The number of suicides here would be much higher if it were not for the intervention of Don Ritchie, the 'Angel of The Gap'.
Unfortunately, the signalling station was only to provide early warning to the colony of an approaching ship, and did not really serve as a light house, warning ships of the rocky cliffs as they approached the harbour. As such, in 1857, the 'Dunbar', with 122 souls on board, crashed into the cliffs as Captain James Green misjudged where to safely sail in the stormy weather. The following morning spectators watched as the corpses of those lost were smashed into the rocks, naked and mutilated by sharks.
There was only one survivor.
Six years later The Gap would see another tragedy, that of suicide.
She called a cab and was dropped off at The Gap Hotel, and from there it is believed she walked to the cliff and jumped to her death.
She was far from the last to do so.
The Gap has a notorious history for death ranging from accidental falls while walking along the edge, to those falling while climbing, to murder and suicide. It is estimated that around 50 people end their own lives there every year, although preventative measures are in place (free line counselling phones, security cameras, information boards and inward facing fences).
Although these measures may at times have been successful, there was something else out on those cliffs that stopped as many as 500 people taking their own lives – Don Ritchie, The Angel of The Gap.
It was with this approach that Ritchie officially prevented 160 people from ending their own lives on those cliffs, though it is believed to be much higher than that – up to 500. For his services to the community he received several awards – the 'Medal of the Order of Australia', a 'Citizen of the Year' and a 'Local Hero Award' . The National Australia Council said of him: "His kind words and invitations into his home in times of trouble have made an enormous difference... With such simple actions, Don has saved an extraordinary number of lives."
"My ambition has always been to just get them away from the edge, to buy them time, to give them the opportunity to reflect, and to give them the chance to realise that things might look better the next morning. I try to get them to make the decision not to suicide, not now, not then and there.
I don’t council them. I don’t tell them what they should and shouldn’t do in their lives. I wouldn’t know, and I wouldn’t want that responsibility. All I try to do is to get them away from the edge.
I do try to get them to seek help from professionals, for example Lifeline, the Black Dog Institute, Beyond Blue or a local doctor. Sometimes they say they have tried that but it didn’t work, it didn’t help, so I encourage them to try again, with another professional, to get another opinion, another perspective.
I’ve had wonderful feedback from people who have come back from the edge. That feedback is really rewarding, knowing that the action I took changed the course of their lives and got them back on track.
Sometimes I’ve had feedback from people whose loved ones have died by suicide thanking me for being there with them, for trying to talk them out of it."
Don Ritchie the 'Angel of The Gap' passed away peacefully, surrounded by family and friends on 13 May, 2012.
Sometimes a guardian angel is not a supernatural force but is rather a kind person with softly spoken words.