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A Tribute to Ron Taylor

Tue 8th Jun 2021

Ron Taylor with wife Valerie Taylor, from Fairlight.
Ron Taylor with wife Valerie Taylor, from Fairlight.

Born on the 8th March 1934,  Ron Taylor was one of Australia's most highly regarded marine conservationists, a trailblazer in shark research and renowned underwater filmmaker and photographer.

Taylor's underwater love affair began with diving in 1952 where he enjoyed a career in spearfishing and dabbled in underwater photography. During this time he met his wife Valerie while both members at St George Spearfishing Club in Sydney. Both champion spearfishers in their own right, they each won the Australian Open Spearfishing Championship numerous times - Ron winning three years in a row before winning the World Championship in Tahiti in 1965. Ron and Valerie married in 1963 and made a natural transition to filming and studying sharks - and together the pair opened peoples eyes to the wonders of marine life, in particular sharks.

In 1962, Taylor had his first major underwater film production with The Shark Hunters and a couple of years later he made Slaughter at Saumarez which was the first Australian diving adventure to the Coral Sea. The Taylors went on to create a shark documentary called Revenge of a Shark Victim which they later sold to producer Robert Raymond who added his own footage and later won a Logie Award for his adaptation.

Ron and Valerie Taylor during the filming of ‘Blue Water White Death’.
Ron and Valerie Taylor during the filming of ‘Blue Water White Death’.

The Belgian Scientific Expedition was a scientific survey on the Great Barrier Reef conducted in 1967-1968 in which the Taylors were employed as advisors and cinematographers. The first major project of this type on the Great Barrier Reef, its goal was to create scientific marine biology films  - which Ron Taylor would become famous for.

By 1969 Taylor found his place in filmmaking and co-filmed an American documentary about sharks called Blue Water - White Death. In 1974 the Taylors were approached by Steven Spielberg to assist him in filming the live shark footage for Jaws and Jaws 2.

Steven Spielberg, Roy Scheider, Richard Zanuck, Valerie and Ron Taylor on the set of ‘Jaws’.
Steven Spielberg, Roy Scheider, Richard Zanuck, Valerie and Ron Taylor on the set of ‘Jaws’.

In 1981 while on a diving adventure, Ron and Valerie discovered mining claims on Coral Sea Island. Deeply concerned for the bird wildlife, they alerted the Australian Government and successfully fought to have the remote bird breeding island saved.

Taylor filmed Wreck of the Yongala, a 1982 TV documentary showcasing one of the most spectacular shallow water shipwrecks of its time, and was instrumental in protecting the wreck from commercial fishing.The Taylors also successfully lobbied via the media and Queensland Government to protect the potato cod of Cormorant Pass near Lizard Island. There is a lot to be said for the Taylors' passion for marine conservation and their devotion to protect the underwater world for future generations.

Ron and Valerie, continued shooting underwater feature films together including Orca in 1978 and The Blue Lagoon starring Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins in Fiji 1979. Return to the Blue Lagoon in 1990, The Last Wave 1977, Gallipoli 1981 and Honeymoon in Vegas 1991 - and many more.  There are a total of 19 films, eight TV series and 21 documentary films credited to the Taylors.

During the 1960s Ron Taylor designed a patent full length, chainmail suit that would go over a wetsuit to protect against a shark bite. It was a decade before it was finally ready to be tested and by this time it no longer fit Ron and Valerie had to wear it - which she did on a television feature called Operation Shark Bite showcasing the suit's effectiveness.

Ron Taylor and wife Valerie.
Ron Taylor and wife Valerie.

Pioneers in the underwater world, Ron and Valerie were not only the first people to film great white sharks without the protection of a cage, but were also the first people to film sharks at night!

In 1962 Ron Taylor was presented the Encyclopedia Britannica Award for Playing with Sharks and in 2006 was honored with Life Membership of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. Both Ron and Valerie were awarded the Australian Geographic Society's Adventure of the Year Award in 1992 and both made Members of the Order of Australia for their conservation efforts - Ron in 2003 and Valerie in 2010. They both have their names on the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame list, the Australian Geographic Lifetime of Conservation Award and Australian Cinematographers Society Hall of Fame.

Ron Taylor sadly passed away on the 9th of September 2012, he was 78.

Thank you for sharing 40 years of knowledge in underwater filming and for giving so much of your time and passion to marine conservation - your pioneering efforts will be forever remembered.

Rest in peace, Ron Taylor.

By Kirsten Jakubenko  

Sources:

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ron_Taylor_(diver) 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belgian_Scientific_Expedition
  • https://australian.museum/about/history/exhibitions/trailblazers/ron-and-valerie-taylor/