by Kim Kelly

william 4


The above clipping starkly relates the story of the strange demise of my great uncle William Swivel, or Schwebel as he was born, before the family name was anglicised. It’s a sad little newsprint mystery, in that way suicides reported in the press always are.

Why did he jump off The Gap that day, April 20, 1936? What was going on in his life at the time? Did he have a terrible secret, or a burden he could no longer carry? Was he simply impossibly bonkers and nerve-wracked as Schwebels down the line have quite often been known to be?

The description of him here whispers odd familiar notes. Well dressed; strong swimmer; fondness for the great Australian address of ‘mate’; remarkably tenacious in the attempt to survive after the decision to self-destruct was made and promptly executed.

He was the same age I am now: 46.

I feel like I know him. But before stumbling across this little story while Troving a while ago, I’d never heard of Uncle Bill’s dramatic exit from the world. So newsworthy it was reported in no less than 17 capital city and regional papers, but unknown by the junior generation of his time, had he lived it out.

This isn’t surprising, of course. To talk of suicide until recent decades was taboo. The failure, the shame and, for the religious, the sin, overwhelmed the bereaved, stamping their grief into silence.

Other snippets of William are revealed in other reports – that he was married with an 11-year-old child, and that it was learned by the police that he had ‘suffered severely lately from ear trouble which had caused him at times to be melancholy’. I know he was a handsome chap, as Schwebel chaps tend to be, but that’s all I can add to the picture of him.

Not a good enough bunch of bits really for a man who lived and loved. Any man. But at least he’s not forgotten now.