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Travel Diary

Valerie Taylor – Behind the Scenes

Above: A montage of Ron and Valerie Taylor’s press clippings, showcasing their adventurous achievements with sharks and more

This story actually starts back in February, earlier this year. I had just started posting a new series on my instagram feed on Monday mornings called ‘Monday Muse’ – where I share an old photograph of a particular woman who I felt drawn to, and who should never be forgotten.

I’m not talking celebrities or the like, I’m talking the kind of women who really changed the world – the ‘firsts’ in their fields.

Women who were fearless – not because they didn’t feel fear, but because they felt fear and continued on anyway.

Above: The many colourful wetsuits of Valerie Taylor hanging in her garage in Sydney

Valerie Taylor was one of these women I posted on instagram. She was a big part of my early childhood, especially on a Saturday night before Magnum PI on Channel 7.  I would watch her in complete awe as she spoke so passionately about the conservation of sharks and our coral reefs in Australia.

She would always have a pretty hair ribbon in her blonde ponytail to match the colour of her wetsuit. Though, however ‘cute’ Val appeared, ‘cute’ she was not. Valerie would plunge into the middle of the open waters, to come face to face with deadly sharks, as her filmmaker husband Ron Taylor documented what would unfold underwater in the depths below.

 I would watch Valerie on the TV dive with every kind of shark, from reef sharks to great white sharks. I would be terrified. Though, whatever the scenario, I always felt as though Valerie Taylor had it covered.


Above left: Boxes of slides which Valerie and Ron captured of their underwater adventures/ Above right: a coral coloured wetsuit of Valerie’s

Above left: A homemade underwater camera housing made by Ron/ Above right: a shelving unit filled with scuba masks, cameras and boxes of memories

Like a siren of the sea, Valerie was always committed to sharing what she and her filmmaker husband Ron saw in the ocean with us all at home and around the world.

Through their discoveries and films of the unknown ‘underwater world’ they became an integral duo of sea life knowledge.

They were even asked to assist Steven Spielberg on the set of JAWS contributing their expert advice on how to film the mechanical shark scenes. Many say the shark scenes are the best part of the film, as they were so terrifyingly life like.

Filming underwater was virtually unknown until this pair started experimenting and capturing the oceans, sharing with the world what they saw.


Above left: An iconic framed photograph of Valerie Taylor, on the pages of one of her diaries

After the Monday Muse post on instagram I became rather determined to somehow track Valerie Taylor down and photograph her. I would bring Valerie Taylor up in random conversations with people and they too would remember her and remember how fearless she was.

Until one such conversation,  while I was on a job on Kangaroo Island at Southern Ocean Lodge,  someone said – ‘Valerie Taylor? – Val? Yeah, Hayley is very close with her, they travel all over the world diving together, just ask Hayley’. (me – whaaaaat? I nearly fainted)

Long story short, a lovely client of mine who co-owns Baillie Lodges –  Hayley Baillie, is like a daughter to Valerie, and this is how I came to be in Valerie Taylor’s home, in amongst her wetsuits and film gear last month when I travelled to Sydney.


Above left: One of Valerie Taylor’s many Collins red diaries, detailing her life with Ron Taylor/ Above right: Letters stapled into the diary from Valerie to her mother.

Hayley sure made it happen and I was able to go through everything at Valerie’s home, Val was completely open with me. I rummaged through every drawer and cupboard, documenting what I saw and what Valerie had kept after all these years.

Valerie kept diaries from 1969 through to only a few years back, each year a new diary, all in the same red Collins 3880 Minute Books.

There is an entire archive of Val and Ron’s high sea adventures, detailing what they would come across on their trips, their discoveries, how the weather was (there was always a cyclone apparently) and the everyday occurrences.

All documented in Valerie’s handwriting, with random dockets, scribbled notes and photographs stuck into these diaries, even some pressings of leaves and seaweed.

Above left: Diary entries and photographs pasted into one of the many red Collins diaries, which Valerie religiously recorded details in /  Above right: a gum leaf sprig pressing in one of Valerie’s diaries

Above left: Photographs of friends and travels from another time, pasted into the diary/ Above right: an unhung framed photograph of Valerie from the 1970’s

Above: Valerie Taylor on her patio at home in Sydney, reading one of her diaries from 1971

I found an early red diary and asked Valerie if she would like to read it. We went out to her patio and she read the pages to me. This diary entry was about her reflecting on her upbringing in New Zealand, as the family lived there for a few years, as her father was stationed in New Zealand  during the war.

The diary entry recalled how Valerie’s father would say to her as a child to look up to the sky to see the alphabet birds, they are flying in the letter V, – V for Valerie.

She told me she had a wonderful upbringing, even though it was tough with the war, she had very special parents and there was a lot of love in the household.

Above left: Valerie Taylor’s bedroom, with her packed suitcase ready for her next trip/ Above right: a black and white photograph of husband Ron Taylor, with a large fish, caught while spearfishing in the late 1950s

A corner of Valerie’s bedroom with her suitcase open and packed. Valerie had just arrived back from a dive trip in Indonesia on the morning of our shoot and was heading away again the following morning.

Her body at 83 years old feels at ease in the warmer waters of Indonesia where she still dives regularly.

Above left: Bookshelves filled with diving and deep sea reference books with a framed photograph of Ron and Valerie Taylor on their wedding day/ Above right: art supplies and bits and pieces, including a human skull from Papua New Guinea

Above left: On Valerie Taylors desk, her latest watercolour of a nautilus and the beginning of another watercolour of a shark / Above right: Valerie Taylors desk where she paints and draws in the natural light in her home in Sydney

Illustrations and watercolours of sharks and shells are piled up on Valerie’s desk.

What isn’t well known about Valerie is that her first career was actually as a cartoonist and illustrator. At 82 years old,  Valerie released a children’s book called Melody the Mermaid last year.

Above left: Valerie Taylor with her 1974 Australian Women’s Weekly cover/ Above right: copies of National Geographic with Valerie diving underwater with a shark and also within a coral garden on the Great Barrier Reef, photographed by Ron Taylor

I thought this was extraordinary – I found these copies of the magazines in a cupboard in the spare room. Valerie featured on two covers of National Geographic, both covers shot by Ron her husband.

What an achievement to be featured in such a celebrated and trusted publication, twice!

Above left: A drawing from Ken Done to Valerie Taylor, celebrating her 50th birthday in 1985 / Above right: an iconic photograph of Valerie Taylor in the jaws of a shark

Above: Location scouting in Sydney, looking for a special spot to shoot Valeries portrait

Something else happened before this shoot. I was talking to a writer friend of mine, Sheriden Rhodes, about the upcoming Valerie Taylor shoot and Hayley Bailie being close to her, like a daughter and how excited I was about the shoot.

Sheriden said to me – ‘Kara, this is a great story, why don’t you pitch this story to the Good Weekend – for ‘The Two of Us?’ the page which celebrates unlikely friendship’?

So I pitched it – and they came back and said yes! Ohmygosh! So now the shoot had become a personal project with a slight work twist.

I would photograph Valerie and also Valerie with Hayley.

Above: Location scouting, rock formations on the edge of Shelly Beach, Sydney

So the day before our shoot I hopped on a plane to Sydney. I needed to find a location which was very natural and had elements of the ocean for what I wanted to achieve visually, with good light in the afternoon.

I also had to keep in mind that Valerie is 83 years old and probably wouldn’t want to go clambering over rocks and cliff faces.

Above: Above: Location scouting, rock formations on the edge of Shelly Beach, Sydney

I scouted about six different beaches near Valeries house, becoming rather nervous until I came across beautiful Shelly Beach.

It’s like a cove with gentle water and beautiful rocks on the sand and feels very Australian, plus it was very easy to access on foot. Tick!

Above: Hayley Baillie and Valerie Taylor, Shelly Beach, Sydney 2018

Observing the love which these two women feel for each other was so emotional.

Valerie didn’t have children and met Hayley when Hayley was about 3 years old. Their bond is based around their shared love for adventure and diving, which Valerie introduced to Hayley early on.

Above: Hayley Baillie and Valerie Taylor, Shelly Beach, Sydney 2018

Above: Valerie Taylor, Shelly Beach, Sydney 2018

And here are some of the portraits of Valerie I captured. The moment she put her wetsuit on and we went down to the water she became a different person.

She honestly lit up and somehow ignited the same energy and spirit I recognised from all that time ago.

Capturing these moments in a few seconds was the heart of this shoot. Something really special happened in this moment.

Above: Valerie Taylor, Shelly Beach, Sydney 2018

Above: Valerie Taylor, Shelly Beach, Sydney 2018

Above: Hayley Baillie and Valerie Taylor walking to the beach/ Above right: Selfie, Valerie Taylor and me

I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to share a few hours with Valerie at home and document the special bond of these two women. I can’t wait to pick up a copy of the Good Weekend today and read their story of friendship.

Hope you enjoyed!

K x

UPDATE: Click here to read the GOOD WEEKEND story


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31 Comments to “Valerie Taylor – Behind the Scenes”

  1. Kara – you have nailed this story. Valerie is a local legend to us, we live in Manly – I too remember exactly how you described the early TV days with Val and Ron. My partner Dave is a local Shelley beach and Fairlight diver and our close friend Paul worked with Val and Ron at our local Manly aquarium when their expertise was required . You have captured our mermaid Valerie at 82 looking like she always did /still does, beautiful, Blonde, fearless and in love with her surrounds. Thank you. Such a beautiful story x

    • Jo – your words! Thank you so much. I remember you commented on the original instagram post of Monday Muse with Val and it really got me thinking – thank you for your encouragement. I still can’t believe it all came together! xx

  2. What a fabulous piece, I sooo remember watching their programme growing up .. loved the shots .. gee what a energy she has & how beautiful ..

  3. Can’t tell you how much I absolutely love this Kara. What an inspiring life she has led and continues to lead. Your photos look like you uncovered a time capsule! What an amazing experience.

    • Hi Emma – so pleased you enjoyed it. I still can’t believe I was able to spend time with her and was able to photograph Val and fossick through her home. Such an open woman who respects the craft of documenting.

      • What an amazing woman!
        Very inspiring and heartwarming to learn how much she has done to conserve sharks.

        Would love to send a personal letter of appreciation, does she have an address for fan mail?

        Wonderful photos!

  4. What a lovely tribute to this amazing, beautiful lady. Please tell her it was a delight to see her photos and read a little bit about her.

    • Hi Julie – thank you for your comment – you know, Val is internet savvy – she probably was already read your comment :) Though I will pass this on.

  5. Darling Kara – you keep bringing synchronicity into your life – and I love that you share it around. Wonderful story. Wonderful history. Wonderful photographs!!

  6. Wow, I am astounded. You are totally brilliant as a photographer and a writer, Also you are a very nice person, young, take talented and enthusiastic.

    Thank you for the most flattering words. Would love to see you again some where. the book on man life continues to grow and the feature is also in the works. I am sending your piece to the producer.

    Thanks again.
    Valerie May Taylor AM

    • Valerie, thank you for the kind words. You are such an inspiration to me and meeting you was definitely a career highlight – Kara xx

  7. I had the privilege of including Valerie in my film, BLUE in 2017, chartering her legacy and the changes she’s seen in her life time in the marine world. Val is my neighbour and has become a close friend since our time spent on the ocean together. You have certainly captured her spirit. Beautifully done. Beautiful photographs.

  8. Hi Kara, I just stumbled across your blog and WoW!! I remember watching Valerie and Ron when I too was growing up, marvelling at their underwater world. How beautiful Valerie is, what an amazing lady. I was actually trying to find information on Ron Harding and the history of his wetsuits, which is what lead me here….the rabbit warren of the internet! If Valerie by any chance reads this, or anyone else, I would dearly love to know more about Ron Harding and his store in Manly. I found a photo of Ron out the front of his shop in Manly shaking hands with my Uncle and I’m keen to know more as I’m researching my family’s surfing history in South Australia.
    Thank you so much.
    Sharon Smith

    • Hi Sharon/Kara
      noticed the above just going thru my dads history and would be happy to share his info with you. he started the first dive school in Australia, he also taught ben cropp how to scuba dive under the spit bridge in the early days, in 1954 he set a deep diving record at balls point under the harbour bridge, he was very good friends with the great Ron and Val Taylor and taylor made some wetsuits for them

  9. Hi Kara.
    I really enjoyed reading your story on Valerie Taylor. My maiden name is Greenbury, and my Mum: Gloria, Dad: Ron and myself, did some dives with Valerie and Ron during their early diving years. We made a skin diving film together on Hayman Island when I was 7. I was wondering if it would be possible for you to give Valerie my contact details, as I would really like to get in touch with her – so many years to catch up on. Thank you for any assistance that you can give me. Sincere regards, Karen.

  10. Thank you very much Kara. I really appreciate your assistance. My phone number is 0405 536 470. I am with Belong, so if I don’t answer, please ask Valerie to message me and Ill phone her back asap. I’m excited – hope Valerie wants to catch up!! Sincerely, Karen Nash (nee Greenbury)

  11. Hi Kara,
    I have just read your article on Val and am hoping you could pass on (or that she herself will read this) a message to her for me.
    My sister is turning 13 this year and her dream is to study Marine Biology. I have only known my sister in the last 5 years. She is bright and clever and I fully encourage her to follow her dreams. I have taken her to our local University Marine Biology open day and she loved it.
    However, her mother has told her that she should aim towards a carer in Aged Care Assistant with an upgrade to Nursing as a career in the future. We are paternally related only with a very large age gap. Our varying cultural backgrounds is why her mother is influencing her in a particular direction.
    I have bought your book for her to read in the hope of her knowing she can keep her dream and aim for what ever career or future she wants. I have sent her a couple of your interviews and you tube clips for inspiration. Her birthday is on the 31st of August.
    I would love and I’m sure she herself would be super thrilled to have a word or two of encouragement from someone as Inspirational as Valerie in a field that she herself wishes to follow.
    Thank you for you time, I live in hope Valerie reads this post. (I’ll also try her publisher)
    Joanne Bluett

  12. Loved this story. What an influence Val & Ron had on my life without me knowing! My father was part of Mortdale free divers in the 60s and knew Ron & Valerie. I heard so much about these two legends as a child, and started diving (free and scuba) as young as 8 years old. Dad was one of Australia’s first Padi dive masters, myself one at 18 on the Great Barrier Reef. My mother is from Balgowlah, her sister worked at Manly Aquarium as a diver in the 60s. The influence on our family was immense. I live in Fairlight now and skin dive with my kids when I can, mostly at Shelly Sunday afternoons. My love of the ocean and grey nurse sharks comes from my father, heavily influenced by Valerie. What a fearless, incredible human she is. Thank you. Such a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing.

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