I race down the hill towards the yellow ramp—an old door propped up with house bricks—while gripping the reins tightly in my hands. No, I’m not mounted on a steed; I’m sitting in a freshly constructed billy-cart. New timber, varnish and pram wheels are all that separates me from the ground hurtling beneath me.
I brace for impact as the cart flies up the ramp and my wooden vehicle becomes momentarily airborne. Dad presses the yellow shutter button on the tiny, Kodak pocket camera in his hands the moment his eight-year-old son defies gravity. Did he get the shot?
Flash forward thirty-three years and my eight-year-old daughter wants to get up at the crack of dawn to go snorkeling at Shelly Beach. I lament the fact that I do not have an underwater stills camera to document our aquatic outing. The responsibilities of being a father have always seemed to get in the way of dropping a few grand on a decent camera and an accompanying underwater housing.
A sense of guilt overtakes me. What sort of father would go on an ocean adventure with his child and not take some pictures? With a sigh, I grab our masks and fins, an action which causes a little silver box encased in clear plastic to tumble onto the floor. The object is a tiny, twenty-first century gizmo that I had forgotten I owned—a ‘point-of-view’ or ‘action-cam’—something one would typically attach to the top of a dive mask and use to record video footage. This particular video camera is made by GoPro.
I remember now. I purchased this device months ago with the plan of becoming an underwater cinematographer, following in the footsteps of Al Giddings or Ron and Valerie Taylor. Well, I guess life intervened because I don’t seem to remember that plan coming to fruition. A new plan though is now forming in my mind … this little camera can take still photos can it not? A quick look at the instruction manual confirms this is the case and I pack it in our dive bag before driving to Shelly Beach in the suburb of Manly.
As I park the car and look across at my daughter I am seized by fear. Is there any power left in the battery? After my daughter and I gear up, I switch the camera on and a wave of relief washes over me when the battery indicator shows a full charge.
Gently we kick out from the sand of Shelly Beach and into the clear waters of Cabbage Tree Bay. Almost immediately we are greeted by a school of Yellowtail Scad. Quick! Time to grab a photo. Wow, this is a lot harder than I anticipated. I struggle to keep the tiny camera steady as I fire off a shot. Did I capture the moment? My eight year old daughter has no such worries—she is joyfully frolicking beneath the waves as the Yellowtail Scad flit off into the distance. Her enthusiasm is infectious and I try to compose a shot of her before pressing the shutter. With no viewfinder or display screen on the tiny device, how do I know if I successfully captured the moment?
Out of the corner of my eye I spy a lone Moorish Idol darting amongst the kelp. I take a breath and duck dive down. Sydney is not the tropics, so this elegant little fish must have rode the East Australian Current down here for a holiday. My index finger taps the shutter button and I hear a beep, the only indication the camera has taken a picture. Is it in focus? Did I remember to keep my thumb away from the lens? The number of questions outweigh my limited air supply and I return to the surface.
An excited squeal from my daughter causes me to look across at her. She is vigorously pointing at something in the water in front of her. My eyes follow the direction of her jabbing finger and I see an almost invisible miniature jellyfish bobbing just beneath the water, rays of sunlight refracting through its gelatinous body. I raise my size-challenged photographic device and fire off a rapid series of shots, my demeanour not dissimilar to that of a World War Two Fighter Pilot trying to down an enemy plane. The gentle current pushes the ethereal creature away from us.
We drift over to the eastern side of Cabbage Tree Bay, my daughter simply enjoying herself while her father obsessively looks for his next photographic subject. My next candidate swims below us—a playful Eastern Blue Groper. I try to capture his likeness for posterity but the fish is too damn fast and I end up photographing empty water.
“There you both are,” states a voice behind us. We shift our gaze from the seafloor to the surface world. My wife and mother to my child has arrived in her inflatable raft. When she is not scouring the coastal waters looking for her family she takes photographic portraits of other families with young children. A perfect opportunity has arrived! I realise that I would really like a picture of myself with the Eastern Blue Groper and my wife is used to capturing images of energetic children who generally have no interest in staying still for a family portrait. Surely she could take a photo of me with Bluey? I doubt it would be more challenging than her nine to five job.
I describe my request to her and a look of concern clouds her face. Anita is used to using a bulky, professional camera with a viewfinder, the exact opposite of the minuscule camera I have just handed to her. How will she fare under such restrictions? No time to argue, Bluey has returned and is now daring us to dive down and meet him. Our daughter climbs into the raft and I quickly descend as Anita slips into the water.
I chew through my limited air as I chase the Eastern Blue Groper back and forth beneath the water. I kick back to the surface and see Anita pointing the camera in my direction. “Did you get me with the Groper?” I ask her after my recovery breath. Anita shrugs. “I hope so,” she offers noncommittally.
A couple of hours have now elapsed and we all start to shiver. Time to return to shore. Anita hands the camera back to me and tows our daughter to shore in the raft. I’m about to follow them when I notice a Bream skulking about at arm’s length from me. I slowly bring the camera up, willing the fish to come closer to the lens, straining to use my obviously untapped psychic ability to lure the silvery sea creature in for a close-up. One final beep before the battery is exhausted announces the final image of the day. Did I get the shot? As there is no LCD screen on this particular camera model, I will not know until I’m sitting in front of my computer.
After an hour long drive in the car, we arrive back home and I rinse off the dive gear. I dry the camera off and remove the memory card before inserting it into my computer. An image of my adventurous eight-year-old daughter, holding her breath beneath the waves flashes up on the computer screen. I captured the shot!
As more of the images flash up on the computer screen, I begin to feel ashamed at my modern sense of entitlement. Thirty-three years ago, when I was the same age as my daughter, my father was able to capture my exploits with his Kodak pocket film camera. His chosen camera was notoriously difficult to hold steady and the photographs could only be viewed after the local pharmacy spent a week processing the film cartridge. Dad would have been ecstatic to have access to the technological marvel that I took to this morning’s snorkeling session to photograph my eight year old playing in the waters of Cabbage Tree Bay.by