Part 2 – 1950s and 1960s

A Snapshot of

New Zealand Diving History

– 1950s and 1960s

The Formation of the First Diving Club in New Zealand and the Formation of the NZUA

Whangarei Underwater Club placed a notice in the Northern Advocate on 3 May1951 inviting interested people to attend a meeting at 33 Walton Street on 20 May 1951. This became the first meeting of the Whangarei Underwater Spearfishing Club. From Leo Ducker’s memory, the first meeting of the NZUA was held in a bedroom of the Trans Tasman Hotel, in Auckland in 1953.

Film Commentary – The Silent World

Underwater Magazine, Vol 1 #2, July 1957. This film, which was screened recently during the Auckland Festival, was received with mixed feelings by Auckland club members. The film was made during a four months cruise aboard the French underwater research vessel, ‘Calypso’ under the command of Commander Jacques Cousteau, co-inventor of the famous Aqualung. On this cruise Cousteau tried to re-live, and this time to capture on film, highlights of his earlier adventures. The opening scene was particularly striking, showing Cousteau’s full team of divers swimming down into the crystal clear depths of equator waters, bearing sodium flares. The photography and colour are really excellent and throughout the film the underwater scenes are backed up with most realistic sound effects, such as the inhale hiss and exhale bubbling of the Aqualung apparatus and the squeaking of porpoises.

Les Subritzki

Underwater, Dec 1957. Former Auckland Underwater Club member Les Subritzki has been officially granted the sole salvage rights to the wreck of the ‘Wiltshire’ which was sunk off Great Barrier Island in 1922.

Elvis Presley

Underwater, Dec 1957. Elvis Presley is said to have taken up skin-diving. Should his fans follow suit, fish would be in imminent danger of becoming ‘all shook up’.

New Zealand’s First Ice Dive

Underwater Vol. 1. #7. Sept/Oct 1958. Several hardy members of the Canterbury Underwater Club recently undertook a dive, under ice at Lake Ida, about seventy miles from Christchurch. They believed this to be the first ‘Under Ice’ dive in New Zealand.

A Weekend in Wellington

Kelvin Tarlton, Canterbury Underwater Club newsletter– November 1958. The weekend before Labour Weekend I went to Joe Tomlins, in Wellington. Saturday found us with Joe’s ‘hubble-bubble’. This is a petrol-driven compressor from which plastic hoses lead down to a regulator on your chest. I was sceptical about it. However, I strapped on the regulator and dived down and lo and behold, in a few minutes I had forgotten the hose existed. I could have spent all day with it but suddenly the compressor stopped and I shot for the surface. The boy in the boat had got his trousers caught in the dive-shaft. I also tried the latest Porpoise Venturi lung. It has the most effortless breathing imaginable!

New Diving Record Set By City Man

Christchurch Press – January 1959. A New Zealand free diving record of 80ft, almost double the previous figure set in 1957, was established by Christchurch skin diver Kelvin Tarlton. The pressure on Mr Tarlton’s body at the 80ft depth he reached has been calculated to have reached 80 ton. The former record was 48ft.

New Foam Rubber Wet Suits

Kelvin Tarlton, Canterbury Underwater Club newsletter– January 1959. On the weekend of November 22nd/23rd, I took with me to Kaikoura a foam rubber wet suit. I plunged in and a small amount of water trickled in around the waist though it was not nearly as objectionable as I had imagined it to be. The ease of swimming and maneuvering was good, the suit being like a second skin. I dived, turned somersaults, swam the ‘crawl’ and did every thing I could think of to test its restrictions on my movements and found that in this way it was far superior to any dry suit. The next Sunday I went lung diving wearing the suit and was thrilled by the complete absence of suit squeeze. In summing up, my opinions are as follows: if you decide to buy one then buy one which is a skin-tight fit all over thus keeping out nearly all the water. You need plenty of chalk to get into this suit. The suit is made of foam (not sponge) rubber or neoprene approximately 1/4inch thick, the foam rubber does not absorb water and the air bubbles in the rubber provide the insulation. The cost is approximately 20 pounds, about the same as a dry suit.

Dry Suit Inflation

Underwater Magazine, Vol 1, #2, July 1957. All who dive using dry suits to even moderate depths are faced with the great inconvenience of painful wrinkles in the thin rubber of the suits. As the depth increases, so does the discomfort. In an attempt to combat this discomfort, one of Auckland’s most experienced divers thought of using a small cylinder of compressed air inside the suit. On reaching the depth when the pressure of the water on the suit starts to become uncomfortable, a little air is released from the cylinder. This lifts the suit away from the skin and produces a layer of insulating air between body and suit. The increase in warmth and comfort is almost unbelievable.

Spearfishing Parachute

Underwater Magazine, Vol 1, #2, July 1957. The spearman’s constant problem has been to stop the bigger fish from escaping once they are speared. Many methods have been tried, but this idea is new. Twenty feet or so of very strong steel wire trace is fastened securely to the spear. To the other end of this wire is attached a parachute apparatus, not unlike a small sea anchor. Joining the ‘parachute’ to the speargun, is about a hundred feet of fairly strong nylon line. When the gun is fired, the wire trace allows the spear a comparatively free flight of 20 feet before the ‘parachute’ is pulled out. The ‘parachute’ then provides a tremendous resistance against the fish which soon tires.

Buoyancy Compensator

Dive Underwater Magazine Feb 1965 Vol4, #5. A complicated problem often has a simple solution. For months ‘Dive’s’ technical staff divers, have sought to obtain the equilibrium of a fish at any depth. The fish accomplishes this feat by means of a swim bladder. At first we designed complex mechanical contrivances built into our back packs, with buoyancy chambers which would flood or vent in response to varying pressures. The answer just seemed to float into our laps, derived from a Spanish idea printed in Skindiver magazine; all we needed was a basic lifejacket with no internal mechanism, and a tube hanging off the bottom edge, with no valve or stopper whatsoever. When our suits have compressed we take a deep breath, remove our mouthpieces and blow into the rubber tube. Air bulges the lifejacket behind our necks until we feel ourselves stop falling – we are poised like fish. As we continue on down one or two more adjustments are necessary. When we level off at 150 feet our equilibrium is perfect.

Elingamite Rediscovered

Wade Doak describes their first dive on the Elingamite. Extracts from his original article in Dive, May 1965, Vol #6. On the final day of our expedition at the Three Kings Islands, we persuaded the spearfishing half of our expedition to let us dive West Island. My first sign was a piece of timber. – Might be a hand rail? Chris found bath tiles – ‘Wedgewood’ embossed on the underside. A port-hole complete with glass! Lead piping, huge girders, steel plates. This must be the ‘Elingamite!’. Topside, the other three, Dave Barnett, Jann Voot and Derek Pollard, were not impressed at our delirious ravings. Lead isn’t gold. ‘But look here’, we said – ‘that was the ‘Elingamite’. The gold’s still there – somewhere’.

The passion for Spearfishing

Country pride can be felt in this editorial by Wade Doak, Editor of Dive Underwater Magazine – This editorial in the June/July 1965, Vol 5, #1 issue. I wish to congratulate Doug Timbs, Malcolm Blair, Bill Baldwin and Dave Barnett on their ion for New Zealand’s first team to enter the World Spearfishing Championships. They will be travelling to the Touamoutous Islands, Tahiti. The expense of sending this team is frightening, 1500 pounds. WILL YOU SUPPORT THEM, or will New Zealand’s name in international diving circles be smirched by niggardliness and perhaps withdrawal of our team? Australia has a National World Champ Fund well underway. They say ‘our national pride is at stake, and the advancement of our sport’. Is your pride strong enough to prompt you into making a real, individual effort to get our boys there? Your club has been asked to assist. Let’s get behind the New Zealand team with some really solid support. In the Oct/Nov 1965 Issue, Wade notes that 966 pounds was raised by New Zealand dive clubs and that Barnett came 11th, Blair 28th and Baldwin 30th.

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