© Debbie Kruger 1999
Sea Change is off the air and Diver Dan is long gone, but neither is forgotten, and so this has to be said. Diver Dan is a myth. Okay? A myth in need of exploding.
"Is Diver Dan the coolest guy on TV?" screamed one headline shortly before he ever-so-coolly disappeared to the Galapagos Islands, leaving Sigrid Thornton's Laura bereft. He might have left Pearl Bay but he remains in the hearts and minds of all those Sea Change viewers out there, tantalisingly mysterious.
Well, fine, but let's have a reality check. Before he becomes permanently etched into the Australian cultural psyche, and before other hopeful women go trading in their city lives in search of their very own rustic diving Romeos.
Having acquainted myself in a couple of cases intimately with the scuba diving fraternity of Byron Bay, the town that inspired Pearl Bay, I can vouch for the fact that diving instructor/fisherman types are not brooding romantic new age thinkers. They are rough simple boys with perpetually wet hair and too much air in their lungs. Diver Jeff, the guy who was part catalyst for my move to Byron, also ran a little cattle farm in Lismore. "I've got culture," he used to say to me proudly. "Agriculture!"
How often did you see Diver Dan in a wet-suit, let alone near a tank, regulator or BC? No, he was just hanging out with that little handkerchief around his neck, that ruddy complexion and reddish hair, looking like Van Gogh deliberating on his next painting. No wonder Laura was so captivated.
Elsewhere in Sea Change the likeness to Byron life is all too evident, especially in the buffoonery of council meetings. (Where else but in Byron would you have someone named Fastbuck$ in local politics?) But just don't kid yourself that Diver Dan is real.
When I had my own sea change and left Sydney for the charms of Byron Bay and Diver Jeff several years ago, friends would read my letters and tell me there was a TV soap in the making. Dive Days, they said I should call it. I was crazy for Jeff but looming in the background was the memory of Sheree from Shellharbour, the girl he really longed for. And in the foreground was Tess, his farmhouse lodger, who assured me she wouldn't touch Jeff with a ten-foot pole, but was soon touching his pole whenever I was not around.
In the middle of all of this was me, supporting him through thick and thin. Like after the fatal shark attack out at Julian Rocks, when a honeymooning couple found themselves in the path of a White Pointer. When the husband became the shark's breakfast, it was Diver Jeff who plunged into the water, swimming amongst chunks of flesh in search of the victim. Nine days later it was Diver Jeff who led a team of divers to search for remains, later describing to me the grizzly task of rolling the victim's shrivelled but intact head along the ocean floor and into a garbage bag. That afternoon I found Jeff at the Top Pub, drinking a beer and drawing diagrams, trying to ascertain at exactly what angle the shark might have bitten the man, whose legs, to Jeff's chagrin, were never found.
Most of the divers in town underwent group counselling and talked it through for weeks to come, contemplating life and death under the sub-tropical sunshine. Jeff was just philosophical. "The poor guy was just out there having a bit of fun, and it's just a case of the dog in the back yard that bit him," he said, and of course then it all made sense. Jeff was a hero, and commended as such by Paul Keating, who awarded him a bravery medal.
But Jeff was a cattle man at heart, and when he wasn't diving, or doing his early-morning bread run, he was raising cows. Shortly after the shark attack episode, ten of his calves went missing from their agistment, and as Jeff was busy teaching dive students (did Dan ever do that?), this cowgirl-in-the-making trekked up to the hills daily for a week searching for his cash-cows. I found them, too, but as far as Jeff was concerned it was just all part of a week's work, and more useful work than what I usually did back then writing for the local paper and learning Transcendental Meditation. Sometimes I would meditate in Jeff's van on the drive from Byron Bay to Lismore, and he would look at me as I sought a higher state of consciousness, and shake his head saying, "You're a sick puppy."
Which brings me to the one great gift I did receive from Diver Jeff. Actually, there were two, because had it not been for my year-long affection for him, I never would have stayed here long enough to develop my passion for the countryside. But the best gift he gave me was my dog. Jeff strode into my house one day, threw down his latest issue of Wheels and Deals (he was looking for a tipper-truck), and asked, "Y'want Morgan for a pet?"
"Why?" I replied, surprised that he would give away his dog, even though the dog was a bone of contention to him, being that Morgan had in fact belonged to his fiancee who had walked out on them both two years before.
"Because she killed me chooks!" he declared. "And I'm gonna shoot her!"
Apparently country lore deems that if your dog kills your chooks, you shoot your dog. The fact that Jeff was not a chook farmer, had never had poultry on his farm until a friend gave him some baby chicks a few days earlier, had no idea what he was going to do with them, and had not even built a chook pen, was irrelevant. Morgan's days were numbered.
I took Morgan. Six years later she and I are very happy and I don't keep live chickens on my property.
But where is Diver Jeff today? Not on the Galapagos Islands, that's for sure. He quit diving, bought a couple of those big shiny tipper trucks, and started a haulage business in Lismore. I haven't seen him for years, but I hear of sightings occasionally. And I wasn't giving him much thought until the advent of Diver Dan. But if a character named Trucker Ted ever materialises in Pearl Bay... I'll be on guard.