Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Richard Stanley (Dick) Charles (1901–1974)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

Richard Stanley (Dick) Charles (1901-1974), spearfisherman and motor trader, was born on 23 April 1901 at Moseley, Worcestershire, England, youngest son of Edward John Charles, master builder, and his second wife Laura Jane, née Bruton. Educated at Steyne School, Worthing, Dick accompanied his family to Canada, to Mexico and in 1913 to Tasmania where Edward worked as an hydraulic engineer. After attending the Friends' High School, Hobart, Dick was apprenticed as a fitter and turner at H. Jones & Co. Ltd's jam factory. Interested in flying from its early days, he obtained ground-engineer licence No.15 and in 1921 flew from Sydney to Kingaroy, Queensland. He worked as an aircraft mechanic with Australian Aircraft & Engineering Co. Ltd at Mascot, Sydney, and as a hoist driver and motor mechanic. On 3 February 1923 at Christ Church, Bexley, he married with Anglican rites Ruth Ross Kelly, a picture-fitter; they were to have four children. About 1924 Charles moved to Hurstville and established a prospering motor-trading business there.

He tried his hand at anything and was a persuasive salesman. In the Depression Charles gave mandolin lessons, and in 1937 built and sold caravans from a factory in McEvoy Street. During World War II he joined the local National Emergency Services and was an instructor in rescue procedures. His alluvial gold prospecting company was not a success. He also bought property at Hurstville.

A founder (1927) of St George's Motor Boat Club, Charles enjoyed motorboat racing, fishing and swimming; in 1932 he had built a 10,000 gallon (45,461-litre) pool in his backyard. About 1937, before the days of fins or snorkels, he became interested in spear-fishing. Using 'an old mirror with the silver scraped off, fitted into an old tyre tube', he made his first mask and 'opened up an entirely new world'. For a spear, he 'bought some shark hooks, straightened them out and fixed them on an eight feet [2.4 m] piece of wood'. The pastime expanded after the war and attracted antagonism from shore fishermen. Fearing that disorganized activity would bring increased restrictions, Charles founded a 'Speargun Fishing Association' at a meeting at Long Reef in April 1948, the forerunner of the Underwater Skindivers' and Fishermen's Association of New South Wales of which he was president in 1948-53. Once it had overcome an unwarranted fear of sharks, skindiving surged in popularity after equipment improved and Hans Hass visited Australia in 1953. That year an inaugural meeting at Tweed Heads elected Charles founding president of the Underwater Spearfishermen's Association of Australia. Active in promoting and defending the sport, he devised rules for interstate competitions and represented the association in negotiations with maritime authorities.

A balding, bulky, 5 ft 11 ins (180 cm) tall, hazel-eyed livewire, usually sporting a battered yachting cap, Charles was acknowledged as 'Australia's leading skindiver'. With a pioneer's resourcefulness, he invented cliff-rescue apparatus, a fish-bite indicator, a spear gun and a safety belt for divers. In retirement he enjoyed world travel. Survived by his wife, daughter and twin sons, he died on 11 July 1974 at his Hurstville home and was cremated. A trophy which he had presented for the Australian Underwater Federation's annual championships commemorates him. His sons were sick of fish.

Select Bibliography

  • E. du Cros, Skindiving in Australia (Syd, 1960)
  • Snorkel, Dec 1954, p 12
  • Australian Skindiving Digest, Feb 1961, p 5
  • Australian Skindivers Magazine, Jan 1962, p 13
  • Metropolitan Skindiving Magazine, 23 Aug 1974, p 5
  • private information.

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Charles, Richard Stanley (Dick) (1901–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 28 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


23 April, 1901
Moseley, Worcestershire, England


11 July, 1974 (aged 73)
Hurstville, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.