A piece of New Zealand diving history has been uncovered but the Northland owner is unsure of what should be done with one of the first diving masks made in the country.

Myra Larcombe, who is a sprightly 91-year-old, was searching through boxes at her Opua home last week looking for something else when she came across the 65-year-old mask.

She bought the mask off the inventor and Northlander Leo Ducker in 1954.

Before the 1960s it was difficult for many New Zealand divers to obtain gear from overseas. The solution was often to make equipment from materials to hand.


Ducker, sometimes called the father of New Zealand diving, along with his brother Clarence designed and made the mask out of a tyre inner tube and an oval piece of perspex.

He was the first person to dive at the Poor Knights Islands and Goat Island Bay, where he said fish weren't found in their thousands but in their millions.

Ducker went on to become a mentor to many divers, including Kelly Tarlton.

Larcombe said the mask was an amazing piece of work as the rubber was cut in once piece from the inner tube and the perspex was held in place with a thin band of copper.

"I can't remember how much I paid for it but it got a lot of use over the years," she said.

Larcombe remembers the mask opened up a whole world under the ocean is she became very proficient at spearfishing.

She didn't use a snorkel and normally swam to about six metres but with the mask on a clear day she could see about 20 metres.

"Your nose started to get a bit squashed with the water pressure at about four metres."


Her husband Alan also had a Ducker mask but it was donated to the Kelly Tarlton's Tui ship museum in Waitangi, but since that has closed Larcombe has no idea where that mask is.

"There won't be too many, if any, of these masks around now. I'm not sure what I should do with it but a museum seems the right place."

Larcombe was a champion swimmer so her lung capacity helped her when it came to spearfishing.

She competed in spearfishing competitions and it was reported in the Northern Advocate in the 1970s Larcombe was able to "vie with the most experienced spearmen".

Back in the day there were no wetsuits and when temperatures dropped it was a woolly jersey tied on with some string that kept divers warm under water.

However she remembers fellow Port Valley dive club member in the Bay of Islands, Peter Nisbett, made the first wetsuit she had seen.


"He imported a length of material, laid it out on the deck of the Owaka and with his own pattern cut it out and joined it together with marine glue.

"By the time we got to Cape Brett he wore it."

Larcombe was no stranger to being a trailblazer, having been the first female police officer in New Zealand.