Our Society celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. Next year we can celebrate our 60th! That’s if we take the word of our Patron & Life Member, Dr Scoresby Shepherd. He says that MLSSA, formerly MARIA (SA Branch), followed on from the SA Museum Underwater Research Group. The Museum URG was established in 1957. It was part of many international URGs which commenced in France in 1945 (meaning that we indirectly reached our 70th anniversary last year).

The first URG was established in Toulon, France in 1945 and was led by Philippe Tailliez*. Several URGs sprang up throughout Australia during the mid-1950s. The SA Museum URG was established in 1957 by John Mitchell, Curator of Reptiles at the SA Museum at the time. The group comprised diving enthusiasts who wanted to enhance knowledge of marine life.

* (Philippe Tailliez was honoured as ‘the Father of Diving’ by the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences (whilst in his late 90s?). He was born about 1905.)

All of this is explained on pages 21-22 of Scoresby Shepherd’s book “Underwater is Paradise – memoir of a marine biologist”.

Scoresby thinks that the URG first met in a room in Rechabite Chambers in Victoria Square, Adelaide, and later meetings were held in the SA Museum building. Scoresby himself was Secretary of the URG during the early 60s.

It seems that the Museum URG pioneered collecting of reef organisms by shore diving. John Mitchell, who had started the URG, was (still?) its President in December 1962. About 1965, the URG sold its salvage rights for the Clan Ranald wreck to a professional salvage company for £3000. The money was put into a trust account to award prizes for outstanding underwater photographs (the John Mitchell Award?).

(The then Scuba Divers Association of SA assisted the Underwater Photographic Society, an SDASA member, in the organisation of the 4th Annual Underwater Photographic Competition in 1976.)

Scoresby says that the Museum URG “finally petered out” and had entirely wound down its activities by the early 70s.

According to “Underwater is Paradise”, the trust fund set up for prizes for outstanding underwater photographs operated until the URG itself wound up in 1977. MARIA (SA), forerunner to MLSSA, was established in June 1976. (The national group had started in 1968.)

It was stated in 1976 that MARIA (SA) had “in effect . . . replaced the now defunct marine study group at the Adelaide (SA) Museum. It was also stated that the group’s aim was to become a locally recognised marine life organisation. MARIA (SA) changed its name to become the Marine Life Society of South Australia in October 1982.

Copies of Scoresby Shepherd’s book “Underwater is Paradise – memoir of a marine biologist” are available from our Society for $30 each (+ costs).

By Steve Reynolds

Steve Reynolds is the current President of MLSSA and is a long-standing member of the Society. Steve was a keen diver, underwater explorer & photographer before illness struck. He is chief author of the Society's extensive back catalogue of newsletters and journals.

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