A life spent underwater

A silver spoon recovered from the wreck of the Loch ArdPhoto Robin Maguire

By Jeremy Lee - ABC South West Victoria

Peter Ronald loves diving. His face lights up when he talks about the sensation of flying and the joy of discovery and exploration in the underwater world, and the results of his exploring have been on display in Warrnambool for many years now.

Born in Terang, Peter came from a great swimming family - his dad taught him (and most of Terang) to swim which led to snorkling and spearfishing, along with a great familiarity with the local coastline and its history, including the many shipwrecks here in the south west.

By the 1970s he was exploring those shipwreks in detail and beginning the process of recovering artefacts.

Peter says his feeling was always that the artefacts belonged to 'public hands and public display' - and as the concept of Flagstaff Hill emerged in the mid 70's, he thought it would be the perfect home for these objects.

The lack of legal protection for shipwrecks in the 1970s made the recovery dives all the more important as much of what was there was being taken, looted, and sold as scrap to be melted down. Many artefacts were lost as a result.

Flagstaff Hill and one of Peter's greatest finds - the Schomberg diamond - played a crucial part in getting the legislation changed to protect shipwrecks.

The diamond was shown to Sir Rupert Hamer who was visiting Flagstaff Hill. When Sir Rupert asked why it wasn't on display, he was told that if people knew where it had come from the potential for looting would dramatically increase. As Peter puts it, Sir Rupert 'got it', and the legislation to protect the shipwrecks followed fairly swiftly.

Since then, the salvaging of items has been much more tightly controlled with many factors coming into play including the state and rarity of the item and the real value of bringing it to the surface.



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