Dick Cullenward: man who adored danger

FORMER Port Fairy identity Dick Cullenward thrived on danger and adventure, including diving in shark-infested waters near Lady Julia Percy Island and flying US navy planes.

He packed more into his 83 years than most people could dream of.

A Queen’s commendation for bravery and the establishment of abalone industries in Victoria and Tasmania were among his many achievements.

From being an  All American swimmer,  national water polo player and a champion tenpin bowler, in his younger years he had a knack at succeeding.

But he thought he’d never live to 30 after numerous close calls as a pilot.

“He had a very fortunate life,” his daughter Robbie told The Standard before a private cremation ceremony to be held on the Sunshine Coast today followed by an Irish-style wake attended by many friends from south-west Victoria.

“It was his third brush with cancer that took him.

“Dick was a friend and mentor to many.

“He was a a larger-than-life character, a huge presence and a true optimist. 

‘‘He loved people and people loved him.

“He made every day count, saw life as an adventure and in many respects lived like there was no tomorrow.”

Dick moved to Tasmania in 1964 with his wife Jan and children Bruce and Robbie and became one of the state’s first professional abalone divers, purchasing his first licence for $2 and helping develop the fledgling enterprise into what is now a multi-million-dollar industry.

A few years later the family moved to Port Fairy,  Dick bought a Victorian licence for $200 and again helped pioneer the abalone industry.

He was a key figure in establishing Sou’West SeaFoods in 1980 which processed and exported locally-caught abalone, providing employment and millions of dollars to the local economy.

It was his push for long-term viablity of stocks that led to the introduction of catch quotas.

However, his work was not without risks, especially around Lady Julia Percy Island where sharks preyed on seals.

He vividly recalled one frightening encounter where a large great white circled him.

The family built a two-storey home called The Breakers on Port Fairy’s South Beach, which they held for 20 years before selling and moving to Noosa.

Dick’s sporting skills led to the establishment of Warrnambool Volleyball Association, which later awarded him a life membership.

His bravery award was for a dramatic rescue near Queensland’s Hamilton Island in the 1970s when he dangled from the stairs of a hovering helicopter to pluck a boat wreck survivor from the ocean.

Then in 1997 he rescued a tourist from a rip on the Sunshine Coast, four months before he had triple bypass heart surgery.

pcollins@fairfaxmedia.com.au.

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