All things come to an end and this is the final entry for my police stories. Fear not there will be a new subject next week. I haven’t quite decided what it is to be, yet. It has been a dubious pleasure writing these stories, they have taken me back to a time when I worked at the one thing I always dreamed of doing. I kept my army career at a six-year enlistment, even though I was offered my sergeants stripes to re-enlist. In retrospect I would have ended up as a drunk, propping up the bar in the Mess yarning about the good old days. Due to injuries I landed in Civvie Street overweight and with a damaged knee. I applied to join the police service and missed out for being overweight. The irony of it all was the officer who weighed me in would have been about 180 kilos.
I tried working for the in-laws on their cattle property, that didn’t turn out well. In 1975 the country had gone into a recession and jobs were scarce, I answered an ad for a position as a prison officer and viola, they accepted me. I will skip the next 5 years and talk about how I felt the first day I walked into the police academy. To say I was delighted is an understatement. I’d dropped from 140 kilos to 100 kilos in two years and had become quite fit. The intake consisted of two classes of 26 students and at 29 years old I was the second oldest. The first rule of entry was you must have left your previous employment and I dropped over half of my previous wage on entry, we could manage – just. The second kick, you had to supply your own text books, the academy was a campus and the same rules applied. I thought the government was cheap.
I had never attended high school, leaving primary school at thirteen and a half to start work. It didn’t mean I was dumb though. I did some basic education courses in the army and being an avid reader my IQ was of a suitable level. That along with my previous life experience set me in good stead. I scraped in on the first exam, lowest in the class. I learned two things: 1. The correct way to study. 2. That no matter where you go in life there is always someone who will make fun of your efforts.
In the following exams I hovered around the 5+ (they were scored 1-7) and put everything I had into whatever they threw at us. At the end of six months I came 13th out of 56, topping the course in English and first aid. I couldn’t have been prouder taking the oath at graduation, my dream had been fulfilled. We moved into a better house after that, my pay had gone up (pity about the Winchester rifle collection I had to sell) and for the first time in my life I felt that I belonged somewhere.
A SAD ENDING. I won’t go into my home life in detail here, except to say we both could have done better to resolve it. By now Vietnam had intruded into my life to such an extent that I experienced hallucinations on a regular basis. A few years earlier I had received a severe whiplash injury, the end result being I exhibited symptoms of epilepsy. Talk about going crazy: hearing voices, smelling things and seeing things that weren’t there. I now know it exacerbated a previous injury to my brain stem that I received after receiving the back blast from a bank of anti personnel mines. It sent me crashing through my armoured vehicle where I ended up head first against the engine hatch. Even crazier it started me on the path of becoming a psychic healer and medium but that’s another story.
Back to the hallucinations, yahoo, I didn’t have epilepsy. But I did have an inoperable, benign tumour the size of a walnut nestled in the centre of the right hemisphere of my brain. Isn’t life wonderful? However I never quite looked at the world the same way again. The pain: emotional, mental, physical, and I feel at a soul level hammered me for months. The relationship with my parents had sunk to an all-time low. I felt like a stranger in my own life, a shadow of a human being waiting to die. I came home after an early shift, my wife was at work and my son wouldn’t be home for half an hour. I’d seen the end results of suicide and at that moment I didn’t care. I always took my gun belt off when I got home and hung it in the wardrobe. Then emptied my revolver and locked my handcuffs through the open chamber. That day I sat on the bed and still in my uniform pulled out my revolver, shoved the barrel deep into my mouth and pulled the hammer back. Crash! The front screen door slammed open, “Dad, I’m home, where are you?” My son had taken a lift home with a school friend. I shoved my gun under the pillow and stood up, unbuttoning my shirt, “g’day mate, how’s school?” I’d come so close to ruining his life.
Trying to be normal in an abnormal state of mind is difficult. I became a battering ram, first through the door, jump into the fights, and seek out the dangerous and difficult. For the life of me I couldn’t die. I don’t think I put anybody else’s life in danger. The hallucinations stayed and came at inappropriate moments. My greatest regret is that I didn’t seek the help that I needed. Instead I assuaged my pain by chasing other women. My ego felt better, it didn’t stop the pain though. There are three things that can ruin a policeman’s career: Booze, women and unclaimed property. I didn’t drink to excess anymore, nor did I want other people’s property. But women, well when they throw themselves at you, what does a lonely man do?
If my son reads this he may gain some understanding of his old Dad, maybe not. We were all at home on this day and I sat at the breakfast table looking out the front door. I had been to the range and had finished cleaning my gun. Terrible screams and growls came from outside, a neighbours little girl had been cornered by another neighbour’s dog. A Labrador of all things, I’d never seen one go mad before, it began tearing her dress then biting her. Gun in hand I raced into the street, dragged her aside and shot the dog dead. I made an enemy on one hand and a lifelong friend in an instant. Back inside I sat down and finished my coffee. I heard my son slam his bedroom door and walk down the hallway. Looking up I saw a Viet Cong in full battle order, straw hat, black pyjamas, ammo pouches across his chest and holding an AK 47 walking towards me, smiling.
I heard a loud growl. It was me apparently as I jumped on him. I looked into this soldier’s face and kept hitting him in the head with the butt of my gun. With one hand around his throat I choked and choked but he still laughed at me. And no matter how much I hit him he wouldn’t die. I didn’t feel my wife-beating me and screaming and I didn’t realise I’d managed to change my grip on the gun. I only felt the pain of a fry pan crashing into my head. It would be an understatement to say my familial relationship changed after that. No one dared to intervene, my wife and son were terrified of me and yet I still functioned as a copper.
My last night as a policeman started no different to the hundreds of others that had come before, a break in, a few tickets then a simple street offence, a man urinating against a shop wall. I drove that night, my mate had shone the spotlight on him, and you can guess what he wore? A black judo suit. He ran across the road in front of us and down into an underground car park. I could have let him go, I should have let him go but I didn’t. I drove straight after him, down into the darkness. The building backed onto an old house where an elderly woman lived and a spare allotment, this gave a view over to the main street. The consensus was that he’d run straight through, so while we were there I decided to check out the area. I sent my off-sider towards the main road and flashed my Maglite around, nothing. There were earth filled areas at the back of the car park; I decided to check them after I’d located my mate. He wasn’t answering his radio.
I didn’t find him, instead I found three men trying to get into the back of the old woman’s house. They were drunk and the biggest one, who looked like Clark Kent on steroids held a six-pack of stubbies. Amazingly enough they obeyed my commands and walked ahead of me to the car. Once there I placed them all under arrest for drunkenness and opened the back door. Thump! Out of the gloom my little black clothed friend appeared and punched me in the side of my face, fracturing my cheek. He raced off and the others decided to have a go. Clark Kent hurled the six-pack to the ground, the stubbies exploded and it was on for young and old. All I could see were three men who wanted to hurt me. The first to go was Clark. A Maglite is wonderful weapon at close quarters; an aluminium tube with four D cell batteries in it can work wonders. I had the advantage. With my back to the side of the squad car I wielded my torch like Conan the Barbarian. Clark went down, I split his head open with the first blow, whump he came up and punched me. Bugger this, I hit him again and he stayed on the ground. This restricted his mates and I laid into them. My God it felt good, every thump and yell hit something deep inside me. I’d handcuffed Clark and stuffed him in the backseat where he began kicking and screaming. Then I threw his mate on top of him and had the other one head down ready to join them when my off-sider arrived.
‘Can’t leave you alone for a minute can I?’ We took the least injured to the watch house and Clark to casualty where he received 10 stitches in his scalp for his troubles. Returning to the station I found an application for discharge, filled it in, put it in the Inspector’s in-tray and went home. He rang on Monday morning and we talked about what had been happening, and he advised me to see my doctor, go on indefinite sick leave and I’d be medically discharged within six months. He was right. Life doesn’t give up though; I spent my final day in the city being examined by the government medical officer. The police commissioner’s daughter was discharged on the same day. A lovely lady but the press lay in wait for her. In a television studio’s archives there is a video of us huddled together, I’m covering her face and leading her away from the cameras. My final protective act.
With any retirement there comes a celebration of sorts. Another officer and a civilian typist from my station were retiring at the same time. We piled into an old scout hall and partied on, coppers know how to party. The drinks flowed, the snacks went down a treat and then came the speeches. I stood up last and took my presentation plaque (it’s long gone now) and tried to thank everybody. I could feel their eyes on me and to this day I believe not one of them understood what had happened to me. I started crying half way through and sat back on my chair. If I had been physically incapacitated in the line of duty perhaps it would have been different. Instead I had a mental problem and turned into one of the people who they came up against on a daily basis.
Once you leave the service you become a civilian and therefore are no longer part of the inner circle. You will be spoken to, or maybe get a visit now and then but you can see it in their eyes, ‘You’re no longer one of us.’ I’ve been honest in my recollections here and will say writing this chapter of my life made me cry. Looking back with clarity and some maturity I should have sought help earlier. It wasn’t to be and it cannot be changed. Am I a better person for the experience? I think so. Thank you for reading and following my blog.
Coming next week, A TURNKEY’S TRIBULATIONS, or a peek at ‘Doing Porridge’ in the 70’s.