“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important lesson that history has to teach.” – Aldous Huxley
As a concept, Australia’s former peak industry diving body had much to commend it: Particularly in its formative years.
In 1974, responding to an industry need, Barry Andrewartha, publisher of, ‘Sportdiving’ magazine, proposed and coordinated, together with other underwater enthusiasts, Australia’s first ‘Oceans Underwater Congress’, an event that attracted some of the world’s top names in diving.
Acting as a focal point for the country’s diving community, ‘Oceans’, was the first national diving event to be held in Australia.
During successive years, ‘Oceans’ grew. Those attending expanded their network of contacts, opened discussions on problems and issues of common concern and began to realise the concept of an industry body that would effectively represent every aspect of Australia’s burgeoning recreational diving industry.
These informal discussions acted as a catalyst; one that prompted several key members of the industry – regular attendees at the DEMA Show, in the USA – to formulate the idea of a national body. In 1987, following a successful Dive Exhibition held in Sydney, DITAA (The Diving Industry and Travel Association of Australia) came into being.
In 1989, the demands placed upon the embryonic association necessitated the appointment of a full-time General Manager. The then organiser of the annual Scuba Expo Event, having been appointed to the role, passed over ownership of the dive show to DITAA, whose activities were to be funded through flat-rate membership fees as well as profits generated from the Show. As an incentive to join the fledgling organization, DITAA members were offered discounted rates on exhibition space.
Extending its activities beyond the organization of the annual Scuba Expo Event, DITAA’s perceived role was to be that of a ‘peak’ industry forum and, where necessary, an effective and persuasive lobby group capable of representing the industry to government, one that would also be able to spearhead promotional and marketing campaigns highlighting the positive aspects of diving.
In 1991, with a growing industry membership – and the increasing success of the annual Scuba Expo – DITAA negotiated the removal of import duties on masks, fins and snorkels and the undertaking of a second industry equipment survey.
In that same year, amendments were also made to DITAA’s constitution, moves that paved the way for a new structure and a new name – Dive Australia. The structural changes saw the establishment of five sub-groups: 1) Retailers. 2) Equipment Suppliers. 3) Australian Scuba Council – representing the Training Organizations. 4) Media. 5) Dive Travel. Administered by a Board consisting of eleven elected members, the task of implementing their decisions – together with the organization of an annual Dive Show – fell to the General Manager.
In 1993, concerned by the Queensland government’s introduction of, “A Code of Practice For Recreational Diving At A Workplace” – and fearing that similar legislation might be introduced in other States, as well as at a Federal level – the Dive Australia Board opted for self-regulation. Canvassing input from its members, Dive Australia ultimately – in 1995 – produced and adopted its own, ‘Code Of Practice For The Recreational Diving Industry.’
Other Dive Australia initiatives during this time included a brief national advertising television campaign to promote diving to a wider audience of potential participants (1996?); a diving scholarship programme (1994); and campaigns to source outside sponsorship (Kodak Australia, 1994).
In 1996, growing tensions between the Board and Management regarding the administration of the organization came to a head, culminating in the General Manager’s departure.
With continuing responsibility for organising the 1997 Scuba Expo Event, (the major source of Dive Australia’s income) the Board appointed a new General Manager. When it became apparent that the new General Manager lacked experience in event organization, that aspect of the management office role was handed over to a competing event organiser from outside the industry. In May 1997, with that person proving equally inadequate to the task – the Board elected to cancel its planned Show and wind up Dive Australia.
Plans to streamline Dive Australia by restructuring the organization into a series of autonomous State Associations and Industry bodies that would manage their own day-to-day affairs were already being mooted at the time of the Association’s demise.
In theory, the establishment of a diving industry ‘umbrella’ organization that would promote the growth of diving through unity of purpose was a natural progression in diving’s coming of age. In practice, certainly in its latter years, it appeared to lose direction, with the possible reasons for its demise being – it seems to me – as follows:
- The Industry
While diving – as an activity – is the common thread linking together those businesses and organizations that derive their livelihood from diving, each of the disparate elements face their own unique difficulties peculiar to their group.
In the case of dive retailers and operators, for example, there is the ever-present spectre of State governments imposing regulations that apply exclusively to them. In those instances, their case is best served by having a strong state-based body capable of representing their interests.
While the concept of autonomous ‘industry’ bodies existed within the Dive Australia framework, in many instances they remained just that: A concept.
- The Association
Rather than being allowed to gradually evolve from its origins as a “coffee-club”, one in which all manner of people with an interest in diving could air views and opinions, the Association sprang fully-fledged into being, structuring itself as a controlling body rather than an ideas and information Exchange.
- The Structure
The Association adopted, as its role model, a form similar to that of the DEMA organization – a US-centric association originally founded by dive equipment manufacturers in order to counter mounting concerns about diving safety, and to forestall possible government intervention.
However noble or well-meaning the intention, the fact remains that rather than being an evolving organization with its roots firmly embedded in the growing needs of a blossoming diving industry, the Dive Australia concept was that of an organization driven from the top downwards; much like building a house by starting with the roof.
- The Board
Administered by eleven Board Members drawn from each of the five industry groups recognised in the Association’s constitution, (i.e. the Dive Equipment Suppliers; the Training Agency organizations; the Dive Retailers/Operators – representing each State; Dive Travel and the Media) several industry sectors lacked any formal identity or authority: Neither did they have any mechanism in place for nominating somebody to represent their supposed ‘constituencies’.
In order to preserve its credibility and claim to be a representative industry organization – similar to that of DEMA – appointments to the Dive Australia Board were often engineered by the management office.
With such a top heavy administrative structure, Board meetings were often bogged down in divisive discussion and grandstanding: A situation that inevitably led to greater reliance on the management team to formulate objectives and determine policy – and their subsequent assumption of control over the organization’s destiny.
Based on the DEMA model, Dive Australia was dependent on two main revenue streams for funding:
- a) Membership dues based on a flat-rate fee entitling the member to a discount on exhibition space.
- b) Profits generated from the annual Scuba Expo event.
In order to fund its activities the Dive Equipment Manufacturers Association, (later changed to Dive Equipment & Marketing Association, to represent its expanded membership) organised its first industry dive show in 1977. Given the size of the US market and the level of income generated by its dive show profits and membership fees, the US diving industry – through DEMA – was/is able to afford a fully funded office staffed by professionals in sufficient number to respond, theoretically, to all of the various demands that its constituent groups expect of that organization.
With an infinitely smaller base of potential membership – but facing those same issues that confront their US counterparts – Dive Australia lacked both the financial and human resources to properly deal with the range of projects and activities that might reasonably be expected of a ‘Professional Association’ office.
In addition, Dive Australia limited its ability to fund and manage various projects by restricting membership – and ultimately representation on the board – to an industry-only pool of candidates; a short-coming that not only denied diving consumers any input into the wider development of diving, but one that, indirectly, helped to create the prevailing “them-and-us” attitude between the diving industry and the wider diving community.
- The Management Office
Tasked with the day-to-day running of the Dive Australia office – located in the General Manager’s home – the two-person Management Team were not only responsible for implementing the Board’s decisions, but were also expected to produce the requisite level of funding necessary for maintenance of the Association and its office.
Given the need to generate their own salaries and incentive bonuses, it is reasonable to assume that a major portion of the Management Team’s efforts were devoted towards the production of a profitable annual Dive Exhibition – a task that they performed extremely well.
(Organising and producing an annual multi-faceted dive event, even for two people, is a very intensive and almost full-time occupation. And, as has been seen in recent years – with the collapse of the 1997, Scuba Expo Event; the 1998-‘99, World of Adventure Expo, at Rosehill; The 2003, Surf, Dive & Water-Sports Expo, at Fox Studio; and the 2004, Surf, Dive & Action Show, at the Sydney Entertainment Centre – can be a recipe for financial disaster. Particularly given today’s increased costs in staging a Show. )
During its more productive years, the Association office achieved some successes – the most notable being the implementation and adoption of the, ‘Code Of Practice For The Recreational Diving Industry.’ However, many other suitable projects – while having worth and importance – were either not adopted, or did not receive the consideration and/or attention to detail that they deserved.
The Dive Australia office had limited communication with the wider diving community concerning its purpose and its achievements. (E-mail was still in its infancy, at that time.) Insulated from the mainstream of diving, the generally held image of the Association was that of an exclusive club.
The appointment of an outside PR company – in 1994 – did nothing to change these perceptions. It proved an expensive and wasteful exercise, with the majority of publicity generated during the PR company’s period of tenure emanating from within the industry.
That was the past; the present – and the future – are far more positive.