Neil Johnson founded Commercial Diving Services in 1955 turning his passion for recreational diving into a commercial diver career and pioneering the way for the commercial diving industry in Australia.
Builder With An Underwater Passion
Always diving solo, Neil learned the skills required to survive underwater and was soon called upon by various local companies to retrieve lost items and sunken boats in Port Kembla harbour. He quickly realised he needed to upgrade his underwater expertise as a Commercial Diver and went to Melbourne for 6 weeks where he completed the Standard Dress course under the watchful eye of Ted Eldridge, who quickly became Neil’s mentor. Ted was a former pearl diver who had many hundreds of hours wearing the classic round metal diver’s helmet, canvas suit and weighted shoes (Ted Eldridge developed the world’s first single hose regulator from 1948 to 1952).
Pioneering Commercial Diver
He had no sooner returned to Wollongong when he was contacted by Ted and offered a full-time job as a Commercial Diver on the new Bass Strait Oil Rigs. Neil declined this offer, realising that this position would require extended periods away from his family.
Neil’s natural aptitude and passion for commercial diving motivated him to undertake the development of the first Hooka system in New South Wales. A system which was a hybrid of Aqua-Lung and Standard Dress. The Hooka system allowed him to use light-weight ‘demand-valve’ technology providing an unlimited air supply from the surface. He continued to build homes in the Wollongong area whilst running a part time business as a Commercial Diver.
Around this time the Metropolitan Water Sewerage & Drainage Board (MWS & DB) were completing construction of the Warragamba Dam. Whilst installing a krupp-gate used to seal the pen-gate on the up-flow side of the dam wall, the krupp-gate became dislodged in 154 feet of water. The ‘hard-hat’ divers employed by the Water Board refused to do the job, which resulted in Neil Johnson being called in.
Neil worked for six weeks, seven days a week in pitch darkness at 154 feet below the surface removing debris and re-aligning the krupp-gate. The Sydney Water divers objected to this ring-in using lightweight Hooka and regarded it as a threat to their long established Standard Dress protocol, ‘the thin edge of the wedge’, as it were.
Neil’s fearless enthusiasm and professional manner quickly established him as the Commercial Diver of choice and he was propelled into the full-time profession of Commercial Diver. Using his new Hooka diving system he was called upon to undertake inspections on numerous inland dams and catchments including the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme.
He trained two of his old spear-fishing mates as Commercial Divers and began ‘Neil Johnson Skin Diving Services’. He went on to employ a further eight Commercial Divers and establish himself as the master of all things under the water. Son Keith, joined his father’s business in 1970 and quickly became the Masters Apprentice.
Neil always undertook the first dive on every job, ensuring that his employees were not exposed to any undue or unforeseen danger. His eye for detail and diligent planning forming the basis for three decades of ‘nil fatality’ deployment.
His deepest dives were at Warragamba Dam where he dived to 315 feet on three occasions.
His most dangerous dives were undertaken in a ‘water-supply’ well at Bathurst. His task was to survey a disused underground water supply used by railway locos. An 80 feet vertical shaft which terminated at a horizontal 100 foot shaft. His job was to dive to the bottom and then travel along the horizontal shaft with a CCTV camera thrust forward of his shoulders. Fortunately for Neil the pictures conveyed to his son Keith above, showed the tunnel collapsing in front of him… a vision not seen by Neil as he proceeded forward towards certain death. Neil was advised of the impending disaster by two way communication and was then slowly pulled backwards to safety as the tunnel collapsed in front of his withdrawal.
Neil’s proudest professional moment was when his son Keith telephoned him from London on 15 July 2009 to advise his father that Commercial Diving Services had been declared runner-up in the 2009 Sustainable Shipping Awards for their contribution to the improvement of the ocean environment through the invention of HST (Hull Surface Treatment).
The most enjoyable job Neil undertook in his career was a drilling job for Clutha. They (Clutha) were endeavouring to drill off the coast near Stanwell Park when the drill-rig was lost overboard on the first day of operations. Neil and his company were originally engaged to recover the drill-rig, however upon inspection Neil suggested that his company could mount the drill-rig onto the sea floor in 100 feet of water. Commercial Diving Services were given the green-light and then proceeded to establish a complete drill-rig on the ocean floor with a hydraulic power supply to the surface. They successfully drilled 20 test holes to a depth of 150 feet. This was an achievement never undertaken previously and was reported around the world in various Industry journals.
A Lifetime Of Underwater Memories
Neil Johnson's Statistics