Bondi Rescue Series 2 Episode 7: The aftermath

Bondi Rescue Series 2 Episode 7: The aftermath
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Medical doctor Yondon Dungu had migrated to Australia with his wife and three children, and had been in Australia for just one week when he drowned at Bondi Beach. Left without a breadwinner, his wife and children returned to Mongolia after the tragedy. This was the first drowning at Bondi for four years and the lifeguards are terribly depressed after the event. They gather together in the tower to talk about things and help each other with their feelings. Summary by Janet Bell.

Cory, the oldest of the group and one of those who has seen it all, talks to the others about the role of the lifeguard and how to help each other through this tragic event. Their easy camaraderie and mateship have a serious side when it comes to a moment like this, when they need to help each other through the slump. The ability to talk about how they feel is an important element in coming to terms with what has just happened, at odds with the traditional view of the bronzed Australian as the strong, silent type. Many of the lifeguards attended the funeral, which was appreciated by the family. Each lifeguard received a copy of a letter of thanks from by the family, and as they read it through, the program offers a moment for quiet reflection.

The whole tone of this episode reminds us that the surf can be dangerous and must be respected. The appeal that was set up to help the family allows the audience to feel that they can do something to help and as Tom says at the end of the program, maybe the family will be able to return to Australia some time in the future.

The second series of Bondi Rescue features the young trainee Blake from the western suburbs of Sydney and we’ve been following his progress as he develops into a useful member of the team. His maturity in dealing with the drowned man’s family is proof that he’ll be a valuable member of this fraternity of lifeguards. He experienced the family’s realisation that the husband and father was gone. He talks frankly and openly about the need to have the others around to help him over this terrible day.

Title Synopsis

A tragedy unfolds at Bondi Beach when the lifeguards see someone in difficulty in treacherous water who then disappears from view behind the waves. There are 20,000 people at the beach that day and when no-one is reported missing, the lifeguards desperately hope that the person in difficulty was somehow able to leave the water. Two hours later a 16-year-old reports that his father is missing and the lifeguards are plunged into despair.

Title Curator’s Notes

In the first series of Bondi Rescue, filmed during the summer of 2006, there was a near drowning when a Japanese student was discovered face down in the water and was resuscitated with the use of the paddles to restart his heart. This time, a new arrival to Australia who can’t swim, a Mongolian doctor with a young family, loses his footing in a rip and is soon lost to view. With all the lifeguards’ skills he can’t be found. Two hours later the rescue helicopter finds a body under the water and he is pronounced dead by ambulance personnel after a futile attempt to revive him.

The producer of the series Michael Cordell, and the broadcaster Network Ten are to be commended for the sensitivity with which this tragic story is told. The program opens with one of the lifeguards, nicknamed Whippet (otherwise known as Ryan Clark), alerting us to the content of the program to follow. A fund was set up by the broadcaster and producer for the family left without its breadwinner to which viewers generously contributed. The lifeguards hope this program will help to emphasise the very real dangers of the surf. The family returned to Mongolia and soon afterwards sent a letter to the lifeguards. It’s a moving tribute to these dedicated men and women who patrol the beach even when, as in this case, they are unable to avert a tragedy.

This episode is for everyone who visits the beach. It’s about the unforgiving nature of the sea and the need for all beachgoers to be aware of the dangers of ocean swimming, even on a patrolled beach.

Notes by Janet Bell

Education Notes

This clip shows lifeguards at Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach discussing their reactions after a man drowns at the beach. Scenes of the lifeguards coming off duty after the drowning are interspersed with interviews with three lifeguards. Blake McKeown, a young trainee, speaks of the personal impact of the tragedy; Andrew Reid ('Reidy’) says that it is an unfortunate part of being a lifeguard; and at the end of the clip Tom Bunting gives some details of the drowned man’s recent arrival in Australia. The interviews are underscored by slow-beat surf music.

Educational value points

  • Lifesavers and lifeguards are iconic figures in Australian culture, believed to be ever-vigilant and invariably successful in protecting swimmers from the dangers of the surf, but in this clip the lifeguards at Bondi are shown in a sombre mood as they try to come to terms with a drowning they have failed to prevent. McKeown, the young trainee, summarises the situation – 'No-one ever wants to finish a day at work knowing that someone died while they were on’.
  • As revealed by the comments of the three lifeguards interviewed, individuals deal with the death in different ways. While McKeown talks openly about his emotions, Reid speaks from experience when saying that McKeown now understands that lifeguarding is 'not a walk in the park’. In another telling phrase, Bunting betrays his innermost feelings about losing sight of the drowning man when he says that death at Bondi can happen 'in the blink of an eye’.
  • A number of production techniques used in reality television programs are exemplified in this clip. These include the interplay between actuality footage and interviews recorded after the event, the cuts from one interview to another to extend the narrative line, and the use of interview comments as voice-over for actuality footage. The slow-beat surf music serves to locate and intensify the sombre mood.
  • The lifeguards shown in the clip are one part of a long tradition of commitment to saving lives on Australian beaches that dates back to the early 1900s. At that time, public sea 'bathing’ during daylight hours had recently become legal in New South Wales and the number of drownings rose dramatically. Groups of experienced swimmers decided they would form clubs to patrol popular beaches voluntarily and protect beachgoers.
  • The 'lifeguard’ service on Bondi Beach is provided to users of the beach by the local municipal council and forms part of the range of services provided by third tier of government in Australia. Unlike the surf 'lifesavers’ at many other beaches around Australia, these lifeguards are not volunteers but full-time professional employees of Waverley Council. A maximum of eight lifeguards is on duty at any one time.
  • This footage, taken from Episode 7 of Series 2, shows the tragic consequences of a person who is unable to swim but ventures into the surf. Most Australians learn to swim when young, usually as part of a school program, and although they may also get into difficulties at Bondi it is people from countries where swimming is relatively unusual who are most at risk as they often cannot swim, are unlikely to recognise the inherent dangers of the surf and may not understand the meaning of the flags.
  • The Australian surf can be deceptive with underwater rips posing potentially fatal risks to swimmers. Rips are narrow and sometimes very fast currents of water flowing seawards under an area of breaking surf. The best-known rip at Bondi is at the southern end of the beach, where this drowning occurred. According to the Bondi Rescue program, this and other rips at Bondi lead to about 2,500 rescues per year. About 85 per cent of those rescued are tourists and non-locals.
  • Production decisions about which participants to interview after the event are important in reality television and, as here, interviews are usually confined to those who were pivotal to the unfolding events. Reid was the first to see the man in trouble. Bunting was in the lifeguard tower and caught sight of the man before losing him while radioing for a jet ski. McKeown was the lifeguard approached by the victim’s family to report his disappearance.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

Production company:
Cordell Jigsaw Productions
Field producers:
Christopher Zinn, Daniel Marsden, Rick McPhee, William Minchin
Hugh Piper
Executive producers:
Michael Cordell, Nick Murray
Consultant producer:
David Gyngell
Series producer:
Ben Davies
Narration script:
Michael Cordell

This clip starts approximately 21 minutes into the TV program.

A group of lifeguards are coming off duty at Bondi Beach, discussing their reactions after a man drowns at the beach.
Lifeguard (to Blake) You alright?

Trainee lifeguard Blake McKeown is being interviewed.
Blake McKeown How do you have this kid come up to you, and you know that his father is dead? The hardest part was walking along the beach and kind of asking him the questions, like ‘Can your dad swim, did he have anywhere else to go?’, and you saw it click in his head and then his mum’s head that, like, there isn’t much hope. Like, he was in the water. He didn’t have anywhere else to go. He couldn’t swim. And I think that was the toughest part for me was, was watching them realise that their husband, like, their father, is gone.

Scenes of the beach at sunset as the lifeguards go home for the day. Lifeguard Andrew ‘Reidy’ Reid is being interviewed.
Andrew Reid No-one ever wants to finish a day at work knowing that someone died while they were on. For us to do this job, we have to expect things like this. It’s hard to deal with at the time, but I think it’s going to be a lot harder on the guys that it was their first time.

The interviews are interspersed with shots of the lifeguards and people at the beach.
McKeown I think the best thing was going through it as a group. Like, that night, I felt a lot more part of the team, like we’d all worked together and done everything we could, and we were all feeling exactly the same. It was, yeah, one of the things I took out of it – was the great sense of being part of the team and being a lifeguard now. 
Reid I think it will make him a better lifeguard because in his first year, he’s just realised that people drown. You know, this isn’t just a walk-in-the-park job. Like, lifeguarding’s lifeguarding and you’re guarding lives. You know, people will drown.

Lifeguard Tom Bunting is also interviewed.
Tom Bunting From what I gathered from his family and friends, Yondon Dungu himself was 42 years of age. He’d been in Australia for one week, and his family would have absolutely been thriving on the fact that they’d been given this new opportunity and about to kick-start a new life, and in the blink of an eye, as it occurs down here sometimes at Bondi, it was just taken away from him.