Navy Divers is a four-episode Australian observational documentary series that debuted on the ABC1 on 28 October 2008. The program follows 27 men training to enter the clearance diver branch of the Royal Australian Navy, into which only 14 will be accepted.
Twenty‐seven young men begin their quest to become members of the Navy’s elite Clearance Diver Branch. At the RAN’s Diving Training School in Sydney they launch into the week‐long Clearance Diver Assessment Test [CDAT]. Overseen by a team of experienced Navy Divers, they will be taken into a physical and mental ‘hell’ specifically designed to test strength and endurance and weed out the weak. Only 14 will make it. As soon as the candidates put on their numbered vests, their ordeal begins. Marathon runs and gruelling weight sessions, late night swims across Sydney Harbour, relentless diving drills and hours of marching through steep bush. They’ll eat on the run, be deprived of sleep, and pushed beyond what they thought was possible. The assessment team watches them like hawks recording the minutiae of their performance and punishing their mistakes. The candidates must be able to work effectively under extreme pressure, so they’re constantly being barked at, and cajoled, and encouraged to “give it up and get on the bus”. If their bodies fail, or their minds snap and they can’t handle it, then “Hell Week” will claim another victim. They’ll be removed from the test ‐ swiftly and irrevocably! The Clearance Diver Branch doesn’t want weaklings. For those who make it there is the immense satisfaction of passing one of the toughest selection tests in the Australian Defence Force. But it’s a satisfaction that is short‐lived. CDAT is just a test. Now their actual Clearance Diver training can begin. Some of it will make CDAT look like a picnic.
Now, the real training begins. In the first module of the course the new recruits must prove they can cope with the deep. Clearance divers are often used to conduct deepwater battle repairs to ships and strategic infrastructure. When working under these conditions danger is ever present and small mistakes can rapidly turn into life threatening disasters. Using enclosed helmets and surface supplied air the mean learn to dive to extraordinary depths. They must fight against the effects of nitrogen narcosis and avoid the bends at all cost. The pressure on mind and body is intense and even the toughest recruits struggle. Soon, one the best and hardest, starts to fall behind. Ex roo shooter, Brodie Lymbery is suffering severe pain at depth and the men quickly realise how fragile their place on the team still is. Brodie is put under increasing pressure with a series of recompression chamber tests to examine his condition. If he fails he will be stood down without hesitation. The rest of the team continues at an unbelievable pace. Gruesome fitness sessions are followed by complex and dangerous dives. Then they are told it is time for testing. Any technical mistakes will mean failure and Chief Petty Officer Shirley is also looking for any cracks in their personality, “You don’t want anyone who is half arsed. It’s ‘Swiss cheese’ out there. When there are too many holes in the team and then they line, up something will horribly wrong.” In the end both the team’s and Brodie Lymbery’s results go down to the wire. The recruits have more than just their careers riding on the outcome, especially Brodie, “Back home I was starting to get in to a lot of trouble with the law. It’s a good feeling that I’m doing something with my life and I don’t want to go back to being that person.”
Only thirteen men remain on the course and the training is about to get even more severe. Now, the surviving recruits face the nightmare of Maritime Tactical Operations where sleep will become a distant memory. Clearance Divers must be able to carry out clandestine recognisance operations behind enemy lines. To achieve this they use a special re breather or bubble free diving set and conduct their operations under the cover of night. During this module the men must reach new levels of fitness. They must also prove they are a team tight enough to face the potentially fatal consequences of operating behind enemy lines. It means around the clock diving, brutal fitness sessions and debilitating sleep deprivation. The aim is “To Get them tired, get them week… to break their bodies down and then teach them to still use their heads”, says Petty officer Barnes. Teamwork will be the key to their success. The oldest man on course by ten years, ex rugby league footballer Gareth Foye, knows age makes him the weakest link and he is worried, “I feel like a rhinoceros in quicksand” On top of an already fierce training regime the instructors penalise any mistakes with team push‐ups. They add them to an ongoing tally that can reach the hundreds by the end of the day. Push‐ups not completed by mid‐night are carried forward. Clearance Diving is a young man’s game. At thirty‐four years of age this is Gareth Foye’s last chance to make it, “In the past my wife didn’t want be to do this. Then as time has gone on and waters gone under the bridge it’s something that she feels I needed try and succeed at.” But as the intensity ramps up Gareth is running out of steam. At their lowest point the men are asked the impossible. Because of poor performance and sleep deprived mistakes the men have tallied up an incredible one thousand, seven hundred push‐ups. They are now ordered to complete them immediately in one gruesome session. The men are clearly at their breaking point, “There isn’t one of us here who doesn’t want to belt an instructor”, says trainee Harrison. However, it is the older wiser Gareth Foye who keeps his head, steps up and takes charge of the men. But is his maturity enough to get the men over this incredible hurdle? Even if it is, they then face the most complex and dangerous operation yet: a full‐scale clandestine night mission that will be their toughest test yet and one they are not afford to fail. It will be the closet they come in their training to real combat.
The men of Basic Clearance Divers Course number 67 are deployed to a remote tropical island off the Queensland coast where they must complete the final ‘demolitions’ phase of their training. It’s the part of their course they’ve been waiting for. They’ve got thirty tonnes of high explosives, artillery shells and bombs, and three weeks to blow it all up. It’s dangerous material and when one of their charges detonates too early, the men have a chilling reminder of how potentially lethal it can be. The men’s life on the island gives them a very clear idea of what they can expect when they are on a real deployment. They’re living under canvas in cramped conditions. It’s hot and humid, and infested with mosquitoes. Working conditions are appalling. The island’s huge tidal range exposes miles of flat ground that is covered in thick, stinking mud. Depressions in the ground create deep pools in which the men must rig a variety of high explosives. Visibility in the foul, muddy water is zero so the work is done mostly by ‘feel’. To succeed in the demolitions phase the men must draw on all the elements of their 9 months of training: their diving skills, their ability to operate as a team, their ability to work with speed and precision. By the time they finish, the trainees have been transformed into highly skilled professionals who can wear the coveted Clearance Diver badge with confidence and pride.