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More than 150 lifesavers from across Australia recently commemorated the 80th anniversary of Australia’s deadliest mass surf rescue on Bondi Beach by recreating Black Sunday, when the backwash from three enormous waves washed hundreds of swimmers out to sea.

Lifesavers from Bondi SBLC, supported by North Bondi SLSC, Waverley Lifeguards and volunteers from other Australian surf lifesaving clubs, staged the re-enactment with the CPR and lifesaving equipment used 80 years ago last Sunday.

On 6 February 1938, three huge successive waves resulted in 250 swimmers being swept out to sea. Dozens of lifesavers started rescuing swimmers in a scene of indescribable panic, and as each unconscious patient reached the beach, work of revival began. When the surf had been cleared, the beach resembled a battlefield. With more than 180 rescues, 35 unconscious patients and five drowning deaths, Black Sunday is still the largest mass surf rescue in Australian history.

The Black Sunday rescuers swam into the surf wearing belts attached to surf reel lines. With up to 20 swimmers hanging onto the ropes, several lifesavers nearly drowned as they were pulled under by those they were trying to rescue.

Also present at Bondi to remember the anniversary and to share their memory was the son of one of the original rescuers who was on the beach that day in 1938.

“Dad did CPR on one of the drowning victims but the doctor said there was no hope. But dad kept working and working on him for half an hour and up came the water and there was a sign of life. I know that stayed with him for a long, long time. He was very proud of the way all the life savers came together,” Peter Hawthorne, son of Ken Hawthorne (North Bondi SLSC) who at aged 98, is the oldest living lifesaver who was one of the rescuers from Black Sunday.

“Black Sunday is one of the most significant days in surf lifesaving history. This commemorative 80th anniversary re-enactment was a mark of respect and a fitting tribute to the heroism of the rescuers. Today was also about acknowledging the hundreds of volunteer surf lifesavers who patrol Bondi Beach and keep the public safe,” Jacob Waks, President, Bondi SBLSC.

Modern lifesaving techniques were born on Bondi Beach and this tribute is also a demonstration of how lifesaving has evolved over eight decades. Significant advances in medicine, technology and equipment have aided our rescue and resuscitation techniques. A flotation device dropped by a drone was used recently to rescue two swimmers at Lennox Head.

It is likely that a flash rip caused the sudden backwash that carried the swimmers out to sea on Black Sunday. “As lifesavers, our primary objectives are prevention and education. Our role is to increase public awareness of the dangers of rips, promote beach safety and educate swimmers to always swim between the flags,” Mr Waks said.

Mark Cotter, President of North Bondi SLSC commented: “80 Years ago Black Sunday saw not only the greatest mass rescue ever performed on Bondi Beach but forged the legend of the Australian Surf Life Saver into world history forever. It also cemented the working relationship between the two surf clubs and the Life Guards.”

This summer, Bondi and North Bondi Lifesavers have collectively volunteered more than 13,000 patrol hours. During this time, they have undertaken more than 300 rescues, performed first aid on 710 people and prevented countless rescues through vigilant beach management.

“We have members of all ages, from our five-year-old nippers who are junior lifesavers in training to our oldest patrolling member who is 83. Both clubs welcome all new members. It is never to early or too late to learn to save a life,” Mr Waks said. 


“A Visual History”

Click here for further information about the events of Black Sunday  - this archival footage filmed in the 1980s is a great resource.

Lifesavers featured include Carl Jeppesen (in the white shirt on the tape) was Club Captain at the time. Carl was on the beach and led the Black Sunday rescue. One of the Bondi Patrol groups is named Jeppesen in honour of Carl, and Basil McDonald  (black shirt)

Photo Credit;  Alejandro Jaramillo

Words; Courtesy of Bondi Surf Bathers Life Saving Club


Friday 9 February 2018