Free diver reflects on almost 60 years spent in the water with no plans to slow down

It has been almost 60 years since Jon Stewart first began free diving in the deep, cold waters of the south coast of WA, and he continues to spend plenty of time diving and sourcing his dinner from the ocean.

The Albany resident had his first taste of the sport as a 9-year-old, making friends with a boy around his own age who he saw fishing in Princess Royal Harbour.

With a pair of googles in hand, the duo began experimenting with diving around the many different coastal areas of the region.

“We figured it out and then became quite proficient at diving,” Mr Stewart said.

“The sport was popular in Albany at the time and a local club in the area had two Australian champions as members.

“The club welcomed us into their group and taught us everything they knew.

Mr Stewart said he would regularly compete in competitions where diverse were required to swim unassisted for four hours around islands, headlands, and reefs.

Jon spent many years working in the diving and fishing industry, including on pearling boats off the coast of Broome.ABC Great Southern: Ellie Honeybone

He turned his attention from recreational diving to commercial work and spent many years working in the pearling trade in the north of the state.

Now at the age of 69, Mr Stewart still dives frequently, with a special affinity for the clear water of the south coast.

“The thing down here is there’s no tide to contend with. Up north you’re always swimming against the tide, down here you don’t have to worry about that,” he said.

“You just relax, do your breathing, swim forward, use your momentum and down you go.

“I collect all the food I want. Around the rocks close to town you will always get enough for a feed as long as you aren’t greedy.”

An old aluminum boat parked in a backyard
Jon’s trusty old boat which he uses to explore the waters around his home in Albany. ABC Great Southern: Ellie Honeybone

One of Mr Stewart’s most prized possessions is an old diving helmet that reminds him of those early days in the pearling industry.

“All my life I wanted to get a helmet, it’s a heritage thing for us,” he said.

But despite its antique status and iconic design, Mr Stewart’s partner won’t let him display the item in the house.

“It’s such a dirty, ugly thing, but I love it,” Mr Stewart said.

“It’s probably the most expensive garden ornament you’ve ever seen”.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *