Although born in Geelong, Queenscliff was a second home for Craig Elstone and together with three mates spent much of his time on, or in the water around the town. At the time the four mates purchased a couta boat. “We used to go out and dive off Queenscliff and spent time with Harry Mouchemore, a cray fisherman, and helped him pull in his craypots.”
Those early adventures would prove to be the catalyst for Craig’s desire to work with boats or around water and at 15 he started an apprenticeship with the Port of Geelong Authority as a boilermaker/blacksmith.
When blacksmithing began to fade out he became more of a boilermaker but on finishing his time he transferred to the marine construction barge as a wharf carpenter’s assistant. He completed a commercial diving certificate and spent thirteen years as a commercial diver with the Port Authority.
A change in government direction prompted Craig and his wife Julie to start up their own business and they have now been in operation for 22 years. They started in Indented Head before moving to their current location on the outskirts of Drysdale 10 years ago. Elstone Diving Services now employs 15 people including divers, wharf carpenters and two boilermak-ers. The tasks carried out by the business are many and varied, so much so that Craig finds it difficult to define what they do and has a unique way of summarising the tasks.
“It’s difficult to explain what we do but if it’s around water we’ll do it,” said Craig. “We do work for the Victorian Regional Channel Authority (VRCA) servicing all their navigation lights and we do a lot for Parks Victoria on the navigational aids and pile driving. We demolished the Queenscliff Harbour and rebuilt the Queenscliff, Point Lonsdale and Pilot jetties. We also did the timber slat work on the new Barwon Heads bridge. We build our own boats and barges and we try to keep it as a ‘one stop shop’. If somebody wants a jetty we will build the ladders, the light poles, bollards, everything.”
Another former cray fisher-man, Russell Shipley, who Craig met during his early years in Queenscliff, now works for the company. The business is also involved in bridge and wharf building, salvaging and many other tasks.
Craig described another interesting venture, that of ‘fish hotels’ in the river at Anglesea. “They are logs bolted together and we put 120 of them in the river to encourage fish life and diversity.”
He has an interesting collec-tion of artifacts picked up off the seabed including a whale vertebrae but like all ‘fisherman’ has a story about the big one that got away. “A mate and I were diving off Port Fairy which used to be a whaling station. There were heaps of old whale bones and we found a big rib. It was too heavy to try and float with and we walked along the seabed with it but in the end we ran out of air and had to leave it behind.”
Another interesting item found on the seabed near a wharf was a set of very old false teeth. If only teeth could talk.
Elstone Diving Services now carries out much of the work formally done by the Port of Geelong Authority. “They used to look after the area from Apollo Bay to Werribee, all the boat ramps, the jetties, the beaches, everything but we also travel the whole Victorian coast and to South Australia, Sydney and Queensland.”
When a large trawler, the Lady Cheryl, ran aground off Point Nepean, Elstone was given the task of cutting it up and salvage work is a substantial part of the business.
One of the more interesting tasks was their involvement in sinking HMAS Canberra off Ocean Grove for recreational diving. “We did the positioning and sinking side of things and we still do the maintenance on the ship and position the buoys.”
Craig still enjoys spending his leisure time fishing or diving. Although he doesn’t dive as much as he used to, one aspect of diving he still enjoys is the occasional donning of an old diving hat. Although it looks like an antique and somewhat cumbersome Craig enjoys diving in it and did so at a recent Portarlington Mussel Festival. “Once the gear is on it’s very comfortable,” he said.
Craig is proud that no craft he has been in charge of has ever sunk except for one. “The only boat that I have sunk was the Canberra and that really went against the grain.”