Police and poetry

by | Nov 1, 2008

For reasons to do with my dayjob, I had the privilege of spending two days this week at the Police Academy in Joondalup.  I was sitting in with the newest of the new recruits, and it occurred to me, while listening to various instructors talk about what policing is all about, how much courage is needed to be a copper.  It’s an exciting, stressful and dangerous career – although it must have its rewards, as evidenced by one of the instructors, who said words to the effect of ‘I’ve been shot at, stabbed, bitten and threatened, and I’ve had to have three AIDS tests – but I still love my job.’  I take my bicorn hat off to you, Sarge.

As well as learning many useful things about negotiation, I also spoke to the recruits about writing, and, in the process of doing that, a bit about my grandfather.  Those of you who have read Bye, Beautiful can probably guess that the character of Frank was based on a real-life copper, although I hasten to add that the events et. al. are fiction (not just fictionalised).  My grandfather, the real Frank, was a policeman all his life – not just until retirement, if you understand the distinction.  In his final years as a serving copper he was stationed at Broome, and was officer-in-charge of the North West, and before that he established the first police station in Karratha, to which I remember being driven (and being carsick en route: after vomiting over the thonged toes of my nanna, she offered me brandy: ‘Here you are, love, it’ll make you feel better.’  It did.)

Pop also began the first police driving school in Western Australia at Maylands, where I visited him as a newborn, and where he taught many a young copper to ride a motorbike.  In the 1950s, when he was a mounted policeman in Perth, he used to agist his horse at the back of his East Victoria Park home, and on a Friday night he would ride through the pine forests (now Curtin University) to the Raffles: luckily the horse knew its way home when Pop returned several hours and several sheets to the wind later, although it didn’t know enough to stop when Pop was so drunk one night that he fell off and broke his ankle in the process.  When I was researching Bye, Beautiful, I also discovered that Pop had written to the then Police Commissioner in the late 1970s asking that the police occurrence books from the North West not be destroyed: the letter was ignored, and now there is little historical information about the policing of the area.

Visiting the Police Academy also reminded me of the decent, dignified men who were Pop’s colleagues, who I met from time to time at his house, and who wept on his deathbed.  So, perhaps it is no surprise that I have a soft spot for coppers.  But I’m also aware that the job had a terrible toll on my grandfather, seeing the worst side of people all of the time, seeing things about which he could not speak to anyone, let alone his family.  Before he died, he spoke about his career, and I made some comment about how well he had done, being an ill-educated boy from the bush who’d made it to Superintendent through his own uncompromising hard work and toughness.  He simply shook his head and said, ‘I wish I’d been a gardener.’  It is a comment that still makes me sad.

On a brighter note, on Friday I had a brief session with my School of Isolated and Distance Education writers.  I was so impressed with their willingness to experiment and develop their work: it’s usually the hardest thing to encourage writing students to do.  I will see their next pieces in two weeks: go, girls!

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