WHEN I WAS 13, I received “goggles and flippers” for Christmas, and my love of the ocean began. Over the next few years, I found a wonderful, fruitful world under the sea, with colourful fish living among garden-like reefs.
Soon I met others who shared my passion, and each weekend we’d drive to places along the vast Australian coastline to collect spiny lobsters and scallops.
I’d catch fish to help feed our family of seven. Now and again, we’d encounter a few sharks, quickly removing fish from our spears as our hearts beat erratically. We recognised them as bronze whalers.
We’d heard stories about man-eating sharks and occasional news reports about sharkbites or people disappearing while swimming, but in those days very little was known about sharks.
Like most teenagers, I had seen pictures of giant whales, big sharks caught by game fishermen hanging from a crane on a jetty and paintings of large, strange squid-like creatures attacking ships. While these fired my imagination, the word “shark” was in the same category as Hell, the Devil and Death, things that affected other people but had nothing to do with me.

I WAS 22 IN 1963 and in good physical condition, recently married and the reigning South Australian spearfishing champion. While trying to regain my title and win the Australian Champion title at Aldinga Reef in South Australia, I climbed out of the water after four hours of a six-hour competition.
Weighing my catch, I calculated that I needed a few more fish. Feeling confident, I swam out, well offshore into deeper water – much deeper than where most of the other 40 competitors were working.
On the way, I speared and attached to my float two very hard-to-get fish: a snook and a King George whiting, both good point-scorers.
Taking three or four deep breaths, I dived towards the seabed in 14 or 15m and sighted a large dusky morwong, lying with its head in seaweed.
I glided towards it, my rubber-powered gun held out in front. I knew I had that fish. I was caressing the trigger, about to fire when – thump! Something hit me hard, crushing my left side.
It was as if I’d been hit by a train. The gun was knocked out of my hands and the mask off my face, and I was being hurled through the water at great speed, with the jaws of a shark clamped around my chest.
Instinct took over and I tried to gouge out its eyes with both fingers, groping around its head. The shark seemed to stop. I fell out of its mouth and thrust my right arm out defensively to push it away - but my hand disappeared into the shark’s mouth, ripping on its razor-like teeth.
I dragged my arm from the closing jaw and grabbed the shark around its body, back by its dorsal fin and away from its teeth.
Holding on, I was deep under water holding my breath, and realised that I could soon drown. I let go, pushed off and headed towards the surface.
Sucking in a lungful of air, I looked down through the blood-red water and saw a blurry image of a shark heading up towards me, its wide-open mouth full of large white teeth.
I had nothing to protect myself and kicked out, my fin just brushing the sharks nose. The shark turned, swallowed the 25cm round fish-float still attached to my weightbelt with 10m of ski rope, then swam down, dragging me under.
I tried to find my belt’s quick-release with my good left hand, but it must have slipped to my side. Dizzy, weak and terrified, within seconds I would have to breathe.
Then the line snapped – a miracle. Later I realised that, although strong, it must have been cut most of the way through when the shark had bitten me around the chest.
With a burst of adrenaline, I found my way back up to the surface.
Gasping two breaths of air, I yelled: “Shark, shark!” Two men in a small boat had already seen a pool of bright red in the water and were motoring over to investigate just as I broke through the surface.
Unable to put my arms up, they lifted my body and rolled me into the boat.
A series of amazing miracles was involved in my eventful journey to hospital more than 30 miles away. I was loaded from the boat into a station-wagon once on the beach, and the car sped off to get me to medical help.
I was transferred into an ambulance and then to the operating table at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.
The shark’s teeth had punctured and broken every rib in my left side, and tore a hole in my diaphragm and left lung, exposing my spleen and main artery.
It took 465 stitches and four and half hours to repair.
My right hand was a mess, with four tendons cut and my little finger left dangling. I was in intensive care for several weeks under constant surveillance, and to this day I still have some shark tooth embedded in my wrist.

IN THE EARLY 1960S, scuba-diving was almost unheard of, and very little was known about sharks.
By comparing shark jaws at the Adelaide museum and teeth-marks in my wetsuit, my attacker was established as Carcharodon carcharias – a great white shark.
Fishermen in those days carried guns in their boats to deal with these giant sharks and other denizens of the deep.
I read everything I could about sharks, which wasnt much, and it was with some apprehension that I returned to freediving.
I began in shark-free, clear, deep, freshwater lakes and sinkholes and, exactly one year after my attack,
I competed in the Australian team spearfishing championships off San Remo, Victoria.
I was top point-scorer, and our team won. I was back, fit and healthy – but I gave up spearfishing in groups, as I began to realise that the blood from lots of speared fish attracted sharks.
I wanted to find out more about sharks, and especially my attacker. I talked to world record-holding game fisherman Alf Dean, who held five records on rod and line with great whites weighing more than 1 tonne.
His advice “If you’d seen what I’ve seen, you would pack up your gear and never go back into the water again!”
I was at Adelaide Zoo with my wife Kay and my niece, looking at lions and tigers in their cages, when an idea began to form. Why couldn’t I build a cage to lower from a boat into the sea to observe great whites close up in safety
Were sharks crazy man-eaters as most people thought It was time to make up my own mind.

I DESIGNED A TWO-MAN CAGE out of strong weld mesh. My first expedition to observe, study, film and catch great white sharks was underway.
In November 1965 we set off with Alf Dean, who showed me how to attract and catch them. He caught five of 3.5-4.5m in length over the 10-day trip with a specially made fishing rod and reel with an adjustable clutch so as not to break his 100lb breaking-strain line.
With two other shark-attack survivors, Henri Bource and Brian Rodger, on the boat and shark expert Ron Taylor on camera, we took the first underwater footage and made the first film of cage-diving with great white sharks.
There was a popular saying in those days, “the best shark is a dead shark”, but seeing them “flying” through the water with their hydrodynamic, streamlined bodies and then lying dead and misshapen on the deck and discarded over the side – minus their valuable teeth – was a turning point.
I began thinking about conservation.
I knew from my attack that people had an intense fear and even hatred of sharks, but while I wasnt particularly happy with the shark that had bitten me, killing it out of fear or revenge didn’t make sense.
Ron Taylor and I made several other successful trips to film great whites, and our film Attacked By A Killer Shark was sold in many countries.
Soon I was being asked to arrange and lead expeditions to film great whites for film crews, each time telling my story.
In 1965, I was diving for lobsters with two friends when we found several beds of the Asian shellfish delicacy, abalone.
We collected some, found a market and soon I was earning more money at weekends selling abalone than I had earned during the week selling life insurance. I decided to become a full-time abalone diver.
I bought my own boat, combining my love of cage-diving and filming expeditions with a 16-year career as an abalone diver, logging more than 5000 hours under water along the South Australian coast and islands.
During those abalone-diving years, I had only three surprise encounters with slightly curious great white sharks.
These were infrequent encounters, because during my cage-diving expeditions in waters not too far away, I was seeing many great whites.
I found the best success with the sharks was when I would anchor near sea-lion colonies and use a fish-blood scent to attract them to the boat.
My growing experience with white sharks started to form the theory that sharks prefer to eat their natural menu, and don’t normally target humans.
I spoke to many local fishermen about great whites they had caught in the area, and from photos and their stories I found that while the sharks stomach did contain fish, rays and smaller shark species, in most cases dolphins and seals were the main food, mammals which were, of course, as big as us humans.
Dolphins and sea-lions eventually need to surface to breathe, which could make them vulnerable from ambushing sharks attacking upwards from the dark depths. So perhaps a diver at the surface was then also more susceptible to attack

I BEGAN TO REALISE that encounters with big sharks were surprisingly rare, and that the fear people expressed was an exaggerated, unreal one. I found myself standing up for the sharks more and more.
I started a campaign to try to protect great whites, writing to the Fisheries Department and newspapers, doing TV interviews and giving talks about my experiences to schools and service clubs.
My message was simple: “Sharks aren’t all that bad – we should learn to live with them, not kill them from fear.
In fact, sharks are keystone predators and play an important role in our ocean’s ecology. Ron and Valerie Taylor, with whom I was by now a partner in several films, and other “sharky” people also started to campaign for shark conservation.
During the early years of my expeditions, many film-makers brought shark-researchers and scientists to appear as presenters in their films. I was fascinated to hear their theories, and so pleased that, more and more, they agreed with my philosophies.
It took many more years, but in 1991 great whites became protected in South Africa, and by 1998 their protection in Australia was finally announced. Now these sharks are protected in most of their strongholds in the worlds oceans.

ANDREW, MY SON, enthusiastically joined my crew as a teenager and at the same time completed his science degree at Flinders University, adding a new dimension to the expeditions.
Over the past 50 years we have made more than 60 documentaries and feature films and run hundreds of extended liveaboard trips for researchers, divers and adventurers to study, experience and photograph these sharks.
From these tours journalists have written hundreds of articles about what is said to be the most feared predator in the world – the rare, but strangely beautiful, great white shark.
I have never tired of listening and watching film-makers, journalists and tourists leave the water after coming eye to eye with such a sharks. The elation and wonder they express is inspiring.
Andrew now runs RODNEY FOX SHARK EXPEDITIONS and the FOX SHARK RESEARCH FOUNDATION, established to inspire the appreciation and understanding of great whites through research and education.
Working and learning more about great whites is not easy. They’re complex animals, each with its own personality. We have photographically identified more than 500 individuals, and during the past few years have been tracking them with satellite and acoustic tags.
Our methods impact minimally on the sharks, and we never remove them from the water.
What we are learning is staggering. For example, we always thought that great whites lived as individuals, but after travelling thousands of kilometres some seem to become regular members of “clans” at the Neptune Islands – at the same time each year.
Tourist adventure trips now make up a big part of our time at sea, with surface cage-diving available for non-divers.
Qualified divers have the option of the ocean-floor shark cage-dive. No one else in the world offers this experience, which is vastly different to the adrenalin-rush of surface cage-diving.
On the seabed, the sharks are slower, more inquisitive and intimate, gliding past the cage and swimming alongside giant sting rays and other animals.

DURING THE PAST 30 YEARS we have concentrated on diving at the Neptune Islands, where Australia’s largest colony of fur seals and some rare Australian sea-lions live. This rugged scenic area with its interesting bird life, whales, dolphins and prolific fish life is a heaven for naturalist adventures.
Our style of trips has fewer people on board and more dive-cages, giving adventurers more shark time in the water and the most amazing great white experience anywhere in the world.
We run two- to eight-night trips aboard our liveaboard Princess II, where research talks are a feature. Most of the sharks we know by name, and guests love finding out more about the personalities of those they’ve seen up close.
For Andrew, our crew and me, there is no greater pleasure than introducing guests to our underwater world and the mighty great white shark and hearing them say: “That’s absolutely the best thing I have ever done!”

FOX LIFE
Find out more about Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions, and Fox’s adventurous life story Sharks, The Sea And Me, set to be published in November (Au $29.95), by visiting www.rodneyfox.com.au