Hall of Fame for man labelled 'modern day Captain Cook'

Modern day Captain Cook - Captain Wayne Muller, who was inducted into the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame in 2015,
Modern day Captain Cook - Captain Wayne Muller, who was inducted into the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame in 2015,

DESCRIBED by his family as having sea water running through his veins rather than blood, Captain Wally Muller was never truly happy unless he was out on the water.

He was even labelled, "the modern day Captain Cook" who single-handedly established and developed the entire live-aboard industry in Australia's outer Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea.

Born in Blackall in 1930, Wally grew up farming with his father, but that wasn't where his heart truly lay.

Marrying country girl Beryl Neilson in 1953, by 1957 Wally had moved to the Capricorn Coast to pursue his dream of becoming a pioneer of the Southern Great Barrier Reef.

From then on, Wally ticked off endless firsts for the region and the state - whether it was his idea to freeze fresh fish while out wide or discover and map most of the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef.

On October 2, 2015, Wally was inducted into the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame, where his son Alex accepted the award on his behalf in a ceremony in the Cayman Islands.

He was recognised for his exploration of the reefs' Swain sector and the distant oceanic Coral Sea atolls, which other captains avoided.

Many of those areas were unchartered, and considered too dangerous to enter.

But it was a meeting with the supreme commander of all small ships during the second world war, when Wally was a boy, that ignited his thirst for living and working on the water.

"He was a swimmer as a boy and very familiar with the water, he wanted to join the navy but as an only child, his mother didn't want him to," Alex told the Capricorn Coast Mirror recently.

"His parents had a beach house in Yeppoon and he used to go out fishing with an old bloke Charlie Rizer, he was an old German man who owned the River Song.

"From then he had the dream of buying the boat."

Fast forward some years later, Wally had bought the River Song in 1959 and had made his way back to the water where he began working as a commercial fisherman, selling fish to the south east Queensland fish market.

"He was the first in this area to sell filleted frozen fish packs; he realised the potential in it after working on the farm where they did the same thing to the beef," Alex said.

Alex said all his father's navigations were carried out by sextant and almanac.

Sons of Captain Muller Alexander (aka ‘Boo’) and the late Roy Muller.
Sons of Captain Muller Alexander (aka ‘Boo’) and the late Roy Muller. Contributed

"He'd do star sightings of a night and sun sightings in the day, commonly known as celestial navigation, which he did throughout his pioneering days," Alex said.

Muller fished commercially, and then later took out fishing parties aboard the Careelah.

In 1969, Wally and a partner built the 79-foot Coralita as a 12 person live aboard fishing and diving charter boat.

"Builders of the Coralita were naval architects in Brisbane who were renowned for building robust and durable vessels," Alex said.

The Coralita was originally intended as a cruise boat working the islands and reefs offshore on the southern end of the GBR.

ON A MISSION: Wally Muller’s fishing boat, the Coralita was used for fishing charters, island trips and taking scuba divers out to the reefs. Captain Muller was an admirer of the navigational skills of Matthew Flinders, and followed in his wake aboard the three vessels he owned.
ON A MISSION: Wally Muller’s fishing boat, the Coralita was used for fishing charters, island trips and taking scuba divers out to the reefs. Captain Muller was an admirer of the navigational skills of Matthew Flinders, and followed in his wake aboard the three vessels he owned. Contributed RCC

Through his friendship with Ron and Valerie Taylor and John Harding (then the founding editor of FATHOM), he was able to attract local and overseas scuba divers, especially from the USA.

The early interest by divers to reach the remote atolls out in the Coral Sea led to reduce his fishing exposure and concentrate on divers during seasons when the long crossings out to sea were tolerable.

Captain Muller's skills were so in tune with the ocean, he could always find the prime Coral Sea atoll, Marion Reef, which lay about 300 miles off Yeppoon.

Two overnight cruises later, divers arrived at what was in those days the clearest water-diving in the world. Marion Reef had a northern tip called Action Point, where the shark action was explosive.

Several filmmakers, including the makers of Jaws, shot their underwater scenes at Action Point and everywhere in the Coral Sea because the clear water made the screen action more potent for theatregoers.

Alex said he still remembered travelling out to these waters with his father and the divers.

"The movies were made out on the boat included The Deep, some of Jaws, Sea Safari, Sharks Treasure, Operation Shark Bite (starring Alex), Slaughter at Saumarez and numerous others," he said.

Low tide at Saumarez Reef in the Coral Sea – the wreck was too rusty to explore again.
Low tide at Saumarez Reef in the Coral Sea – the wreck was too rusty to explore again. Contributed

"I'd have to stir up the sharks feeding frenzy so the divers could film.

"The first international divers came out with Carl Rossler of See and Sea (American diving company).

"All of the reefs Captain Muller named retained their names which include Fuel, Mackerel, Pops (named after Muller's father), Sweetlip, Hook Line, Sinker, Gannet Cay, Lavers Cays (named after Len Laver), Riversong Cay and many more.

"I named Muller's Reef, after GRMPA wanted to name a reef after dad," he said.

"I think what he achieved with the bare essentials and limited resources he had back then was nothing short of incredible."



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