Nellie Bishop is not the patron saint of those who would hurl themselves into oblivion from The Gap, there on the cruel cliffs overlooking the ocean, but she should be.
For look at her now. It is a bright, beautiful Tuesday afternoon, November 13, 1923. She is a strong, athletic young woman, in a long dress – until recently, a clerk with the railways, living with her parents at Kogarah – and there seems nothing to mark her out from the passers-by, other than the intent way she gazes at the rocks below.
And yet, suddenly, she puts down her handbag and climbs through the small fence. She does not feel afraid. Only determined.
She simply puts her hands to her face and … leaps.
Why did she jump? It’s complicated. To her family and friends, she seemed happy enough. But the misery that propelled her over the cliff was well hidden.
Certainly, a large part of it was a broken romance.
For Nellie, the love of her life had been one James William Gallagher, a fine, strapping young man whom she had grown up with. She had been so proud of him – if fearful, too – when, in 1915, he had marched away to the Great War.
Alas, although James had returned in 1919, walking, talking and with both arms intact and nary a wound visible, he was not the complete man who had left her.
Tragically, James had taken a bullet to his nether regions and so was fearful that having children was out of the question.
The shattered James tried to make the best of it, saying that, while of course he still wanted to marry her, he did not want children, anyway.
But Nellie did want children – it was the dearest desire of her life. The pain of their subsequent falling out broke her heart and also, at least momentarily, her mind.
At the instant she jumps, however, with the wind rushing around her ears and blowing up her dress, she bitterly regrets her action and decides she does want to live after all.
But it is too late! Or is it?
Through an extraordinary, once-in-a-century quirk of fate, a freak wave engulfs the rocks below with such a flood that she hits deep water instead. She’s alive!
Two old Italian fishermen – the brothers Rosario and Vincent Diamente – are nearby and look over to see her hit the water. They row like mad things towards her. The brave fishermen get to her, just six yards from the cliff face, where she is furiously treading water.
In the roar of the waves, nearly dashing themselves and her on the rocks in the process, they manage to get her on their boat.
Nellie is taken to hospital, where she spends the night, and is released the next day to her astounded and relieved family.
The upshot? Despite the blackness that propelled her to jump, despite being firmly convinced that there was no way out for her, that death was better than life, she was totally, comprehensively and stunningly wrong.
For Nellie Bishop really did live happily ever after.
She fell in love again with a good man and had eight wonderful children. Five of them joined the police force and one, Bob Bradbury, became NSW’s highest-ranking detective.
One of her dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Bill Bradbury, became a police negotiator and ended up spending a proportion of his life successfully talking people out of committing suicide at The Gap. He had a story to tell them…
Nudging 90, Nellie passed away from natural causes in 1988 as the matriarch of a large and loving family. There should, at the least, be a plaque to her at The Gap, at the highest point where she jumped, telling something of her story.
With thanks to the Bradbury family and acknowledgment to The Sun (November 14, 1923) and The Daily Guardian (November 16, 1923).