The Gap in Sydney is a very famous suicide spot. On average 1 person a week decides to end their life there, by jumping off the cliff into the turbulent waters of the Pacific below. To live next door to such a macabre sounding place would seem like a nightmare to a lot of people.
However, Don Ritchie, having lived in a house across the street from the Gap for over 50 years, had a very different outlook. Known locally as the ‘Angel of the Gap’, Don did all that he could to help those in need.
“If I see someone who looks like they might be contemplating a jump, I walk over and strike up a conversation.” He said during an interview in 2010. “You can’t just sit there and watch them.”
Living so close to such a notorious suicide spot saw Don go out of his way to help those he thought might be in trouble. In fact, it is estimated that over 160 people were saved due to his efforts. His family claim that the number could be closer to 400.
Sadly Don passed away in 2012, however during the many years he lived beside the Gap, he would wake up every morning and look for anyone standing alone too close to the precipice. If he saw anyone there he would “offer a warm smile and ask if they’d like to talk and invites them back to his house for tea.”
“I’m offering them an alternative, really,” Ritchie said “. I always act in a friendly manner.”. The Gap is protected only by a small, one-meter fence, despite its legendary reputation as a suicide spot dating back to the 1800s.
But the former life insurance salesman and Second World War veteran said he didn’t feel “burdened” by the fact that people were always contemplating jumping to their deaths outside his house. In fact he saw it as a blessing, “Isn’t it wonderful that we live here and we can help people?” he said in an interview with ABC news.
During the final year of his life, Don Ritchie battled with cancer. Despite his ailing health, he optimistically believed that, “somebody else will come along and do what I’ve been doing”. Don’s efforts did not go unnoticed during his lifetime. In 2006, he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his rescues, the official citation being for “service to the community through programs to prevent suicide.”
Ritchie and his wife Moya were also named “Citizens of the Year” in 2010 by Woollahra Council, the local government authority responsible for The Gap. In 2011, Don received the Local Hero Award for Australia. The National Australia Day Council stated: “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.”