As if loaded with 18 kilograms of diving gear and an improvised shark shield on his back weren’t enough, underwater walker Rod Moore was also carrying the burden of the years and the hopes of an orphanage across the seas as he slid below the surface of Lake Macquarie on Friday.
Mr Moore was walking three kilometres from Marks Point to Belmont along the sandy and muddy bottom of Lake Macquarie. He knew what he was getting himself into.
Thirty years ago, Mr Moore did the same walk for charity. So he was wading in once more, to raise money for the Bali Street Kids Project in Indonesia.
“I’m feeling a little anxious, but I’ve got good people above me,” Mr Moore said, as he stood at Marks Point Marina, while his support crew and lifelong mates David Reynolds, Mark “Snow” Boyce, and Phil Myers strapped reinforced steel mesh to his back.
That mesh symbolised the biggest source of Mr Moore’s anxiety: sharks. As he said, there were plenty out there. He had people looking out for him. His friend Russell Duncan, from Airborne Flight Training, did a preparatory aerial patrol in a gyrocopter. There were no sharks, just a couple of dolphins gambolling off Belmont.
The steel mesh also provided rich material for ribbing by his mates. They called him “Turtleman” and “Ninja Turtle”.
“It’s like a security blanket,” Mr Reynolds said.
At the marina to cheer him off were family members, students from Valentine Public School, and One Nation senator Brian Burston.
“Very brave, I take my hat off to him,” said Senator Burston, who donated $2000 to the fundraiser.
Mr Moore’s family were nervous for him, and most had excellent reasons for not joining him under the water. His partner Michelle Bright explained she didn’t want to get her hair wet. But Ms Bright was keen for him to safely complete the trek; he had proposed on Wednesday night.
One of their three daughters, Brittnie, declined to join her Dad because she is 35 weeks’ pregnant – “and I’d probably float off”. Mr Moore’s mother, Jean, was celebrating her 80th birthday – “this makes it memorable!”. She would have loved to have joined her boy.
“But I told Rod I didn’t want to outdo him,” explained the birthday girl.
Thirty years ago, Rod Moore was a young man and did the walk in three and a half hours. Now, he is 55 and has a damaged right leg. About 19 years ago, his foot was severed and had to be reattached after he was hit by a speedboat in Swansea Channel. So for this walk, he was allowing four and a half hours.
“Enough talking, let’s do some walking,” Mr Moore declared, as he waded into the water, carrying a bag full of energy drinks, which he would consume during the walk. “Here’s for the kids!”
As he submerged, his three close mates trailed him in a boat. They were literally his lifeline. The air he was breathing came via a hose. Phil Myers, who owns Charlestown Diving Academy, had 12 tanks on board, estimating his friend would go through a tank each half an hour.
“It’s a big effort, with the cold, the tide, he’s got a crook leg, and 40 pounds of weight,” said Mr Myers.
“And the turtle shell,” added “Snow”.
“If you were stuck on a desert island, this is the bloke you’d want to be with,” said David Reynolds, who, as a senior lifeguard, had been involved in retrieving the body of a fisherman at Bar Beach only a day earlier.
Since this Herald reporter did an “in-depth” interview with Mr Moore during his first walk 30 years ago, history had to be repeated. Diving towards him in six metres of water, I nudged his shark shield. Mr Moore reached for his knife.
“It doesn’t pay to sneak up on a bloke with a knife in the water when he’s looking out for sharks,” he later laughed.
He could have finished the walk in three hours, but Rod Moore deliberately slowed down and emerged from the water right on the four-hour mark to cheers from supporters and hugs from his loved ones.
Mr Moore said he saw no sharks, but “one old boat and not a great deal of rubbish; overall, the lake is very healthy”.
While he was shivering and his leg was aching – “I had to crawl the last 400 metres” – Mr Moore said he intended to do more underwater walks around Australia to continue fundraising for the Bali orphanage.
“I’m so proud of him,” Michelle Bright said. “He could walk on water.”