Sunday 6 February 1938 appeared a typical summer’s day on Bondi Beach.
The crowd of 35,000 enjoyed the surf and sand, and waves were breaking evenly about 100 feet off shore. The bathing area flags were positioned almost directly opposite the Bondi Pavilion about 80 yards apart. Life savers wondered how they would find space on the congested beach for their weekly surf competition events.
At about 3pm two duty patrols were changing shifts at the Bondi surf club and some 60 club members were mingling around waiting for the competition. The races were never contested!
Suddenly, three tremendous waves rolled onto the beach in such quick succession that the water could not recede. When a sufficient lull in the wave cycle did eventuate, the massive backwash was phenomenal. Swimmers were swept into a deep channel and out to sea. There was instant panic. Men, women and children fighting for their lives. It was mass hysteria at its worst. In the frenzy they shouted, screamed, cried, begged and prayed. They grabbed, clawed and fought.
On the beach there was a stunned but short-lived silence.
Lifesavers leapt into action, manning the seven reels already on the beach, and grabbing rubber surf floats, surf boards and skis, or swimming into the turmoil without belts and only their surfing skill to help them. Panic also swept those relatives and friends on the beach. The hastily summoned local police could not cope and called for reinforcements, doctors and ambulances. The surf clubhouse began to resemble a hospital emergency ward as the rescued were brought in. About 30 were resuscitated on the beach while others were rushed to hospital.
A visiting American doctor said, “I have never seen and I never expect to see again, such magnificent work as was done by those lifesavers.”
Event will be visible from the beach and Promenade. There will be commentary during event.
- Mobility access
- People who are blind or have low vision