Sydney, October 1938

Maritime/Coastal - Black Sunday

Quick Statistics

5 Fatalities
95 Injured

On 6 February 1938, high temperatures saw approximately 35,000 people head to Bondi Beach, Sydney. The surf was rough, with 74 people pulled from the water before lunch.

In the early afternoon the temperature was approximately 40 º C and there were an estimated 750 bathers in the water. Three 'dumpers' or large waves fell upon the beach, pushing water 30 m up the sand and causing a huge rip as it receded. Many of the swimmers were caught in the rip, unable to return to shore.

A weekly surf event meant up to 80 lifesavers were on the beach at the time, and in approximately 20 minutes they rescued 245 people. Medical centres were set up on the sand, with approximately 60 swimmers receiving treatment and 35 unconscious people revived. The Coroner found the death of five men to be caused by accidental drowning. It was the first mass rescue operation in Australian history and became known colloquially as Black Sunday.


Information sources

ABC In Time, Episode 14 Black Sunday, 14 May 2002, website viewed 20 January 2012
Waverly Council, Local history fact sheets – Bondi’s ‘Black Sunday’, website viewed 20 January 2012
Writer L, The Australian book of disasters. Millers Point, New South Wales: Murdoch Books, 2011, p 77 – 84