family

A farewell to arms.

dad police

I am 36 years old and not one of those years has been spent without policing in my life.

Today, in some ways, that will change.

Because today is the day that my father is marched off for the very last time on the parade ground at the New South Wales Police Academy in Goulburn, 39 years after he joined ‘the job’.

It’s the very last day I’ll get to watch mum iron one of those iconic blue shirts. The last time I’ll get to see him leave the house ready to go to work in the career he has loved so much and given so much to. The last time I’ll see him in the leather jacket and peaked cap. The last time he’ll be Sergeant Webster.

Things that I have for so long just taken for granted.

My dad has spent all of those years in the force operationally qualified – from Lane Cove and Chatswood in the city through to country policing in Merimbula and Adelong. The last 21 years have been spent as an instructor at the Police Academy, instilling thousands of now serving members with his own particular brand of wit (debatable) and wisdom (never in doubt).

Does anyone know what an affray is?” “Is it like a fight, sergeant?” “No, it’s when an Asian person is scared.

But some of his most important work has been in the meticulous research he has undertaken over the past couple decades to chronicle every single NSW police officer killed in the line of duty. Names and histories that had laid dormant for years, unrecognised and unremembered. I remember trips to libraries and country cemeteries to find the stories of these people so they could be shared and honoured after they gave their life serving the community. No one has been more passionate about and committed to making sure the broader NSWPF community remember their fallen.

It’s equally as impressive that dad finishes a 39 year career without even the slightest hint of ‘TJF’. If you asked him he would still tell you that ‘the job’ is the best job in the world.

Police are people doing an often thankless job under what are usually trying and unpredictable circumstances. They are people who deal with the worst society has to offer every day so we can sleep safely at night. When there’s a murder, they’re there. When there’s a fatal vehicle collision, they’re there. When someone has been assaulted, they’re there. When someone has been raped, they’re there. When a home has been robbed or a shop has been held up by an armed offender or a family violence incident has occurred, they’re always there. To help, to console, to investigate, to assist, to placate, to stop, to bring to justice. Every single day they do the things that the rest of the community can’t ask themselves to do.

Whenever I hear people criticise police I think about the inherently selfless people like my dad who have given years of unfailing service to local communities. Growing up next door to police stations and having people knock on your door at all times of the day or night. Having to go to some of the most horrific incidents you can imagine and knowing the victims and their families. Christmases and birthdays and holidays spent at work.

Earlier this year my dad and I stood at the Pambula river mouth, a spot where we used to go swimming as kids. It’s peaceful and quiet and lovely. I pointed at one of the sheds nestled in the sand and said something to him, I can’t remember what. He replied, “We arrested someone for a really bad rape just up there”. There are ghosts around every corner that only fade in time, they never go away. Something for the critics to consider.

But there are so very many great memories too. Christmas parties where the helicopter dropped bags of lollies out of the sky. Road trips in the back on the div van, even the one where my brother threw up on the police radio. Hours spent playing ‘Prince of Persia’ or golf on station computers. Barbecues at the beach where we spent hours screaming with laughter riding around in rubber duckies. Some of the best and funniest people you will ever meet in your life.

My dad telling the story of the line search in the Belanglo State Forest and someone decided to start a wave that went for as far as the eye could see.

I also think of how incredibly hard it must have been for mum at times – all the moves to new towns and the stresses that come with being married to the job. And not once did she ever let us know she was as anxious or worried as we were when we left towns we loved or started at new schools. Mum always just got on with it and it’s only in hindsight you realise how exceptional that is.

I wouldn’t change growing up with police for the world and in so many ways it has defined our family – for the absolute best.

I am 36 years old and not one of those years has been spent without policing in my life.

Today, in some ways, that will change, dad. And in other ways, nothing will change at all.

Because though you have retired, you will always be part of the police family. That never goes away. Besides, you’ve raised two kids who were so impressed they joined police forces of their own. 

And above all else, we are so incredibly proud of you, Sergeant Webster – more than you will ever know – and that won’t change once you take the blue shirt off for the very last time.

“Question not, but live and labour
Til yon goal be won,
Helping every feeble neighbour,
Seeking help from none;
Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone,
Kindness in another’s trouble,
Courage in your own.”

– Adam Lindsay Gordon

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Get lucky.

ryder

I am the only Port Adelaide supporter I know. I’ve met other fans over the years but I’ve never had a Port friend that I could go to games with or sit with for hours over a beer discussing the fortunes of our team. I’ve always been a bit of a novelty (in more ways than one, I’m sure). As the bio says, I’m a New South Wales girl who lives in Victoria and barracks for a South Australian team. The “makes sense” I write at the end is clearly sarcasm of the highest order.

Usually I’m happy to go to games alone and will just sit restlessly somewhere near my people. This time though I managed to rope in a couple of friends to come along and I was seriously looking forward to the night, even though a Port Adelaide v Essendon game held all the promise of being as interesting and skill laden as the Benalla v Violet Town reserves. Both mates were Bombers fans, country boys, decent people with a good sense of humour who like a beer. The only difference was one I’ve been friends with for nearly 15 years while the other has been a mate for only really about six weeks. This should be fun.

Of course because this was the only time I’ve managed to drag friends along to a game this lovely lady called me up and offered me corporate box tickets. Which I had to decline because, well, it just wouldn’t be the done thing to ditch your mates.

We started off the night at a pub across the road from Etihad Stadium, my old mate and I catching up and keeping one eye on the Richmond v Fremantle game as we sipped our beers. Despite being friends for so long it was the first time we’d actually ventured to the football together. He’s naturally a bit of an introvert but I was cautious that a few beers in he might unleash. I also warned him about my new mate and said I had no idea which way he was going to go so if it got embarrassing then we’d just go to the toilet at quarter of half time and never come back. New mate is a bit of a smart arse, possibly more so than me. When I’d asked him what sort of person he was at the footy he replied, “Mature, modest, witty etc. I’ll let you fill in the blanks”. I tell you what, I could fill in the blanks and I was worried they weren’t going to be complimentary.

Eventually the three of us united and after exchanging the appropriate introductions and pleasantries headed off to buy our tickets. Etihad confuses me, I always end up somewhere I think I’m not supposed to be and Saturday night was no different. We were in a carpeted bar, drinking more beers and talking shit. I reckon I spilt about a third of mine but not to worry. Before we knew it the siren had sounded and the quarter had started so we made our escape to find seats.

For a game between two teams languishing at the bottom of the ladder it did its best to stay entertaining. Wingard almost took mark of the year and the goals were flowing fairly freely in both directions. Even the three of us managed to behave ourselves. I’m a nervous football fan and my natural exuberance tends to go out the door a bit when I’m at the game. The pair of them were pretty quiet too, though later I found out it was more likely because they’d been bordering on hypothermia for most of the night. (On the other hand I am from Goulburn where it is, to use a particular turn of phrase, “fucking cold and windy” all through winter. Also I’m tough.) It was the four middle aged Port Adelaide supporting women in the row in front of us that provided the most entertainment and probably the least insight on the game.

I have a bit of a thing about mobile phones when I’m doing things with people. Real people = real conversations and I always put the phone away. After going to get beers, coffee and food at half time – and running my trusty “do I have anything on my face?” joke with a giant smear of mustard across my cheek – I checked my mobile mid-way through the third quarter. Three missed calls and two messages asking me to call dad urgently. A message from my brother in Canada asking me to call my parents urgently. Shit. This is not likely to be good. You don’t leave messages like that for anyone who’s part of a police family. I bolted down the stairs and started calling, my dad answering with the news my brother had been involved in a serious collision. He was riding his scooter and the car opposite was indicating a right turn before the driver changed their mind and went straight. My brother had begun the turn and was collected, left sprawled on the road with the bike in disrepair. Mum and dad were at the hospital with him now. He’d been wearing his full face helmet so a CT scan was only a precaution, but turns out he’d broken his foot and his upper arm. His back hurt and they were worried about the potential for him having cracked vertebrae, though it turned out to but three broken ribs instead.  He could still move everything, which was the best part.

They don’t call motorcyclists ‘temporary citizens’ for nothing. He’s so bloody lucky.

I walked back to my seat in shock and I’m not really sure I processed it very well. I started watching the game again. I stopped drinking. We were all fairly silent. To be honest it didn’t seem quite real.

Port got ahead in the final quarter and Bomber-turned-Power player Paddy Ryder kicked a couple of match winning goals for us while the crowd booed him like he was Adam Goodes at a Hawthorn match. I remember reading something years ago that Aaron Hamill said after he left St Kilda to play at Carlton. “Why wouldn’t you want to be booed?” he said. “Why would you want to leave a place with everyone’s best wishes?” I think in context that’s so right – you want people to be disappointed that you’re not part of their club any more. Travis Boak had the ultimate captain’s game, leading by example and finishing with a couple of his own. We weren’t pretty, not by any stretch of the imagination, but we got there by 13 points. Essendon coach James Hird later said that Ryder had had a “lucky night” and had really no impact on the game until the end. Maybe, but he had an impact when it counted. You’re officially one of us now, Paddy.

After the final siren sounded and me and the two (by now) very cold boys stood up, we listened to the Port Adelaide song boom around the ground. Both of them agreed it was a terrible song but I don’t care, I’ve never tired of hearing it. We left, slowly and quietly descending the stairs with the other fans and then getting lost in the spill of people across the bridge to Southern Cross Railway Station. “What are you guys doing now?” my new mate asked and I told him I just wanted to go home and call my parents. Understood. We said good bye and he left to catch a train back to his hipster suburb and probably a few extra pieces of warm clothing or a heater. My old mate tried to convince me to have one more beer while the human traffic wanting to ride the trams dispersed but I just wasn’t up for it.

I sat on the 109 tram home, my head propped against the glass as I watched the suburbs of my adopted city flash by. Football and family and friends and just… life. It never turns out quite how you think, never goes how you expect. I still end up being surprised after 36 years.

And a “lucky night” in more ways than one, for more than a few people.