A Chat with Barry Andrewartha

Barry Andrewartha (L) with Ron Taylor, 2005

A person who, for more than four decades, has chronicled the changing face of diving and, in the process, given the Asia Pacific diving community an established and respected ‘voice’ in which to share adventures, discoveries and concerns, Barry Andrewartha’s commitment towards the development of recreational diving is evidenced in the pages of the diving publications that he, (together with his wife and business partner, Belinda Barnes) produced.

Born in Newport, Victoria, in 1941, and developing an early love for snorkelling and spearfishing, his interest in diving was initially sparked by the television documentaries, books and films of Hans Hass; a growing passion that was further fueled by the exploits of Jacques-Yves Cousteau.

Leaving school in 1955, at the age of fourteen, he entered the printing industry as a hand and machine compositor and later, in 1960, began writing for the Australian Skindiving and Spearfishing Digest.  Between 1966 – 1970 he authored and co-wrote five books on diving and spearfishing – Spearfishing in Victoria, (1966); Spearfishing in Southern NSW (1967); Spearfishing for Sport and Pleasure (1969); Spearfishing in Northern NSW & Southern Queensland (1968); and, A Guide to Skindiving and Spearfishing (1970).

In 1970, in response to a growing interest in diving, he launched, Skindiving in Australia, a publication that underwent several minor name changes to reflect its growing circulation and sphere of influence throughout the Asia Pacific region and the forerunner of what was to become, Sportdiving Magazine. (Edit. The magazine ceased publication in 2016.)

Later becoming a co-director of, Mountain, Ocean & Travel Publications Pty Ltd, a company that – together with, Belinda Barnes – he founded in 1987, Barry Andrewartha became the ‘hands-on’ co-publisher and co-editor of , Sportdiving Magazine, Dive Log Australasia and International Freediving and Spearfishing News.

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What were your early diving experiences?

In 1952, I took up serious spearfishing, but it wasn’t until 1956 that I had my first scuba experience with a dive at Williamstown, in Victoria, using a Pirrelli Oxygen rebreather.  After reading about the deaths of divers using O2 rebreathers, I quickly gave away the idea of using that type of apparatus and, in the following year, bought my first open-circuit equipment, an English ‘Sea-Lion’ scuba unit followed by a Heinke.

In 1957, I became involved with the Black Rock Underwater Group and the following year joined the Victorian Underwater Research Group.  I also had a keen interest in underwater photography and in 1956 purchased my first camera, a 35mm German Robot in an underwater housing, followed by a Leica 35mm camera in a Lewis Marine housing and then a Rolliflex 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 camera in a Hans Hass Rollei Marine Housing.  In 1959, after systematically flooding all of those cameras, I went back to serious spearfishing and didn’t take up underwater photography again until Spiro/Technique introduced the self contained Calypso-Phot camera, the forerunner to the Nikonos.

Like many people of that time, I had no formal training in scuba diving and was totally self-taught by talking and listening to other enthusiasts and by reading books.  Each dive was an adventure in discovery and my most memorable dive of those early years would have to be the Shaft, at Mt Gambier.

We were the first scuba divers to dive the Shaft and we each used a single 72cf steel tank with no contents gauge (only a ‘J’-valve reserve) and the same amount of weight on our belt that we used in the ocean.  We did a 235 ft dive and didn’t have a single problem.  It was a great dive, and it wasn’t until years later that I realised how reckless we had been!

What people have been most influential in your approach to diving?

Obviously Hans & Lotte Hass were my biggest influences followed by Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Tailliez and Dumas; Demitri Rebukof and the other French pioneers. Then there was, of course, Mike Nelson and the television series, ‘Sea Hunt’, starring Lloyd Bridges.  And in the early days, Australia’s Wally Gibbons, Ron Taylor, Peter Kemp, Brian Rodger, Rodney Fox, the Paxman family in Western Australia, Barry Funnell and Ben Cropp.

What prompted you to begin publishing a diving magazine?  

As a keen spearfisherman and diver, I was a regular contributor to the Australian Skindiving and Spearfishing Digest, published by the USFA (Underwater Skindivers & Fisherman’s Association of NSW) from about 1960 onwards.   In addition, because my trade was in the printing industry, I also contributed my professional skills towards the magazine’s production.  When the management of the magazine changed hands a new editor was appointed – one with a large ego and no knowledge or understanding of printing and publishing.  By late 1969 it became apparent that the Association could no longer afford to carry the financial losses and the magazine was closed down.

In 1970, having already published five books of my own and armed with considerable knowledge of printing and production, I saw an opportunity to start my own diving magazine.

How did Sport Diving Magazine and Dive Log Australia develop?

The first issue of the magazine was almost exclusively given over to articles on spearfishing; the only exception being one article on wreck and scuba diving.  In issue #2 the ratio had changed to 50% spearfishing and 50% scuba; and by issue #3 the magazine’s content had again changed to include only two articles on spearfishing.  By the time issue #4 was released, a year after it’s launch, the magazine was given over entirely to scuba diving.

After a brief flirtation with overseas printers, we moved the magazine’s production back to Australia and our own printing company, Quadricolor Pty Ltd, where, between 1978 – 1980, I also produced an 8-page newspaper on behalf of the Scuba Divers Federation of Australia called ‘Dive News’, that was distributed free to their members.

With the sale of Quadricolor, in 1987, Belinda and I gained total control and ownership of the magazine and continued to print in Australia until August 1989, when we moved print production back to Hong Kong and then, finally, to Singapore.  The problem with printing Sportdiving magazine in Singapore was the lengthy 4-month lead time in production.  It proved difficult for us to print current events.

To overcome this problem, Belinda came up with the idea of a free monthly newspaper for divers, called ‘Dive Log’.  Although I wasn’t keen on the extra workload, Belinda managed to get her way.  The first issue of ‘Dive Log’ was published in August, 1988 and has since gone on to become the largest circulating dive publication in the southern hemisphere and the Asia Pacific region!

Between 1990 and 1995 we also published a trade magazine called, ‘$CUBA Busines$’, and in 1993 we added a further title to our stable with the launch of, ‘International Freediving and Spearfishing News’.  Catering to serious apnea divers and bluewater hunters, ‘International Freediving and Spearfishing News’ presently has subscribers in 74 different countries and – with a print run of just 7,000 copies per quarter – is Australia’s most widely distributed international diving title.

What impact have the publications had on the development of recreational diving? 

I believe that our publications and the promotions within them have had a significant effect on the development of recreational diving; not only in this country but elsewhere.  While this may be difficult to prove, we do know that the apnea (breathhold)/ bluewater hunting market has increased 20-fold in the 10 years since International Freediving and Spearfishing News was first published; a resurgence of interest in these activities that can be directly attributed to the global circulation of, International  Freediving and Spearfishing News, which was the world’s only English-language publication to deal exclusively with those activities.

Sportdiving magazine, with a print run of 15,000 copies per issue, is directed totally towards the active and dedicated diver.  Dive Log, on the other hand, offers far more immediacy in dealing with topical issues and is jointly aimed at the diving consumer, (both the experienced diver as well as the person new to diving) and to the dive industry itself.  While we believed that, $CUBA BUSINES$ was the perfect trade vehicle, there’s just not the advertising base to sustain another diving publication at this stage.

Over the years, many diving publications have come and gone.  What is
your recipe for publishing success?

Many factors determine the success or otherwise of any business.  Publishing is no different.  In our case we run a lean machine and keep our overheads as low as possible; we employ capable and talented staff, and we strive to maintain a healthy profit margin, (profit, by the way, is not a dirty word!) through minimal waste and by having minimal debt.

Over the past 33 years, we’ve faced our share of competition and seen many ‘rival’ publications come and go.  In that respect, the worst form of competition is that of a competing publisher who, year after year, is prepared to run a title at a loss.  That form of competition is difficult to match.  Especially when we can’t afford to have one single issue running at a loss!

With Sportdiving magazine our motto has always been, “readers first”.  To that end we have always presented our readers with quality editorial articles written by real divers and supported by great accompanying photos and images.  Neither do we pander to egos by printing advertorials!  We rely on minimal use of material written by ourselves to pad out the magazine, and we always encourage new contributors.

It’s our belief that if we have a great product then the advertisers will seek us out.  In that regard, we would be one of the few magazine publishers in the world who do not employ advertising sales representatives or commission sales agents.

Has recreational diving become too introspective and insular?  i.e. Could it  be doing more to align itself with the global tourism industry?

As a recreational activity, diving has always had a very broad base.  That’s why there are so many facets to explore.  Consider the number and variety of dive shops, dive operators, liveaboards and dive resorts!  Every one of them has to establish their own special niche; understand their overall position in the market, and recognise where their client base comes from.

A dive boat operator in Adelaide or Melbourne has an entirely different client base to a boat operator in Cairns.  The same holds true for every business in the diving industry.

After the events of September 11th 2001, the Bali bombing disaster and now the Iraq war and SARS scares, a lot of dive travel operators will suffer – particularly those within the Asian region.  Even allowing for the hopeful fact that there will be no more problems, it will take years for many destinations to recover.  In the short term, Pacific destination dive resorts can benefit, as can those of Australian operators.

 You have always been a staunch supporter of individual efforts to bring the industry together.  Do you feel that the industry as a whole could/should be doing more to support recreational diving?  And if so, how?

The strength of the Australian diving Industry lies with the big wholesalers and training agencies.  These CEO’s are used to running million-dollar companies and they have the knowledge and savvy to understand how things work.  In that regard, the industry has always shown itself ready to support dive operators and clubs with promotional activities and events that are often generous beyond belief.

I don’t, however, support the idea – common in some circles – that it’s the responsibility of the wholesalers and training agencies alone to constantly put up cash to promote diving.  It’s up to everyone within the industry to initiate their own promotions.  I would certainly support the industry purchase of a portable display booth that dive shops and dive operators could borrow for special promotional campaigns at shopping centres, fairs or public gatherings, and whose purpose was to encourage new divers to sign up.

At a personal level, we would also gladly donate back-issues of Sportdiving magazine for use as give-aways to potential customers.  (We always receive back from newsagents any unsold copies of Sportdiving magazine.)

Having witnessed its early development, is the recreational diving industry (both regionally and globally) capable of organising itself into a cohesive body?  Or is gradual bureaucratic intervention stifling its development?

I believe that the Australian Diving Industry could organise itself into a cohesive body, but to be effective such an association must be headed by a small and dedicated group representing the industry ‘heavyweights’ – i.e. the major importers, training agencies, etc. – and consist of no more than five board members.  The more voting members an Association has the more bureaucratic and unworkable it will become.

The primary purpose of such a body would be to address issues of domestic concern, but once established then connections with other similar organisations, both regional and international, could be established as the need arose.

What changes have you witnessed in diving? Both for the better and for the worse?

For the better?  There has been a marked improvement in the quality of training and the knowledge and awareness levels of divers; diving equipment is certainly of a better quality – and offers a greater variety of choice than was ever the case in the past.  And added to those is the fact that divers now have much better access to a greater variety of new and exciting diving destinations.

For the worst?  Without doubt unwarranted government intrusion into diving through the efforts of organizations such as, Workplace Health and Safety; Standards Australia and the National Parks authorities who seek to control and regulate diving.  Such creeping bureaucracy will, unless halted, ultimately stifle the freedom of all Australian divers.

I like to compare recreational scuba diving with other individual outdoor activities such as bushwalking, rock climbing, mountain climbing and that great Australian icon, surfing.  If these activities were obliged to contend with the same bureaucratic interference that the diving industry endures then the enraged outcries would be sufficient to force bureaucracy to back off!

There is nothing to prevent a bush walker engaging in rock climbing; no Workplace Health & Safety authorities or Standards Australia organisation demanding that the person meet certain standards before he or she can participate in the activity.

The same goes for surfers – as free spirits they can walk over sand dunes to a remote beach and surf all alone.  They don’t need a doctor’s certificate to do this; there are no Workplace Health & Safety requirements; and no ‘for profit’ organizations like Standards Australia interfering with their freedoms.

The fact is that whether a person happens to be scaling a sheer 300-metre rock face, or surfing a remote un-patrolled beach alone, the choice is theirs alone to make.

Why, then, are divers subjected to such intrusive interference from bureaucracy and the ‘Fat Cats’?  The reason why, is that we’ve allowed it to happen, while the outdoor industry and surfing industry have totally rejected it!  We are the authors of our own experience!

What do you view as being the greatest hurdle confronting recreational diving?

In one word, “FEES”!  Divers pay fees to park their vehicles near to the coast; fees to launch their boats; fees for a licence to drive the boat; fees to enter national parks; fees to observe marine mammals; fees to dive on purpose-sunk shipwrecks; fees to dive on the Great Barrier Reef; fees to have their scuba tanks tested every year; fees to have a diving medical before they can do a dive course – the list just goes on and on.  What are we paying taxes and GST for?

How should diving be approaching those challenges?

By organising loud and persistent group protests on each and every issue.  Rather than just sitting back and accepting every new fee (or tax) that’s levied upon us, let’s tell the perpetrators NO!

Dive boat operators have enough to worry about in terms of just running their business, without the added burden of becoming an un-paid tax collector for the National Parks, etc.

What aspects of diving give you the most personal joy and pleasure?  What type of diving interests you the most?

Macro underwater photography; freediving with big marine animals (whale sharks, whales, dolphins and sharks); bluewater hunting (spearfishing for pelagic fish) and cave diving.

What are your most memorable diving experiences?

There are just so many:  Our early northern Great Barrier Reef diving adventures exploring the waters north from Cairns up to Thursday Island, in the Torres Strait, in the early 1980s; my adventures with John McLennan, Steve Drogin, Kelvin Aitken and others to Exmouth, in Western Australia; Galapagos; Tonga; Papua New Guinea; Layang Layang and Sipadan in Malaysia; Banda & Manado in Indonesia; the Maldives; British Columbia; Corsica; Japan; South Korea; Fiji and French Polynesia. And not forgetting Port Lincoln South Australia; Mount Gambier; Wilsons Promontory Victoria; The entire NSW coast and Heron Island, and the Great Barrier Reef.

There would be few of the great names in diving that you haven’t met. (Similarly, there would be many lesser known names.)  Do you have any personal ‘diving heroes’ whose achievements you particularly admire?  

As I’ve already mentioned, Hans Hass was my boyhood hero.  I actually met both Hans and Lotte for the first time in the late 1980s, since then I’ve met them on many other occasions and formed a good friendship.  Commander Phillip Tailliez was also a joy; I met him many times and although we didn’t speak the same language we did manage to communicate with the help of colleagues and formed a friendship of sorts; Thor Heyerdahl, Jacques Mayol and the late Jack McKenny were dear friends of many years, as are Stan Waterman, Dr Sylvia Earle, Dr Joe McInnis, Al Giddings, Bob Talbot, Phil Nuyten, Arthur C. Clarke, Graham Hawkes, Emory Kristoff, David Doubilet, Ralph White, Reg Lipson, Bob & Dinah Halstead, Neville Coleman, Steve Parrish and Marty Snyderman.

We met Jacques-Yves Cousteau on only two occasions, but his elder surviving son, Jean-Michel Cousteau, has become another very dear friend.

Apart from the mechanics of diving, do you have a personal philosophy or view of the activity?  And a vision of how diving might develop?

Diving just for its own sake becomes very boring very quickly.  Ideally it should be the vehicle for other things.  We have to stimulate other interests for new divers, or a series of interests.  Marine natural history (to understand what you’re seeing); underwater photography; wrecks and maritime history; cave diving; fish watching, etc. All new divers must be encouraged to develop fresh interests to keep their enthusiasm running hot!

If a new diver does an open water course in cold, rough and dirty water, has a miserable experience and gets seasick, then the chances are they won’t become a committed diver.  If, however, the initial experiences of that same new diver are of warm, clear, calm water then they have a much better time and are much more likely to continue in diving.  If they also have the added bonus of a good instructor, one who gives them confidence and professional instruction, plus a good divemaster who takes pains to point out exotic marine life and manages to inject enthusiasm into every dive, then new divers may well become hooked for life.

What do you regard as your greatest contribution to – and achievements within – diving?

The fact that, for most of my life, I’ve been able to make a living from the sport that I love, live and breathe.  Also to have been part of those committees that organised the enormously successful Oceans Festivals – that occupied such a prominent position in the Australian diving scene during the 1970’s and ‘80’s – as well as the Nights of Adventure, held in Sydney during the 1990’s through until 2001.

Best of all, however, are the people that I have met and the friends that I’ve made from all around the world.

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Over the years Barry Andrewartha has been honoured many times by his peers within the diving industry with awards that includes: 1989, The Australian Scuba Council Award (TASCA) in recognition of his major contribution to the Australian diving industry:  1994, The Dive Australia Scuba Excellence Award, for his contribution to the growth of the Australian diving industry:  The International, John Stoneman Marine Environmental Award, in 1997; and, in 2000, the Historical Diver SE Asia/Pacific Award for his efforts in promoting the Society’s aims.

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The above interview first appeared in the on-line ‘Nekton’ Magazine, in April 2003



Categories: Profiles

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1 reply

  1. Yo Strikey, Just printed this out. can’t wait to read. M2

    >

    Liked by 1 person

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