A real man of the sea
A REAL man of the sea.
That’s how family and friends have described master mariner Ron Ware, who died last weekend at Byron District Hospital, aged 86.
His life reads like a Hollywood adventure movie script, the difference being all his adventures were real.
Ron – or Captain Ware – began his long association with the ocean rowing in surf life saving boats while at school in Newcastle.
As a teenager, the urge to go to sea was overwhelming and at the age of 14, he raised his age and joined the British Merchant Navy during the Second World War.
By the time he was 18 he had experienced the horror several times of having his ship blown out of the water by enemy bombs and torpedoes, and obviously surviving the experiences. One of those experiences including surviving 10 days on a raft off South Africa.
His other wartime experiences included service in the Australian merchant marine, flying with the RAF and RAAF in Catalinas searching for U-boats off South Africa, flying in a RAAF Beaufort as a waist gunner on two operational strikes against Japanese positions, and a day with Australian infantry in the mountains behind Wewak in Papua-New Guinea.
He later went on to hold commands in the merchant navy and in the Royal Australian Navy and among a host of achievements – too many to list here – he completed an American masters degree in marine science.
His marine research included investigations into hundreds of shark attacks around the world, including an attack on a high school student in 1989 at Evans Head.
He concluded after that attack that there was sufficient evidence to suggest that a pod of dolphins had come to the aid of the student during the attack.
As the great-great-great-great-grandson of Captain William Bligh, a central figure in the Bounty mutiny, Ron was always going to have a major connection with the sea.
In 1983, in a longboat he had specially built in New Zealand, and with a crew of eight, he covered the same 6400km longboat journey of Bligh and his men from the island of Tofua to Timor.
He described the 42-day journey as an “epic in its own right”, with the wind and seas at times more violent than those encountered by Captain Bligh.
At the time, he said the open boat voyage was the “climax of 30 years at sea”.
“It increased my estimation of Bligh as a navigator and seaman,” he said. “Bligh was a seaman’s seaman, more so than Cook.”
Six years later in 1989, Ron played a central part in the bicentenary re-enactment of the mutiny in the South Pacific, commanding a modern-day replica of the original Bounty.
Ironically, his second-in-command was the Royal Australian Navy’s Lt-Cmdr Gerry Christian, a great-great-great-great-grandson of Fletcher Christian, who led the mutiny and whose company, he said, he “enjoyed”.
Ron, who moved to the Byron Shire with his wife Joanna and family 23 years ago, first to Coorabell and then later to Suffolk Park, was proud of his status as a surfing elder.
He began surfing in 1945 and won a national senior title at Bells Beach aged 45. There is a photo of him riding a 20ft Bells wave in the Surfing Hall of Fame at Torquay. He was still riding his longboard, mostly at Wategos, into his 80s.
Despite not being able to paddle out in recent years, he walked a number of laps of the beach at Wategos just about every morning.
Ron was a leading member of PASS – Preservation and Safe Serving – formed to lobby for surfers’ rights at The Pass during the 80s and 90s.
As recently as 2005, he spoke out forcefully against a Cape Byron Trust decision to charge locals to park at The Pass and Cosy Corner, describing it as a “gross injustice”.
A proud RSL member who was always at the front of the Byron Bay Anzac Day parade, Ron was selected by the Australian Government to represent merchant seaman at the opening of a memorial in London in 2003 honouring Australian servicemen and women.
Ron Ware was an extraordinary man who led an extraordinary life. He is survived by his wife Joanna, nine children, eight grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.
Ron’s funeral will be held today at St Finbarr’s Catholic Church, Byron Bay, at 10am.