What is it like working as a professional female diver in Australia?
The Howler Monkeys were making their usual noise and the Papagayo wind was rustling the tropical palm leaves as I opened up my email on my computer. Sitting in my kitchen in Costa Rica the email from Australian Immigration appeared on the screen. The sparingly worded official message advised me in no uncertain terms that I had to be in Australia by December the 13th or my application was void. It was October 20th. Maths was never my good subject at school, but by my calculations that would give me just under two months to deconstruct three years of a life lived here.
After nine years working in diving in Asia, Caribbean and Central America I was waving goodbye to frijoles, ‘mananas’, ‘cervezas’ and saying ‘Gdday’ to schooners, ‘barbies’ and first world efficiency and regulations.
My Australian boyfriend was going home after 13 years, I was about to notch up my eighth country of residence in 10 years.
On December 4th I arrived in Sydney with my accompanying three bags. Isn’t it crap how one’s dive gear has to be shipped in under the standard luggage requirement? One video camera, Ikelite housing, standard camera and housing, computer, regs, wetsuits (I left my battered BCD and fins behind). I learnt early in the day to buy second hand BCD’s when I arrived somewhere, and then sell or leave them behind for ease of packing.
I had decided before arriving that I would not be working in diving in Sydney. One look at water temperatures dropping down to 15 degrees and me now being a prize wimp, made me decide to pick up my other career in marketing and product development. My status as a diver was going to change from professional to recreational.
I had, luckily, turned by boyfriend into a dive junkie. As a surfer and keen spear diver he was a natural underwater, so it wasn’t hard. In Sydney when there was no surf we would go diving. We quickly acquired tanks and all the equipment, allowing us to go for long weekends camping and shore diving along the NSW coast.
Our first dive at Bare Island, 19 km South East of Sydney was a huge disappointment with visibility of 2 metres, murky green and diving in pea soup would have been a good description if it had been warmer.
Thank goodness our diving experiences only improved from thereon (well, they couldn’t have got worse!).
Subsequent dives at Bare Island found me cavorting with a Giant Cuttlefish (largest species in the world) at over a metre long. Their changing colours and seemingly unafraid but curious nature meant that they were probably checking me out as much I was doing the same back! An interesting fact is that the smaller males disguise themselves as females so that the large males don’t attack them.. sneaky.
Seeing Tasselled Wobbegongs was like watching swimming tasselled hearth rugs, which is quite apt as they are part of the Carpet Shark family. Like an underwater Aladdin and his magic carpet.
Our quest to find the Weedy Sea Dragon was rewarded on a dive off Shelly Beach in Cabbage Tree Bay. With their body extremities ending in branch and leave forms they look like seahorses on camouflage military manoeuvres. God must have had a fun day when he created these amazing creatures. Though having to go through life being called ‘weedy’ can’t be much fun. Their cousins The Leafy Sea Dragons if ever they came face to face would be doing the Sea Dragon equivalent of the one finger salute. They must have been in the front of the queue when leaves and branches camouflage were handed out. Military camouflage gone wild and on acid!
Being accompanied on many dives by curious and friendly Blue Gropers is a joy. These inquisitive fish have no fear and many of my photos have been photo bombed by their peg teeth and ample lips. They are so friendly that they were on the verge of annhilation as spear fisherman found them such easy targets, luckily they have been protected since 1969.
The diving in NSW was just so different from what I had been used to before and was literally on the doorstep – or a few steps down some embankment steps.
After two years in Sydney I moved to Tropical Far North Queensland to Port Douglas – the gateway to The Barrier Reef – where I resumed my diving career as a diving instructor. Warmer water and better conditions made it a much more enjoyable prospect.
I worked on the daily dive boats that left to go to the Agincourt Reef system. The best diving is at the outer reefs on Osprey Reef, but that can only be reached by liveaboards (out of Cairns) as it is out of the limit of a day trip. The day trip dives offered great diving amongst wonderful creations of coral – massive table corals, lettuce coral and soft corals and the outcrops of rocks called ‘bombies’.
Marine life can range from Minke Whales, Manta Rays and sharks to marauding noisy gangs of Bump Headed Parrotfish all looking like they doing an impersonation of Ken Dodd (if you don’t know Ken Dodd – Google him and you’ll get the idea) as they munch the rocks and coral. Curious and inquisitive Maori Wrasse’s follow one around and Clown fish (now renamed ‘Nemo’ fish) mince about in the anemones. Large shoals of Barracuda on aptly named Barracuda Bombie hang out just shooting the shit and Giant Sweetlips (the Angelina Jolie’s of the marine world) hover over their territory. Passing Green and Hawksbill turtles trundle by and I always have my favourite rock at Nursery Bommie dive site where the pipefish hangout. With the visibility being a pretty consistent 20m and most sites being shallow with warm tropical waters, diving on the Great Barrier Reef is fun, easy and relaxing.
Unfortunately, there is no shore diving here, which is a great shame, and I really miss just jumping spontaneously into the car for a quick dive before lunch. But The Barrier Reef is indeed beautiful and well worth a visit (along with the diving all around Australia).
What a contrast that one country can have such diverse diving!
After working for so long in diving, with long hair and a morbid fear of hairdressers I have now developed a product called the DanglerDtangler. If I had a dollar for each time I was asked for a hair band I would be retired with a mansion and a Ferrari. Long haired girl friends of mine have become experts with the head shaver on No.2 option. So becoming my short haired girl friends - all because of the effort of trying to maintain long hair.
So here is a simple and effective solution - see www.danglerdtangler.com if you are interested to find out more.
Diving in Sydney
Good to rent tanks and equipment from:
Pro dive Manly
Pro dive Bondi
Pro Dive Coogee
Dive Sites around Sydney
Dive Sites NSW:
Julian Rocks, Byron Bay
Black Rock, Bateman’s Bay
Terrigal (also the newly sunk Adelaide is here)
South West Rocks (Fish Rock Cave dive.. highly recommended)
Advice: Research the dive site online beforehand – a great website is by Michael McFadyen for information - http://www.michaelmcfadyenscuba.info/news.php. Make sure you are aware of entries and exits. Take compass and safety sausage. Advise a third non-diving person of your plans in case of emergency and non-return. Make sure you have booties and fins. Open foot fins aren’t suitable as there is climbing over rocks. Check on tide times (one dive exit I had to clamber over black urchins as the tide was out). Make sure you wear your DanglerDtangler!
There are many dive operators taking people out to The Barrier Reef for the day from Cairns and Port Douglas. The best one from Port Douglas is Silver Sonic as it is a faster boat and can stay at each dive site for 1.5 hours (most boats its 45mins).
If you can go on a liveaboard then Spirit of Freedom or Mike Ball will take you to Osprey Reef.
If you book direct try for a 15% discount (as agents usually charge 20% commission to book).
All equipment here has to be serviced every 6 months so you don’t have to pack all your equipment. Take a mouthpiece for the regs to change and a 3mm wet suit (if you are too cold – just use one of the boat’s shorties over the top to keep warm) – saves packing that bulky 5mm.
Written by Rosie Wang, Australia.