Freediver looks back on nearly 60 years in the water with no intention of slowing down

It’s been almost 60 years since Jon Stewart started snorkeling in the deep, cold waters of WA’s south coast, and he still spends a lot of time diving and getting his dinner from the ocean.

The Albany resident got his first taste of the sport when he was 9 years old, befriending a boy his own age whom he saw fishing in Princess Royal Harbour.

With a pair of goggles in hand, the duo began experimenting with diving in the region’s many coastal areas.

“We figured it out and then we got quite proficient in diving,” Mr Stewart said.

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

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

Mr Stewart said he would regularly take part in competitions where divers had to swim unaided for four hours around islands, headlands and reefs.

Jon has spent many years working in the diving and fishing industry, including on pearl boats off Broome.(ABC Great Southern: Ellie Honeybone)

He turned his attention from recreational diving to commercial work and spent many years working in the upstate pearl trade.

Now 69, Mr Stewart still dives frequently, with a particular affinity for the clear waters of the south coast.

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

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

“I collect all the food I want. Around the rocks near the town, you’ll always have enough to feed you as long as you’re not greedy.”

An old aluminum boat parked in a backyard
Jon’s trusty old boat that 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 the early days of the pearling industry.

“All my life I’ve wanted to have a helmet, it’s a legacy for us,” he said.

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

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

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

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