URG 60th Anniversary

A celebration of 60 years, and showing no sign of slowing down! The URG will officially turn 60 in July 2016 and the club feted the milestone on 22 May at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science in Mosman. Early members in attendance were Clarrie Lawler, Harry Tracy, Sylvia Adam, Joan Harper, and Bob Ellis with noted photographer Steve Parish extending his thoughts in writing. Scientists John Paxton, Frank Talbot and Elizabeth Pope of the Australian Museum also shared the day. URG worked closely with the Museum for many years.


Left to right: Clarrie Lawler, Barry & Harry Tracy

Club President John Turnbull began the presentations with a review of the early days via club archives and pictures, including a 1961 Movietone News reel of URG members “having” dinner, drinks and a smoke underwater. The club “was the first marine volunteer group to conduct marine research in NSW” (Nation Marine Science Centre 2009). Some of the early projects included Abalone tagging, attempts at creating artificial reefs from concrete and tyres, and calls for sanctuary zones. Nitrogen Narcosis and other dive physiologies were not yet understood, so members documented and shared their personal experiences.

Mining the club archives unearthed gems such as a study of what happens to a car when it hits water. A club member, Doug Harris, drove into the water at 60km/hr and had to escape. Since the early members in attendance were laughing the hardest whilst reminiscing, it is assumed he was successful!


Home made camera housing made by Harry Tracy in the 1950s

The early club days were also the early days of scuba diving, so members made much of their own gear. RAAF oxygen tanks were purchased from disposal shops and converted into air cylinders. Home-made regulators were clamped onto these tanks with spanners. Several items were passed around the room, showcasing the ingenuity (and craftsmanship!) of these pioneers.


Detailed drawing of butterfly cod & velvet fish – Bare Island, 1966. Click to see larger picture.

Underwater cameras were not yet available or affordable to consumers, so members made detailed drawings of marine flora, fauna and topography. These items and the Club Bulletins became a great science resource and are now valued historic documents.

Some current projects were then highlighted including: The Reef Life Survey, sea urchin collection for biomedical research and the Weedy Sea dragon project.

After reading our submission concerning the need for a marine park, several other interested groups asked to use some of the Club’s data. Clearly, we are still recognised as a valued resource.

The social side of the Club was then presented by Denise Lawler, showing pictures through the decades including the first “research vessel,” which was three inner-tubes lashed to a board. Early dives were a “picnic basket brigade.” Members would meet at the dive site around 10:00 AM, have a bite and chat, and be in the water by around 2:00 PM. Mostly, the men did the diving, ladies stayed onshore. With time, more women would kit up and get stuck in the activities.

As the years passed the gear improved, some international projects were organised and the club grew. We’ve come a long way.

Artefacts-Fort-Denison-1965At that point, several members stood to add their thoughts and recollections. In almost every case, from the earliest members to the relative newcomers, they expressed gratitude. The more experienced members were always there coaching and nurturing the newbies. Situations that could have frustrated and scuttled diving careers were sorted.

After the formal presentation, the group moved out on to the balcony for a sausage sizzle and a good old natter. Old friendships were rekindled or reminisced upon and current friendships solidified.

In the end, any organisation is defined by it’s people and the culture they create-and that camaraderie is why the URG has outlasted so many other clubs and is still going strong.

Clockwise from top left: Michael Abbott, Clarie Lawler & Denise Lawler

Clockwise from top left: Michael Abbott, Clarie Lawler & Denise Lawler

Editor’s note: Read the apologies from Steve Parish and Colin Piper who could not attend this event.