How a Seiko diver connected Jack with the daredevil uncle he never got to meet How a Seiko diver connected Jack with the daredevil uncle he never got to meet

How a Seiko diver connected Jack with the daredevil uncle he never got to meet

Henry Zwartz

In 1979, Evelyn Brooker walked into a jeweller in Sydney. She was seeking a 21st birthday gift for her son, Murray, a keen scuba diver. She left the store with a Seiko 6309-7290, a professional diver’s watch, which was gift-wrapped for the special occasion.

Four years later, Murray is 25 and diving off Broughton Island in Port Stephens with a couple whom he’s never dived with before. He’s an experienced diver but, as an asthmatic, consumes oxygen at a faster rate than the couple and is running low. He had joined that particular dive at short notice, as his usual diving buddy – his sister, Michelle – was a bridesmaid at a close friend’s wedding.

Michelle always knew that when Murray signalled to ascend they couldn’t delay because of his asthma. But the couple were unaware of this. As Murray signals his need to ascend, they ignore him. They’re exploring a new dive site that day and don’t want to cut the venture short. Knowing you don’t abandon someone on a dive, especially an inexperienced couple, Murray waits, knowing his oxygen is ebbing away.

Running out of time, he eventually surfaces on his own before he runs out altogether. But the ascent is too fast. Almost immediately Murray is struck with decompression sickness, also known as “the bends”, a diver’s worst nightmare. Soon afterwards he is airlifted by helicopter to a navy decompression tank at HMAS Penguin.

Evelyn and Murray’s two sisters arrive as soon as they hear of his condition. Through the thick-plated windows of the decompression tank, they watch as doctors try to save Murray’s life. He’s gradually recompressed over three full days while his three family members attempt to comfort Murray through the recompression chamber’s PA system.

While fighting for his life in the freezing temperatures of the recompression chamber, Murray contracts pneumonia. He dies from a heart attack in front of his family with his Seiko 6309 still on his wrist. He was 25.

Seiko dive watch

“Murray lived and breathed the ocean” his nephew, Jack Shepherdson, tells me as we sit down over a coffee, somewhat suitably discussing our shared love of the sea in the coastal enclave of Clovelly in Sydney. Jack is wearing Murray’s watch, it’s all banged up, scratched, dented, but still ticking beautifully. It’s the very watch that Murray wore on his last fateful dive in 1983.

To learn about Murray’s life is to step into a heady love of life that speaks to the man’s adventurous spirit. A man that Jack never had the chance to meet but whom, he says, has inspired him and whose interests are mutually shared. Jack reels off Murray’s passions – diving, driving, motor racing, sailing, photography and all things mechanical. An aeronautical engineer by trade, Murray was also an accomplished mechanic and amateur pilot.

The only way to go fast on a young man’s budget, he bought and rebuilt a crashed Austin Healey Sprite Sebring. “He bought it as a write-off,” says Jack, “Repairing and respraying it before competing in amateur races across the state, thrashing the little Healey.” The restoration was lovingly done in the garage of Murray’s family home, an early 20th century house on Dumaresq Road, Rose Bay, facing west out over the sand flats of Sydney Harbour.

Seiko dive watch

Seiko dive watch

Racing motorbikes was another keen passion and one engrained in the family. Murray’s step-father was Tony McAlpine, a local legend nicknamed “Boy Wonder” by the motorcycle press for his two-wheeled prowess and racing wins. At one time he owned the landspeed record-setting Vincent Black Lightning.

Seiko dive watch

And then, of course, there was Murray’s love of diving. Not letting asthma slow down his love of the ocean, Murray was an accomplished and experienced diver, a pursuit no doubt inspired from growing up on the edge of Sydney Harbour. In some ways learning about Murray’s life is a staggering lesson in what someone can achieve, the pursuits they can juggle, by the time they’re 25. Even from afar, his story uplifts one’s sense of adventure.

All along these adventures, Murray’s Seiko 6309-7290 was a vital tool for his way of life.

Seiko dive watch

One of Murray’s sisters kept the watch, storing it to pass on the next generation. Her partner, a professional fireman, used it in the interim, adding a few more battle scars along the way battling fires. Throughout all these adventures, the Seiko ran well the entire time. Fast forward a few decades and young Jack is coming up to a milestone – his 21st birthday.

“My aunt gave me this watch as I’m the only man in the family – she said it should be on my wrist,” Jack says. “I’ve never received a gift with such an emotional resonance. It’s a watch charged with family memories and history, and in a way it’s as if things came full circle. It was the same milestone when Murray was given this watch.”

“He was a man who I feel I have so much in common with; that sense of adventure, shared passions. We both love old cars and motorbikes, and of course the ocean. It’s a vital tool that speaks to the man he was, who engaged in an exciting and dangerous pursuit of adventure, and the watch was a part of that.”

“Terribly, it ultimately cost Murray his life, but he approached it with such determination to do what he loved, and this dive watch guided his way. It’s that bond to the Seiko’s history that gives me my sense of connection to an uncle whom I never met.”

“Luckily I have Murray’s watch, which in some ways embodies his adventurous spirit”, Jack says, “Thankfully, I know its story, and can look after it for the generations to come.”

The sorrowful outcome of that last fateful dive could easily consume a family. In fact, that Seiko diver has helped to forge a strong bond across the generations.