b. 18/12/1906 Wingham, New South Wales. d. 12/09/1976 Concord, New South Wales.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 12/01/1929 Sydney, Australia.
Robert Murray Kavanaugh (1906-1976) was born in Wingham, New South Wales, on 18 December 1906 to Herbert Leo Kavanaugh, a dentist, and his wife Alice Rose (née Flood). In 1917, the family moved to Sydney where Kavanaugh was educated at Waverley and Burwood public schools, as well as by a private Russian tutor. He was active in sport, playing Rugby Union for the Eastern Suburbs District Football Club, and belonging to the Sydney Rowing Club and the Kensington Amateur Athletic Association. Aged fifteen, Kavanaugh undertook study through the Dental Board of New South Wales and was apprenticed to his father as a dental student.
Robert enlisted as a Cadet in the 2nd Div Signals as OC/154820 on 13th February 1920. He became a Senior Cadet and was promoted to Corporal on 1st February 1926. His service ended on 30th June 1927 when he returned to his dentistry studies.
On 12th January 1929, Robert had decided to go for a swim off Bondi Beach, Sydney, when 14 year old Colin Stewart was attacked by a shark suffering serious injuries to his right side and hip. Without hesitation, Kavanaugh swam to Stewart’s assistance and had almost reached him when the shark made a second attack. Undeterred by the danger to himself, he secured hold of Stewart and struggled with him towards the shore. He had gone a considerable distance when two men helped him get Stewart to the shore. Sadly Stewart died the following day from his injuries, and was buried in Randwick Cemetery, Sydney.
He was awarded the Albert Medal on 17th October 1930 (presented to him by Sir Philip Game at the Bondi Beach Annual Surf Festival), soon after he had qualified as a dentist. He then set up his own practice in the country district of Narromine. He married Mary Sylvia Potter on 22nd April 1933 and they subsequently had four children, Mary Patricia, Lynette, Shane and Michael.
During World War II, Robert served with the Royal Australian Air Force as a Dental Officer, though holding a Private Pilot’s Licence he would have preferred to fly. His qualities were eventually recognised and he became a Squadron Leader in 1942. While with the Reserve in 1945 he returned to studying – this time for his Batchelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) at the University of Sydney.
In 1971, following the change in the Royal Warrant, Robert chose to exchange his Albert Medal for the George Cross. The following year, following over 40 years as a dentist, he gave up his practice in Sydney and moved to an old abandoned sheep farm at Karalinga with his wife and son Michael. He never spoke of the incident which led to the award of his AM, and his family only learned of it from press cuttings found after his death. He died on 12th September 1976 (only two months after his wife tragically) in Concord, Sydney and was buried in the Field of Mars Cemetery. His George Cross was sold at auction in 2011 and was purchased by a private buyer.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: SOLD AT AUCTION IN 2011 TO PRIVATE BUYER.
BURIAL PLACE: FIELD OF MARS CEMETERY, RYDE, NSW, AUSTRALIA.
LAWN 4, GRAVE 2213.