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Ron Taylor, 1934-2012 Print E-mail

by Rosemary Jilderts. 

After a two year battle with myeloid leukaemia Australia’s shark expert, underwater adventurer and photographer, Ron Taylor, passed away at a private hospital in Sydney yesterday, Sunday September 9, 2012.  He was 78.  Ron is survived by his wife, Valerie, who shared his life of adventure and his love of the underwater world.

Ron and Valerie Taylor in later years.

Former Australian shark hunter, six-time Australian spearfishing champion and well-known documentary filmmaker, Queensland’s own Ben Cropp, when contacted this morning, paid tribute to his old mate saying, “Ron was a very talented underwater cameraman as well as a conservationist, and an inspiration to many young divers and budding photographers.”

The two former partners (both avid marine conservationists and filmmakers) lost touch in recent years but Ben considered Ron was “one of the best” in underwater photography and would be remembered as a pioneer. “An awful lot of people looked up to him as a mentor and as an example of what they wanted to achieve themselves. That will be what he will become: a legend, a hero,” Ben said.

Tributes have poured in from wildlife conservationists and identities such as broadcaster, Derryn Hinch, who described the iconic adventurer and photographer as the “Oz Jacques Cousteau” and said “He hunted the great white shark but with a camera.”

Ron’s father was a photographer which is probably where Ron’s interest began. But his interest in the underwater world began in a strange way. He swam regularly at the baths at Brighton-le-Sands and while walking in the shallow waters in the baths one day he had a bit of luck when he picked up a facemask off the bottom that had obviously been lost by someone. He began swimming around with it on and was amazed at how clearly he could see everything. “All the fascinating marine life. Hundreds of little fish and crabs and shrimps.” 

That was the beginning of a new world of adventure for Ron. He became interested in spearfishing and borrowed a friend’s 16mm movie camera for which he built an underwater housing. He was then able to combine his two loves.

Living the adventure together.

Ron met his future wife, Valerie, while both were members of the St George Spearfishing Club in Sydney. Ron became a champion spearfisherman and competed in many championships but one murky day at Dee Why he had a change of heart. He suddenly thought “what am I doing, killing all these defenceless marine creatures”? He didn’t bother weighing the fish, instead he packed up and went home and never entered another spearfishing competition. He turned to conserving and filming marine life and he and Valerie worked for more than 40 years filming sharks around the world. 

Together they are credited with being the first people to film sharks without a cage and also the first to film sharks at night. They filmed sharks sleeping on the bottom, putting to rest the long held belief that sharks needed to move constantly.

Ron’s first photography award was in 1962 for a news film titled, Playing with Sharks. His first major underwater film production was made with diving and business partner, Ben Cropp, and called Shark Hunters. This was shot in black and white and was sold to Australian and American television. In 1969 he co-filmed Blue Water, White Death that was released worldwide.

The idea of a diver wearing a full length chain-mail suit over a wet suit as protection against shark bite was also devised by Ron but it took over a decade before a suit was made and tested. They paid $US2000 for the suit which was made to his measurements but because it didn’t stretch Ron couldn’t move in it. So Valerie wore and tested the suit. 

Ron never experienced fear when diving with sharks. They didn’t worry him … his biggest problem was finding sharks and getting close to them.

The enthusiastic underwater photographer and his beautiful Valerie, getting ready for a dive.

He was passionate about his photography and his work, both still and movie, which captured the minds and hearts of people world-wide. His passion led to Steven Spielberg calling on him and Valerie to film some of the incredible footage in the movie Jaws. This work, unfortunately, brought down some criticism for ‘demonising sharks with the terrifying footage’. However the incredible scenes he shot will be remembered for a long time. Ron shot many underwater documentaries and in 2003 he received a Member of the Order of Australia award for services to conservation. 

On the ABC’s Talking Heads in 2005 Ron commented, “I feel very fortunate that I’ve lived a life of adventure. And I think if I had the chance to do it all over again I think I’d do the same.”

After an exciting life of adventure and a love story that has spanned more than half a century an icon has left us. But he has left us with a legacy and with memories that will last for generations.

Wendy Elliston
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