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Heroic attempted rescue results in tragedy

Updated: Nov 6, 2022

A beautiful summer's day turned to tragedy when a young girl by the name of Bettie Burnie decided to go for a swim in Tamarama Bay at Bronte on 29 January, 1930.

While in the water, around 1.30pm Bettie found herself in difficulty and was swept out by the current. At the same time 24-year-old Geoffrey Hyman was enjoying the day, when he saw what was unfolding. He immediately went to her rescue but also found himself in difficulties.

Geoffrey Wellesly Hyman.

Another man, Arthur Lamont and 13-year-old Wilton Weir swam out to rescue them both. When they reached the girl, they couldn't find Geoffrey. She was brought back safely to shore while two other workmen raised the alarm with the Bronte Surf Club. Sadly, they found Geoffrey's body floating 70 yards from the shore and, despite applying artificial respiration for half an hour, he could not be saved.

Geoffrey was a law student and the son of Lieutenant A.W. Hyman, president of the NSW War Memorial. The Sydney Jewish community went into deep mourning at the loss of one of their own under such tragic circumstances.

At the time the coroner was quoted in the local Jewish newspaper:

This young man lost his life in performing an act of great valor. He went to save the life of a lady in trouble, well knowing that he was not a strong swimmer and that he was risking his own life.

Memorial for Geoffrey Wellesley in the Armidale School. Courtesy Monument Australia

Suggestions for a memorial in the young hero's honour were made. Two years later, a large number of people were present to witness the unveiling in the Armidale School chapel of a bronze mural tablet in Geoffrey's honour. He was an old boy of the school and the headmaster, Rev H. Sanger, said Geoffrey was awarded posthumously the only gold medal of the year by the Royal Shipwreck Relief Humane Society and the only silver medal of the same year by the Surf Life-Saving Society of NSW.

The headstone for Geoffrey Wellesley in Rookwood cemetery. Courtesy Kevin Banister.

Geoffrey also received the first certificate for gallantry ever given by the Returned Soldiers' League of Australia. A scholarship fund was established in his name as a memorial.

Geoffrey was buried in Rookwood cemetery.


  • 'Tried to Save Girl', The Muswellbrook Chronicle, Friday 31 January, 1930, Page 2

  • 'El Molai Rahamim', The Australian Jewish Chronicle, Thursday 13 February 1930, Page 1

  • 'Geoffrey Hyman', Monument Australia, accessed on 28th October, 2022,

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1 Comment

Thanks for your latest story Samantha. Another one of those bitter-sweet tales.

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