Ross Newton

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YOB: 1947
Experience: Commercial Fisherman, Spearfisherman, Scuba Diver
Regions: Otago, Fiordland, Foveaux Strait, Rakiura
Interview Location: Dunedin, NZ
Interview Date: 25 January 2016
Post Date: 08 July 2017; Copyright © 2017 Ross Newton and Steve Crawford

 

5. WHITE POINTER ENCOUNTERS - EXPERIENCES OF OTHERS

CRAWFORD: When was the first time you either recall seeing or hearing about a White Pointer? 

NEWTON: Well, I guess I first heard about Les Jordan who got taken near St. Clair here. That’s when I first become aware. 

CRAWFORD: What do you remember from that event?

NEWTON: I heard it on the radio.

CRAWFORD: You just happened to be listening to the radio when the news came over?

NEWTON: I was working. I was an apprentice then. 

CRAWFORD: At a panel beating shop? 

NEWTON: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: And what did you hear about that incident? 

NEWTON: I heard that his legs were shredded, and couple of guys from Christchurch pulled him out, and got him on the beach. I guess he’d pretty much bled to death. 

CRAWFORD: Do you recall the circumstances of the encounter?

NEWTON: He was training for a surf competition, and he was just swimming. They used to swim out and around White island, and back again.

CRAWFORD: What do you reckon ... is that like a 4 km swim out to White Island and back?

NEWTON: I suppose it would be.

CRAWFORD: it’s a good chunk of distance. And it was just a guy who was training. Was he swimming alone?

NEWTON: I think so, yeah. 

CRAWFORD: He wasn’t doing anything like spearfishing or anything else - just swimming?

NEWTON: Early in the morning. 

CRAWFORD: Early in the morning?

NEWTON: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: He must have been relatively close to shore, if anybody even saw the event and knew enough to go out and get him. 

NEWTON: Well, these two guys were out on longboards or something, and they got him on the board and pulled him in. 

CRAWFORD: Did you know them?

NEWTON: No.

CRAWFORD: Do you remember the time of year?

NEWTON: Probably in the summer I would think. 

CRAWFORD: What was the response to this? How did the community respond?

NEWTON: Well, I can’t really remember. But I know I never went back to the surf club after that. 

CRAWFORD: Any training that you had done, any investment in time - you just kind of walked away from that?

NEWTON: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: I got the impression, based on something you said earlier, that you weren't alone. Were there a lot of people that would have been involved at one level or another with the beach, and they just kind of didn't go back. 

NEWTON: That’s right. I remember diving after then, there was the guy [Bill] Black, and they think there might have been two sharks involved in that attack. 

CRAWFORD: That’s the first I’ve heard of this. Well hang on, just before we go on, with regard to the Jordan incident. Did anybody see the attack?

NEWTON: I presume they did. 

CRAWFORD: Do you have any recollection that it was known to be a White Pointer specifically that was involved? 

NEWTON: No. 

CRAWFORD: At least in terms of what you knew at the time.

NEWTON: Right. 

CRAWFORD: When I asked you what was your first recollection of hearing about or seeing a White Pointer, it's a pretty dramatic event from not being on your radar at all - to somebody just down the road being killed. 

NEWTON: Yeah. Before that, I wouldn’t have thought anything of jumping in the water and going for a swim.

CRAWFORD: You had done quite a bit of swimming in water immediately adjacent to where this happened?

NEWTON: More so after those things had happened.

CRAWFORD: Do you recall how long it was between the first attack and then the second?

NEWTON: I think it was a year. About the same time, the next year. 

CRAWFORD: How did you hear about the second incident?

NEWTON: I don’t know how I heard about that one. 

CRAWFORD: Tell me what you do recall of what you heard?

NEWTON: Well, I heard that Kevin Brown, the guy behind, swam into the blood. 

CRAWFORD: Swam behind, in the sense that there were a bunch of swimmers going out?

NEWTON: Two of them, I think there was only the two of them. 

CRAWFORD: Was this training, or a competition?

NEWTON: I don’t know if it was a competition or training. I’m not sure. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. But there were at least two of them.

NEWTON: And they had belts - you know, the belt with the big reel they used. 

CRAWFORD: Yes, a team event with one swimmer and four holding the spool of line to the belt? 

NEWTON: Could be, yeah. 

CRAWFORD: Did you know Kevin Brown? 

NEWTON: Yeah. But not at that time I didn’t.

CRAWFORD: Later he told you what he knew directly?

NEWTON: Yeah. This might have been few years later, I’m not sure. 

CRAWFORD: I have a feeling that whatever he told you, those memories don’t change that much. 

NEWTON: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: What do you remember Kevin telling you?

NEWTON: Just that he swam under the blood, and that the held his hand in the air, and they hauled him in. 

CRAWFORD: Was that like a distress sign or something?

NEWTON: Yeah. And when they pulled Bill Black’s, it was just the belt, and it was shredded. I remember at some stage there was talk that it might have been two sharks, but maybe people see one fin and they see the tail, and they think it’s two sharks. 

CRAWFORD: I haven't heard of anybody who saw anything specifically with the Bill Black incident.

NEWTON: Well, I’m only guessing that that’s what happened. They definitely said that they thought it was two sharks. 

CRAWFORD: At least somebody out there not only had the impression that sharks were seen, but that at least some people thought that there were two sharks. 

NEWTON: Yeah. Like I don’t even think Kevin Brown saw anything.

CRAWFORD: And he was as close as you could be. 

NEWTON: Yeah. Well, Kevin actually said to me that he usually beat Bill Black in those races. But this time Bill Black was in front. 

CRAWFORD: Right. Just because you know Kevin, what was Kevin’s - how did it affect Kevin?

NEWTON: I don’t know. 

CRAWFORD: Okay. Do you remember anything else? Hearing anything about the circumstances?

NEWTON: No. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. Based on an earlier discussion, prior to us doing the interview, I think you said that there was also a connection you had with the Aramoana attack?

NEWTON: Not at that time, that came afterwards. I became really friendly with two of the guys who were actually in the water that day. 

CRAWFORD: Tell me about that, please.

NEWTON: It was by 1971, I knew Colin Wilson. We worked outside of diving about '68 or '69 or something. So I got to know him. In fact, I was at Stewart Island with Colin Wilson in 1970 actually, when I think about it. 

CRAWFORD: And what was your connection with Colin?

NEWTON: Well he was into spearfishing, and so was I. 

CRAWFORD: Tell me what you recall from Colin about the incident that happened at Aramoana. 

NEWTON: Well, Colin said to me that the shark was swimming around him, and he was just treading water - watching it, as it was swimming around. And then it just disappeared.

CRAWFORD: Did he tell you anything about how it was circling? Fast or slow, or how close? Anything like that?

NEWTON: I presume it was slow, just the way he was talking about. It was swimming round him. Colin said he was just following around like that ...

CRAWFORD: Just facing it all the time? He was turning to keep the White Pointer in front?

NEWTON: And then it disappeared. 

CRAWFORD: Was Colin spearfishing at the time?

NEWTON: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: Did he have fish on a spear, or on a float, at the time?

NEWTON: I don’t know. In those days, they used to use a rubber tube with a net on it. They used to throw the fish in the net.


CRAWFORD: Right. And then tow the rubber tube with a line? So that there was some distance between them and the tube?

NEWTON: There used to be talk that Graham [Hitt] had fish on his belt. But I think Colin once told me that wasn’t correct. But I can imagine that they did have fish in a float. But you’d think that if the shark was gonna go for that, it would. And Bruce Skinner had already got out of the water. He actually jumped back in, and pulled [Graham] out. 

CRAWFORD: Do you recall hearing anything about season or time of day for that attack?

NEWTON: No. But apparently when it grabbed Graham he was on his way up. 

CRAWFORD: This was free-diving or scuba-diving?

NEWTON: Free-diving. He was on his way up, and it must have grabbed up and actually pushed him up I believe out of the water. Probably came under him. I think it got him round the hip here. And that severed the artery in his leg here. And probably if it hadn’t severed that artery, he might not have died.

CRAWFORD: Because it wasn’t the type of attack that ... Like with Bill Black, they never found the body.

NEWTON: No. 

CRAWFORD: It wasn’t the type of attack where there were huge pieces taken. It was a clampdown, and a release. Do you remember Colin ever telling you anything about the actual attack?

NEWTON: No. But John Kirkman did. He was the other guy in the water, who was down there. John said to me that he grabbed hold of Graham and said "Are you alright?" But he says, I knew he wasn’t alright. And Bruce Skinner jumped back in the water and helped pull him out. 

CRAWFORD: Had anybody seen the attack then? 

NEWTON: I think - I’m pretty sure John saw it. 

CRAWFORD: But you don’t recall any details from that?

NEWTON: Nah.

CRAWFORD: This whole thing was triggered by me asking you what was the first time you remembered hearing about or seeing a White Pointer. And it turns out that you heard in relatively quick succession about the incidences at St. Clair, St. Kilda and Aramoana. 

NEWTON: Yeah. And then there was another one after that, had you ever heard about that?

CRAWFORD: It depends, when you say another one, you mean another attack?

NEWTON: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: Tell me about it.

NEWTON: It was either St. Clair or St. Kilda. I think it was St. Clair. Around that same period, but after the one at Aramoana. It may have even been a couple of years or more, after that. There was a young guy Watkins, although he’s probably not that young anymore. I can’t think what his name was. He waved the day from school to go surfing and the shark actually bit his surf board in half. 

CRAWFORD: Yes.

NEWTON: Well, all I know really is hearsay. But I did meet the guy, and I believe he got cut down the back of his leg. He was surfing, and apparently the shark rested its head on the front of the surf board and bit him. 

CRAWFORD: Pardon me?

NEWTON: The shark put its head on the front of the surf board and looked at him. But it had already attacked the board. 

CRAWFORD: What kind of shark?

NEWTON: Well, they reckon it was a White Pointer.

CRAWFORD: Based on the teeth imprints?

NEWTON: Yeah. The only other thing that I can think of, is that it actually bit on the surf board and he saw the front of its head. Have you not heard that before? 

CRAWFORD: I Hadn't heard that the animal laid its head on the board, and was looking at him. That’s the first I’ve heard that.

NEWTON: And I mean that could be a fictitious story, for all I know.

CRAWFORD: It may not be so much a matter of fiction, as that was his perception. 

NEWTON: Right. 

CRAWFORD: That chain of incidences that you just told me about, there being 1, 2, 3, 4 different incidences of very intimate encounters, three of them lethal ...

NEWTON: Yeah. In a very short period of time.

CRAWFORD: In a very short period of time, in a relatively small geographic location.

NEWTON: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: For a guy who lived close by, right through that time period. Who was closely connected to the community, and would spend a hell of a lot of time in the water. Why do you think there were so many attacks in this place, in such a short period of time, in such a short geographic proximity?

NEWTON: Well, not long after that period of time, there was a White Pointer caught down at Taiaroa Heads. In a net. It was all tied up in this pic. If you can get to the Otago Underwater Club, they've got a picture of this White Pointer up there - all caught up in the net. 

CRAWFORD: Who’s a contact with the Otago Underwater Club?

NEWTON: Ted Young. Have you interviewed him yet?

CRAWFORD: Not yet, no. But that animal was caught in a setnet, a while after the other attacks?

NEWTON: It might have even been around that same. It was definitely in that period of time. And we haven’t had any attacks ever since.

CRAWFORD: Was it the case that people here in Dunedin, at least some of the people reckoned that that animal that was incidentally caught in that set net, was responsible for the other attacks?

NEWTON: Well that’s how I sort of always thought, because there were never any more attacks after that. Although they did put shark nets out here. But I don’t think ever caught a White Pointer. And I don’t think I was the only one that thought that. 

CRAWFORD: Other people interpreted it the same way?

NEWTON: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. Do you recall anything that happened with regards to the animal that was caught in that setnet? Do you know if it was ever taken into dock, and anybody dissected it or did anything as a follow up?

NEWTON: I’m not sure, but I think it might have been. Some University guy who found it.

CRAWFORD: As in Otago University guy?

NEWTON: Yeah, maybe even the Marine Department. I don’t know. It’s only just something that’s in my mind, I’m thinking - you know? 

CRAWFORD: That’s fine. You brought up the shark nets. What's your recollection of the motivation for those Dunedin City Council shark nets?

NEWTON: To protect the beaches ...

CRAWFORD: Specifically, which?

NEWTON: St. Clair, St Kilda and Brighton. But they were set in a pattern like that. They were never ... like the shark would just have to swim in between them. It’s not like they were round that particular part of the beach where the people swam. 

CRAWFORD: Did you ever see these nets?

NEWTON: No. 

CRAWFORD: Did you ever talk to people who had seen them? Or anybody that had fished them, or anything like that?

NEWTON: No. Although I had heard that that never got any White Pointers out of them, and very few of anything else.

CRAWFORD: Basically, that they weren’t effective?

NEWTON: Probably not. 

CRAWFORD: Anything else that you recall about those DCC nets?

NEWTON: Well one of the things that people thought was that the shark would swim along the shore, and then along the beach. And the net would be out here, so the shark wouldn’t be anywhere near them. 

CRAWFORD: That the nets were too far offshore?

NEWTON: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: And that the shark was already swimming parallel to the shoreline, inside of it? As opposed to the shark nets keeping the sharks offshore?

NEWTON: The shark had to swim out to actually hit the net. So, in some ways probably made people feel better. But that was probably all. 

CRAWFORD: Okay. I want to get back to the time that you spent as a young fellow, specifically with your free diving and your scuba diving. You’ve put in hundreds of hours over the years around the Otago Peninsula. Throughout all of that time diving in this region, have you ever seen a White Pointer? 

NEWTON: Not on this coast. Not on the peninsula.

CRAWFORD: All that time, in the harbour, Aramoana, around the rocky side of the peninsula, through St. Clair, St. Kilda, you swam out and around Green Island ...

NEWTON: Yeah, many times.

CRAWFORD: Many times. All of that, and you never once saw any sharks?

NEWTON: No. 

CRAWFORD: Did you ever hear about anybody else free diving or scuba diving, who saw any White Pointers in the Otago Peninsula region during that time?

NEWTON: No. But I have heard of them, further north up Moeraki way and Shag Point. 

CRAWFORD: Any other White Pointer encounters that you can think of?

NEWTON: There was another guy, Roger Moseby lives in Wanaka. Was working for himself, Roger. He owns Pāua quota, and I’ve been catching that for a few years now. But he had one of his flippers taken off by a White Pointer there, and when he got on the boat, he thought his legs were gone.

CRAWFORD: Where did this happen?

NEWTON: The shoals off Seal Rock.

CRAWFORD: Alright. Would have been, what? Another year later?

NEWTON: That was before us, I think. I don’t know. I just know that he got attacked. 

CRAWFORD: What I’m trying to do is get a sense of over what time period all of this all happened. Within weeks or months or years of each other?

NEWTON: I would say this was in the 90’s.

CRAWFORD: But over a couple of years?

NEWTON: Well, that I don’t know. 

CRAWFORD: Any other encounters from other people that cone to mind?

NEWTON: Yeah. John Hildebrand, he’s seen a White Pointer up the shore here somewhere [northwest Stewart Island].

CRAWFORD: Up towards the Saddle?

NEWTON: Yeah. The thing was back of the Saddle.

CRAWFORD: When was that?

NEWTON: Two or three years ago, I suppose. And it wouldn’t let him get back to the boat. But it let him dive down, and pick up his hand net off the bottom. Because initially he didn’t realize that’s what it was. He thought it was a Hooker's Sea Lion or something. And then it came in closer out of the gloom, and he saw what it was. And he reckoned it took him a long time to get back to the boat, because it kept coming sort of between him and the boat. That’s what he told me anyway. 

CRAWFORD: At the surface? Going around, between him and the boat?

NEWTON: I presume it was at the surface, because it wouldn't have been very deep there. 

CRAWFORD: Any other encounters you can think of?

NEWTON: Paul Young, he was off Ruapuke, and had a big one come out of there. He was spear fishing.

CRAWFORD: Whereabouts, exactly?

NEWTON: I’m not sure exactly where - I think over the back. He was spearfishing with a hand spear, and he a shot a couple of fish, and he had one in his hand, and he had speared another one. This is what he told me. And this White Pointer came up, and it was big by the sounds of things. This thing was coming up towards him as he is going to the surface, and had a go at him. He threw his fish away. And it must have grabbed - I don’t know if it grabbed it or what - but it turned. And he hit the surface, and the last thing he saw was this thing coming up towards him, and him throwing away the spear with the other fish on it. Was just a two-hand spear And the two guys in the boat pulled him into the boat - scuba and all. 

CRAWFORD: Did the shark come up and circle the boat?

NEWTON: Not that I know of, not that I know of. 

CRAWFORD: But it was coming up. 

NEWTON: Yeah. That’s what Paul said to me. I said "How big?" And my father used to have busses, and he said "You know how big those busses that your father’s were?" He said "It was like a bus coming at me."

CRAWFORD: But it didn’t breach? And it didn’t come to the surface and circle or anything like that?

NEWTON: No. Not that I know of. 

CRAWFORD: Right. Ok. 

NEWTON: Paul’s with his brother Tim this week I think. But if you wanted to ask him about it, he might have a different perception.

CRAWFORD: Have you ever heard of any Level 4 encounters with White Pointers recently? Like that kind of aggressive, attack-level behaviour?

NEWTON: Only the guy that had his flippers taken off. 

CRAWFORD: At Seal Rock, off the back of Ruapuke?

NEWTON: Yeah.

Copyright © 2017 Ross Newton and Steve Crawford