By Jeff Maynard
Key members of one of the world’s first formal diving schools got together for a reunion at Melbourne, Australia, recently. The School of Underwater Swimming and Diving commenced at the Melbourne City Baths on 10 August 1953 and ran until the 1960s. The weekend event reunited three of the four key people involved in the School. (The fourth, Maurice Batterham, having passed away.)
Originally the School was founded to teach people to dive using the newly invented Porpoise diving gear. Invented by Ted Eldred in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Porpoise units were the first commercially manufactured single hose regulators in the world and later, when Ted’s company was sold to Le Spirotechnique, the Porpoise gear replaced the twin hose Aqualungs worldwide.
People interested in the history of scuba diving were treated to a weekend of informal get togethers, historic lectures and the chance to dive with the historic Porpoise gear in the same pool that was used over 50 years ago.
Plenty of people turned up early at the Melbourne City Baths to help set-up the event which had been fully booked. The event started at 1.00 pm with Des Williams and Jeff Maynard welcoming everyone and doing the introductions. The first speaker was Anna Jeffries. Anna and Nick Batterham have attended and filmed all previous Ted Eldred Historical Weekends as they gather information for a documentary on Nick’s grandfather, Maurice Batterham. Nick was unable to attend because of his work on another film project, so Anna introduced a photographic documentary on the life of Maurice. It provided a much needed insight into Ted Eldred’s partner in the Breathing Appliance Company, maker of the Porpoise scuba gear. The next speaker was Bob Wallace-Mitchell, who imported and distributed scuba equipment in the 1950s and 60s. Bob promoted the School and was involved from its inception. He spoke about his involvement, respect to Ted and it was wonderful to see Ted, Bob and Dr Bill Taylor reunited after nearly 50 years.
Dr Bill Taylor was the next speaker. Ted and Bill began diving together in the 1940s and when Ted, Maurice and Bob commenced the School, Bill was the doctor responsible for giving people their medicals and lecturing students on the physiology of diving. Bill still had his original speaker support slides and included these in his presentation. He also showed photographs of the oxygen rebreathers developed by Ted before his ground breaking single hose compressed air scuba. Bill explained the innovations of each model in detail. Interestingly the third, most sophisticated rebreather model was named Porpoise. Bill then showed photographs of the prototype Porpoise single hose, as well as the first production model. Ted Eldred and Bob Wallace-Mitchell contributed comments and memories.
Ted Eldred got up to say a few words as well. At the end of the speakers the proceedings moved to the historic swimming pool that was used by the School of Underwater Diving and Swimming. Here the event became a ‘Porpoise-fest’ with working models of virtually every Porpoise from the first CA-1 to the Porpoise Universal.
Des Walters, who had brought some of his units from Albury, was first in the pool to give Ted’s grandson Adam French, his first scuba lesson. Naturally Adam (aged 11) made his first dive on a Porpoise. Once he got underwater it was difficult to get him up. Des Walters kindly gave Adam the mask, snorkel and fins as a gift.
Next came a real highlight as Ted Eldred himself (now in his 80s) donned his bathers, mask and fins, along with one of Tony Gregory’s units and got back into the training pool for the first time in over 40 years. Seeing Ted and his grandson swimming underwater in their Porpoise units was something that everyone there will remember for a long time. Plenty of other people then took the opportunity to take a dip in the historic pool so they could say they âdived with Ted Eldred’.
The day of historic diving and lectures was followed by a dinner Saturday night and in informal visit to the World War 11 Minesweeper Museum Ship HMAS Castlemaine on Sunday.
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