Bronte’s Last Shark Attack – Remembering Nita Derritt
Eighty-nine years ago this month, the last shark attack recorded at Bronte Beach took place in the early evening of Wednesday, February 13, 1924. Eva (known as ‘Nita’) Derrett, a 30 year-old saleswoman and keen swimmer from Hurlstone Park, was badly mauled by an ocean-dwelling man-eater, but amazingly she survived.
She was with her nephew at the time of the attack and he described the incident in an official statement:
“Miss Nita Derrett, along with her mother, comes out to our place at Waverley once a week to enjoy the surf. It was a few minutes after 7 o’clock when we got into the water. Miss Derrett being first, she was up to her knees in the water alongside me, when she sat down and splashed the water over her shoulders.
“Almost immediately she gave a scream. My wife and I both laughed, thinking the water was cold, and then saw that she had been dragged out a couple of yards. I realised that she was in difficulties and at once attempted to go to her. As I did, the shark, which was between 6-foot and 7-foot in length, came up between her and myself.
“I sang out to Eric, a nephew of Miss Derrett, who was just coming up the beach after a run. He then came in and we both made to her. Eric caught one of her arms, and I afterwards got the other. We were carrying her out, and had her almost out of the water when Constable Rushbrooke came along and helped her to the sand.”
Bronte lifesavers Eric Bennett and Jas Brown, together with Constable C. E. Rushbrooke, were involved in the rescue.
Nita’s left leg had been taken off below the knee and her right foot was torn away from the ankle, hanging only by a bit of skin. She had a long recovery from her horrible injuries and it was extraordinary that she survived at all. But her real recovery was to follow the healing of the wounds – adjusting to life with both her legs amputated due to the lacerations was no easy task. She was fitted with two heavy wooden legs, held in place by large leather straps around her body, a far cry from the carbon fibre prosthetics of today.
Nita loved the ocean and continued to swim, the salt water easing the skin irritation caused by the leather straps. Her sister Edith would take her to the sea, remove her prostheses, and she would wriggle herself into the water.
Interviewed ten years after her accident she said that immediately after the attack she was filled with “utter despair” with the loss of her legs making life seem “hopeless”, so much so that “she’d wished she was dead”. However, a move to the Blue Mountains saw her develop a passion for gardening and also a keen interest in astrology; she believed she had been born under an “unlucky star” that made her “fated to meet tragedy in a place where there was water”.
Nita Derrett died in 1965 and is remembered by her family for her beautiful singing voice and her courage in the face of a terrible accident.
If you would like to learn more about the colourful of history of the Eastern Beaches area you can call Waverley Council Local Studies Librarian Kimberly O’Sullivan on 9386 7744 or send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.