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Cave exploration: back in the day

Cocklebiddy Cave 1980s Nikonos II cave diving

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#1 errbrr


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Posted 20 November 2012 - 02:28 AM

I come from a long line of cave diving underwater photographers...which is to say, my Dad did it too. He was heavily involved in the exploration of the caves on the Australian Nullarbor Plain in the 1980s, both as a push diver and as the trip photographer. He has a filing cabinet full of slides from his Nikonos II's and V - he's kept every single one! But they're no good to anyone sitting in a cabinet so over the course of this year we've been scanning and digitising them. I think this was especially important for the early slides from 1979 because at the start of his underwater photography Dad was cutting costs by using unbranded slides and they're starting to degrade. The move to Kodachrome means the later slides have held up better.

In the interests of getting both the pictures and the story out there, I've been posting a small selection up on my website each Thursday. So far I've been covering the Cocklebiddy Cave exploration in 1979, 1982 and 1983. Cocklebiddy is a famous cave in Australia, and at the time was famous around the world as it held the record for the longest penetration. For those who aren't familiar with the system, it has a 1km sump, a giant rockpile which you climb over to reveal another 2.7km swim, surface to an even bigger rockpile now called Toad Hall, and then there's the third sump. These were discovered over several trips, and diving technology was invented to get divers further into the cave. It's all about the sleds!

If you're interested in the photos and the whole story, check out the list of posts here:

And here's a couple of photos to give you an idea of the insanity:
1979 Cocklebiddy-17.jpg
1979, the trip that attempted to scale the first rockpile and push into the second sump, but didn't make it further than had previously been discovered. Here a diver swims next to a safety tank tied to the line in the first sump.

1982, divers manhandle a sled of tanks through the water as they swim towards unknown territory. The "sled" has a plumbing pipe down the middle of the tanks to give it structure (and a dry place to store things, like film), and a broomhandle through for steering. Buoyancy control was a real issue.

1982, Ron Allum and Hugh Morrison tie into the end of the line in the second sump after dumping the sled some time earlier. They are about to start the swim that will discover the second rockpile, Toad Hall.

1983, things get serious. 12 divers advanced to the first rockpile, and 6 divers took three sleds to Toad Hall in preparation for a push into the third sump. Dad had sled pushing responsibilities, so photos were taken at the 1km and 2km rest stop. In this shot divers rest the sleds against the roof and drink a fruit box before swimming on.

The rest of the 1983 pics will go up this Thursday and next. Enjoy!

Liz Rogers

#2 frank70



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Posted 20 November 2012 - 03:36 AM

Great pics and story it's not something i would like to do but sure is good reading !

#3 MarkHerm



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Posted 20 November 2012 - 04:18 AM

awesome story and pics. Thanks for sharing!

#4 Timmoranuk


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Posted 20 November 2012 - 09:44 AM

Thanks for sharing this Liz. Looking forward to the next instalment!
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#5 errbrr


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Posted 20 November 2012 - 01:15 PM

Thanks! I know they're not the fantastic, artistic shots that we see on here every day, but the story of what they show is beyond impressive. It took 12 years for anyone to go beyond the line Hugh laid into the third sump, and another 13 after that for any significant distance to be put on it. And to add a camera to the loads carried increasing distances into the 6km system with each push...hard work.

Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: Cocklebiddy Cave, 1980s, Nikonos II, cave diving