TOM ELDRED, born in Melbourne in 1920, invented the Porpoise – the world’s first single-hose open-circuit scuba set. Early prototypes of the Porpoise found international praise in Arthur C. Clarke’s 1955 book Coast of Coral. Clarke had replaced the two French Mistral systems he had bought to Australia with him, with two Porpoise systems loaned to him by Eldred, and these new inventions featured in his famous work. In 1954, Eldred developed the “Porpoise Universal”, which became his flagship model. It boasted a high supply rate of over 300 litres per minute, used the same demand valve as earlier models and was modular in design. He also designed a cheaper model called the “Sportsman” – a very compact regulator with innovative features that can still be found on modern regulators.
Eldred soon established Australia’s first scuba school, the first in the world to teach diving with the single-hose regulator. With the popularity of SCUBA growing, the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) soon became the first navy to be equipped with single hose scuba when it adopted the Porpoise Universal for military use.
Although he could not afford to patent his design, Ted Eldred was recognised later in his life by the Historical Divers Society (HDS) South-East Asia Pacific, as the inventor of the first successful commercially produced single hose SCUBA unit.
Although it is hard to determine the date of the first scuba regulator imported into Australasia, evidence points towards the model being either a French or British version of the Cousteau Gagnan twin hose regulator. Evidence supporting the French model as the original are grounded in reports that the company Morris brought a 1947 La Spirotechnique Cousteau unit to the French Pacific Territories. When HDS Member Reece Discombe arrived in Noumea in 1947, he apparently realised the potential of this diving system and purchased an Aqua-Lung.
Sometime later in Sydney, Reece met up with Pat Williams, then Chief Diving Instructor for the Australian Navy. The latter was keen to see the new Aqua-Lung and a meeting was arranged at Rushcutters Bay, where the Navy Diving Unit was based. Pulling apart the system, numerous drawings were created of the design, in an attempt to reference this new marvelous piece of equipment.
Some historically interesting details in the Colonial Empire system had made an impact on the distribution of diving equipment. After the Aqua-Lung was successfully developed in Paris in 1943, a company known as Air Liquide used one of its branches (La Spirotechnique) to develop and market the scuba device. They jointly appointed Siebe Gorman as their agents in Australia and New Zealand.
Tom Byron’s book, History of Spearfishing and Scuba Diving in Australia, illustrates some significant details of the period. It attributes the introduction of the regulator in Australia to Michel Callaud, who moved to the country in 1949 and arrived with knowledge but no actual regulator. Together with Ted Baker and George McGann, they built three of the first available French-style scuba regulators in Australia. This “recollected” design was acquired by John Lawson who had a factory and produced twelve more units for members of the Underwater Explorer Club. However, Lawson’s product differed from the initial designs by mounting the regulator on the diver’s chest for easier breathing. Celebrated for their ingenuity, these units, innovated in Australia, were used during the filming of King of the Coral Sea in 1953.
BREAKS THE SURFACE
Leo Ducker from New Zealand was one of the first people to polularise recreational skin diving, and he secured a place in history as a highly prominent diving pioneer. When he started experimenting with diving at the Poor Knights Islands as part of a course of physiotherapy, he made use of homemade diving equipment, such as an old MK4 Survival gas mask and the legs of some old gumboots for flippers. Together with his brother Clarry, they tried using a hand-pump and a hose to deliver air underwater, but had no success. Later, Clarry produced a refined mask made from the inner tube of a car wheel fitted with a Perspex visor, held in place with a metal clip. They patented it and named it “Dukka Diver”, selling the device for 10 shillings and six pence each.
Leo never stopped working with homemade equipment; in 1948, he used a mask derived from a floor polish tin with a perspex faceplate. Then in 1952, he created an oxygen rebreather that enabled him to dive as deep as nine metres. With the “formal” introduction of scuba diving to New Zealand in 1955, Leo and his group of dive enthusiast friends were able to add a whole new dimension to their underwater experiences at the Poor Knights Islands. Leo’s infectious passion for diving started drawing more people to the sport – his involvement with diving was so deep-rooted that his last dive occurred shortly before his 90th birthday.