December 2009: The charter boat “Friendship” is no longer at Mission Beach doing her once famous day-trips, neither is the live coral shown exposed at low tide on Ellison Reef. Crown of Thorns starfish devastated that reef two years after the above picture was taken. A pity as good examples of low tide reef are not easily seen in tourist zones today. Live hard coral would still, hopefully, exist at Beaver Cay which is the key destination for day trips out of Mission Beach. JHH
The wild dingo was ‘a bit of a worry’ at the time it was encountered. Eighteen months later many island dingos were shot by park rangers after a young boy died from being mauled by one of these native dogs. In the north of Fraser Island their strain is considered ‘pure’ as the above picture illustrates.
I think it was the rusty color that justified this picture. It looks like an old dredge. Ben Cropp went ashore to the airport and left us to look after his boat Freedom III. Under a blazing sun we ventured out in the dinghy to look around the various ships at anchor. This one was the most photogenic. Bamaga is on the inside of Cape York in the Gulf of Carpentaria. It’s not on the tourist trail.
When we began Fathom magazine in 1971 – dive shops had an attitude or sales line to customers quite different to today.
“There has never been a shark attack upon a scuba diver” was one line that helped sell goods. It was true for a while but eventually the inevitable happened. A scuba diver was ripped to pieces by a white pointer in South Australia – then more attacks on scuba divers followed.
Were the sharks being inadvertently trained? Nobody knows.
Back in 1970 sharks featured on the cover of dive magazines was an advertising revenue taboo.
It was a rule that the Australian spear fishing magazine magazine did not adhere to, but the leading USA magazine, Skin Diver avoided shark pictures.
Sharks were not good business for the fledgling scuba diving industry.
It shows how little knowledge existed back then of these predators.
LIFE magazine began printing an Australian edition in 1967 and sharks were featured in the first two or three issues. The above picture by Ron Taylor shows John H. (Editor of Fathom) about to fire a second .303 power head at The Big Island off Wooli, New South Wales (1965).
Fathom had a Hammerhead shark on the cover of issue #2 – which proved very popular.
Gradually Skin Diver changed it’s theme and others also realized that divers wanted as much information as possible about a creature thought to be the major hazard faced in the sea.
Today, diving with sharks (often from a cage) is a huge international money spinner. Even diving in an aquarium with ‘stupefied’ sharks is considered a big adventure deal for novice tourist divers, and it is.
Why stupefied? If the Grey Nurse shark looks as if it is ‘gasping for breath’ it probably is.
Sharks in captivity behave very differently to wild sharks in the sea. Especially sharks that have seen few divers.
Is global warming effecting the sea levels at these Pacific atolls near the equator?
Nukuoro and Kapingamarangi are two true Polynesians atolls that come to mind. (See Fathom magazine #1)
An atoll is believed to be a slowly sinking volcano. Live coral crowing on the rim of the extinct volcano maintains the above water land.
There are no true atolls in Australia’s The Coral Sea.
Lady Musgrave Island has an lagoon which resembles that of an atoll.
Earthquake activity can cause islands to sink or rise. Many factors to consider.
My first dives on the Yongala were in October 1984, while aboard Coralita with Captain Wally Muller. This was the era pre GPS so finding the wreck might take some time using radar fixes and the echo sounder. The other factor to help ID the location was a resident school of Batfish, so numerous on the surface they could be spotted a hundred meters away.
On my return dives with Ben Cropp in 2002 the wreck was noticeably changed. One morning while doing a solo dive on the wreck I heard the sounds of the approaching – and anchoring tourist dive boat run by my friend Mike Ball. A rare experience no doubt.
What a racket of sound underwater. Zodiac’s positioning buoys, the rattle of heavy anchor chain and the thumping drone of big boat engines. Do fish get accustomed to this noise and ‘put up with it’ or do some clear-out?
The Batfish were gone - perhaps that’s a seasonal thing? So were the stingray, giant groper and black kingfish.
Since 2002 I’d expect that ‘marine parks’ have placed permanent moorings in place. If not then these are long overdue. These prevent anchor damage from continual boat arrivals.
Yongala is still a worthwhile dive if only a fraction as exciting as in 1984 – which is to be expected.
Ron Taylor made a 50 minute film of the wreck in the late 1970′s when it was in it’s prime. JHH
The Yongala bell was discovered and salvaged by Wally Gibbins while in the company of Ben Cropp circa 1971.
Displayed for many years in Wally Gibbins former sea shell and diving artifacts museum it eventually was sold for $6,000 to the maritime museum at Townsville, Queensland where it is the prize exhibit.
When found the bell was completely encrusted in barnacles and had fallen onto the sand thereby becoming overlooked by local Queensland divers.
Wally knew the layout of the ship and where the bell should have been. He spotted the clump of barnacles on the sand and concluded this to be ‘the prize’.
Dianne Widdowson, formerly of Coralita, the first great dive charter boat on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. This picture was Day One of a La Mer Diving Expedition group (New York NY) – where the best dives were made at the start of a 10-day trip (instead of at the end). We encountered a strong current running south on the wreck.
We found the sleeping giant stingray ‘nest’ alongside the Yongala shipwreck. I carried a Nikonos 4a (28mm lens) and a Eumig Nautica Super8. Both light and easy to use but far from what professionals usually carry. The movie sequence appears in my video “Reef Safari”, (1984) which is no longer in release.
In between movie sequences a few stills were obtained. The sleeping stingray shot has since had color shift on the original transparency, so it looks best as B&W today. Sharpness has been retained.
Dianne Widdowson approached to within a borderline safe distance from these large and dangerous rays. They would not ‘attack’ of course – unless you did some foolish stunt – such as trying to touch one. These could be termed ‘wild’ as there was no resort-type fish feeding going on.
It was interesting to note how the rays sleep or ‘rest’ – wingtips touching. Any movement by one ray would signal the next and the next and so on. Tiger sharks would be their main enemy I imagine.
The slight raising of a tail is to be taken as a warning.
Earlier in the dive several large Cobia (Black Kingfish) had been near the rays while also nearby and under the stern of Yongala, three giant Queensland groper – possibly 100 to 150kg each. They didn’t stay around too long either.
The estimated one knot of strong current had brought very clear water but provided too strong for the overseas guests to swim against. None got to see the groper or stingray as we had anchored near the other end of the wreck.
Many thought the current stronger than one knot.
Details of the Yongala wreck are elsewhere on the net as it is (or was) one of the famous shipwreck dives of the world. Close to a city and in shallow water surrounded by a sea of sand making the wreck an underwater oasis.