16mm movies. I bought two Bolex camera’s, various lens from 10mm to 150mm, tripod, underwater housing.
There was no money left for film! TD Preece and Company (Sea Hornet) sponsored me with 3000 feet of Ektachrome, but I still had to raise money for processing months later. Eventually it all came together. Less than two years later I was showing a 90 minute film to USA audiences – a silent print narrated by me in person and playing recorded instrumental music as a background track.
Still strapped for cash, our poster was made from recycled printing ‘blocks’. Getting to the USA was also expensive. I sold my new twin 40 HP outboards to help and bought a one-way ticket to Canada with a stop on the way at San Francisco. You could enter the USA providing there was a ticket to somewhere else where you’d be that country’s new problem.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing. The Los Angeles shows broke-even without a profit. Hawaii was a sell-out success, luckily. You take risks like that when you are young. Another show on Maui was so popular we ran a second un-advertised show at 10pm to accommodate those who could not buy tickets for the 8pm show.
Back in Australia it was the Queensland audiences who responded equally well. By then I’d re-named Aquarius “Queensland Seafari” and followed hot on the heels of “Northern Safari” which was doing record attendances with an outback 16mm film.
(Years later I’d be working for Northern Safari while my own film was being re-edited with new material).