This post will mark the end of the series of dives at Mount Gambier, and at the time it marked a particularly important couple of weeks in my life. I’ve mentioned it elsewhere but I’ve been drawn to cave diving since 2008 when I first read a 2005 article in Outside magazine about the drowning of Dave Shaw in Boesmangats the year before. It might sound odd to be drawn to a sport by an article detailing someone’s death doing it, but there’s no denying the extraordinary challenge and other-worldliness that diving in caves holds, or how well it was captured in Tim Zimmerman’s article.
I’ve been diving since I was 12, but my interest hit a peak in 2008 – I’d just left the mining industry and was looking for purpose, and found it by returning to an early love in a big way. Within 6 months I’d gone from an experienced recreational diver to a fully fledged Open Water Instructor with an array of specialties, and ventured into the the dizzying world of technical diving too: breathing exotic gas mixes and carrying a vast array of cylinders to dive to depths of 90m and beyond.
But the two things I wanted to explore in diving seemed to remain out of reach – diving a closed-circuit rebreather, and exploring caves. My Dad had proudly told me about his experiences doing both – growing up near Mount Gambier and diving in it’s caves in his teens, before using specialised rebreathers with the army. But in 2008 rebreathers weren’t being sold or taught by any dive shops in Perth (and only limited access in Australia generally) and no one had any interest in supporting my desires cave diving.
A little over 10 years later though, and the situation was both the same and considerably different. I was once again back in Perth, and once again looking for meaning… but at least rebreathers were well and truly supported now. The cave diving situation hadn’t changed though – no one I knew wanted to help, and while the dive store who’d taught me so much in 2008 had the WA representative for the Cave Diver’s Association of Australia (CDAA) listed as a cave instructor, he repeatedly brushed me off when I asked him to run a Basic Cave course.
When I grew frustrated and said I’d just go to Mount Gambier and do the course through Reef 2 Ridge instead, the WA rep just sneered… and I knew I simply had to organise it myself without expecting support from the folks I thought would help most. I flew into Adelaide, picked up a campervan, and drove it the 5 hours to Mount Gambier for the course.
The course (as you’ve probably already seen) was absolutely extraordinary, and all the videos you’ve seen so far are from the week after it – where I stuck around to experience as much as I could before flying back to Perth.
The last dive I did before leaving was at Picannine Ponds – the footage above. Diving at Piccy ponds is by permit only, and the booking timetable is strictly enforced with heavy on-the-spot fines for those who dive outside of their booking. Curt and I decided it’d be the perfect way to close out the adventure, and while it was an extraordinary dive, I think the myth around the beauty ofPiccy Ponds overshadowed the reality.
There’s some truly beautiful skylighting effects inside the Cathedral, but it wasn’t quite the extraordinary experience many had spoken about. Maybe the visibility wasn’t great the day we were there, maybe our expectations were too high, or maybe something else. But after a week of exploring sites like One Tree and Ela Elap, Picannine Ponds didn’t live up to our hopes.
That all said, Curt and I did have a lot of fun with the camera! I managed to capture an eel swimming all the way up to (and gently bumping into) the lens, as well as a couple of cheeky selfie shots on the float cam’s selfie stick. The footage isn’t as smooth as I might have liked, but it was still a lot of fun and ultimately we put the whole thing down to being an incredible learning experience: whether that’s learning to cave dive, letting go of old associations to do what lights you up, using equipment in different ways, or simply exploring a famous dive site for the first time 🙂
From next week I’ll be sharing the first of the incredible/terrifying footage I captured while exploring and eventually mapping an old coal mine about 2 hours south of Perth – in the meantime enjoy the last video from Mount Gambier until I return in August for my next cave diving course!