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Diving suit trousers

Date: 1950s
Dimensions:
Overall: 1090 x 600 mm, 1.65 kg
Medium: Canvas, metal
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Classification:Tools and equipment
Object Name: Diving suit
Object No: 00004212
Related Place:Kosciusko, Mount,

User Terms

    Description
    These pants were worn underneath a hard-hat diving suit, which were widespread between the mid 19th and 20th centuries. Hard-hat diving suits were commonly used for naval, salvage and engineering diving, as well as commercial diving for pearl shell. These diving pants were used by Australian Government divers on the Snowy River Hydro Electric Scheme.
    SignificanceThese hard-hat suit pants are an example of the equipment used by divers in Australian waters before the development of the wet-suit, mask, fins and self contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA).
    HistoryThe Snowy River Hydro Electric Scheme collects water from melting snow and rain in the Snowy Mountains, New South Wales. The water is diverted through tunnels in the mountains and stored in dams. The water is then used by the power stations to create electricity.
    Work on the system started in 1949 and was finished in 1974, taking twenty-five years to complete. More than 100,000 people from over thirty countries came to the mountains to work on the project. Up to 7,300 workers would provide their labour at any one time.
    Seventy per cent of all the workers were migrants.

    Some workers used hard-hat diving suits and equipment which was developed in the 1830s by Augustus Siebe and had became widespread on Australian pearl luggers in the 1880s.

    This hard-hat equipment consisted of a waterproof suit and airtight helmet, connected by a hose to an air pump on the pearl lugger's deck. The diver wore layers of woollen garments under the suit, along with mittens and boots weighing up to 7kg each. The heavy copper helmet with a glass face was screwed onto the corselet which was supported by the padded collar of the dress. Up to 50kg of weight was strapped onto the divers back and chest. Attached to the divers belt was a knife, scabbard and rope which was used to send signals to the crew before the application of radio communication equipment.

    Air was pumped to the diver manually by men turning two large wheels. The equipment and system was problematic, as divers could not regulate their air flow and were only permitted small quantities of air. The development of the high pressure compressor in the 1900s and the Ohgushi Peerless Respirator in 1918, allowed divers to manually adjust their air flow with a valve.

    In the early days of deep water diving, it was difficult to equalise the pressure inside and outside the suit, and the little-known decompression sickness known as the 'bends' claimed the lives of hundreds of divers. The introduction of the wet-suit, mask, fins and self contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA) gave divers greater manoeuvrability and better air supply, and saw a decline in pearl diving fatalities. The transition to this new equipment was slow, but as diver's productivity increased the use of hard-hat equipment by Australian divers ceased in the mid 1970s.


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