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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

New exhibition celebrates depths of Valerie Taylor’s career

Valerie Taylor has recorded the marine environment and shared her knowledge with the public for over 60 years, staunchly advocating for better protection of the ocean, its animals, and their habitats.

Celebrated globally, Valerie has become one of the most iconic underwater storytellers, shark researchers and conservationists and paved the way for future generations of divers, filmmakers, and environmentalists.

Valerie has donated an extensive archive of her images and objects to the National Maritime Collection and it is from this collection that Valerie Taylor: An Underwater Life is based. It showcases the work of Valerie and her late husband Ron and their significant contributions to marine conservation, diving and underwater filming.

Highlights of the exhibition include Valerie and Ron Taylor’s cameras and underwater housings, Valerie’s iconic blue fins and dive suits, the stainless-steel chainmail suit she wore to get up close with sharks, movie posters from over four decades working in Hollywood, from Jaws to The Island of Dr Moreau, and over 500 images from the National Maritime Collection of animals, people, places and worlds now under threat.

Her experience with sharks is legendary. She said, “I’ve been bitten four times, only once badly, and only once was my husband filming. And that was off Action Point in the Coral Sea, and I had on the mesh suit, and I was carrying a bait. The shark came up. There’s only one bit of you out of the mesh suit. Grabbed my face. All the teeth went into the mesh except three went under my chin.

“I bashed the shark in the gills. It let go and went away. I dropped the fish. My mask was off. My air was gone. I did a free ascent to the surface. We always have someone on the surface, who dragged me into the dory. And well, here I am. You can still feel the scar.”

Valerie has been a champion of our oceans for decades, saying, “Marine conservation was a dirty word when I was young. Most of the creatures in the ocean were considered either dangerous or not necessary. I think my first big impact was having the grey nurse shark protected; the first shark in the world to be protected by law.”

“We think we’re so unique. We’re not. I think nature might’ve made a mistake with the human race. We don’t embrace what she offers. We harvest it. We take it for granted, and we don’t replace it. When you look at it that way, we’re not a very nice animal. I’m one of them, so that’s how it is. We are destroying the planet that supports us. We’re killing the ocean. All life comes from the ocean. All life, everything. We’re killing our mother, and we don’t seem to care very much.”

Daryl Karp, Director and CEO of the Australian National Maritime Museum says Australia has much to thank Valerie and Ron for.

“A life devoted to understanding the seas that surround us and the life within them. She has been a passionate conservation advocate for decades and with her gift of her archive to the National Maritime Collection we hope to continue to tell her story for decades to come. This exhibition is the start of that work,” he said.

Regarding the exhibition Valerie says, “I’m very flattered, very surprised. I never thought that I’d be worth bothering about. I’ve had a good life. I have no regrets except that I’ve never been powerful enough to do some of the things I felt should be done. I consider having this exhibition on my life at the Maritime Museum as an incredible privilege.”

Valerie Taylor: An Underwater Life exhibition opens on November 30 and will run until August 31 2024.

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