Bondi Beach lifesavers commemorate 80th anniversary of Black Sunday drownings with re-enactment

Bondi Beach lifesavers commemorate 80th anniversary of Black Sunday drownings with re-enactment

Bondi Beach lifesavers commemorate 80th anniversary of Black Sunday drownings with re-enactment

Updated 5 February 2018, 0:25 AEDT

Ninety-six-year-old Norma Allerding was just a teenager when she and hundreds of others were swept out to sea while swimming at Bondi but she says it's a day she "will never forget" as hundreds of lifesavers turned out on Bondi beach to commemorate the 80th anniversary.

More than 150 lifesavers commemorated the 80th anniversary of Australia's deadliest mass surf rescue by re-enacting Black Sunday, when three waves washed swimmers out to sea at Bondi Beach in Sydney's eastern suburbs.

Five swimmers died and 35 people had to be resuscitated from the 200 swimmers rescued on February 6, 1938.

Volunteers from local and other Australian surf lifesaving clubs staged the re-enactment with the equipment and techniques used 80 years ago.

Only one survivor is believed to be still alive. Norma Allerding, 96, was washed out to sea when she was swimming at Bondi as a teenager.

"It is a day I will never forget. All of a sudden this huge wave came and we were tossed around and my father was panicking because I wasn't a strong swimmer," she said from her nursing home.

"It was horrific, it was pandemonium everywhere."

Ms Allerding said her father was the reason she was alive after he alerted a lifesaver.

"He thought I needed help and called them over to put me on the surfboard, so that's how I was saved," she said.

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.

Ms Allerding's grandson Brendan Krone is now a volunteer at the North Bondi Club.

"She swallowed lots of water, she came to and lived to tell the tale," Mr Krone said.

Just like this weekend, there were plenty of volunteers on hand in 1938.

Sixty lifesavers happened to be on the beach ready for a competition and were marshalled into action when the waves hit.

"Dad just gave the order and they went about it like professionals and hundreds of people were saved," recalled Colin Jeppesen — son of the Life Saving Captain on duty Carl Jeppesen.

Mr Jeppesen said he had promised his late father he would commemorate the event and was pleased to attend the 80th anniversary event on his behalf.

The Bondi Surf Bathers Life Saving Club (SBLSC) said Black Sunday had become one of the most significant days in surf lifesaving history.

"Modern lifesaving techniques were born on Bondi Beach and this tribute is also a demonstration of how lifesaving has evolved over eight decades," SBLSC President Jacob Waks said.