Being the Copper's Kid in the 70s
Where the biggest crime was committed by polyester body shirts.
My darling dad graduated from the ACT Police academy in Canberra in March of 1978. I remember it was March because his graduation was called a ‘march-out’ and I thought it quite funny that he was having his march-out in March. I was seven and Dad was 32, quite old to be starting a new career in those days, but necessary after a mismatched tenure in a public service job. Who would have suspected that a repatriated Vietnam veteran would find the confines of an office with taupe lino unequaled to the adrenaline experienced while hanging by the armpits from an Iroquois UH-1D helicopter? I suspect that the most exciting thing he would have experienced working in the Department of Health would have been the offerings from the rattling trolley of Phyllis the tea lady.
So in my knee high brown boots, corduroy skirt and cream blouse complete with bow at the neck, I stood proudly on the parade ground with my younger brother (equally festooned in hues of poo), to witness one of our proudest family moments.
We were blithely unaware that we would become the happy beneficiaries of the misuse of tax payer funded resources.
Fast forward a few years to Wanniassa, one of Canberra’s newest suburbs. The plastic had only just been peeled off Gibb Place and our house became a haven for neighbourhood kids, whose plumber dads could not quite measure up to the free rides being offered at the top of the cul-de-sac on the back of a police motorbike. Being a copper’s kid came with a long sought after list of perks shall we say!
Since we had no family nearby, we were brought up under the open and somewhat bleary-eyed wing of other families in ‘the job’. Our childhood was under the protective wing of bad-assed mother-fucker law enforcers who got the job done while only having one lazy eye on the rule book.
Woffy, Kotzy, Nakkers, Jacko and Simmo were not members of a motorcycle gang, but Dad’s fellow keepers of community safety and order. And boy did they look good doing it. Between the gleaming uniforms and the chest hair precariously waving beneath polyester, our living room looked like the set of Cop Shop.
Unlike the organisation of today, that I imagine is better equipped to support the stresses and emotional needs of its force, in the 1980s cops looked after each other in the only way they knew how… through the supply and over indulgence of alcohol! BBQs, pool nights, retirement parties, promotion parties, ‘cracked-the-case’ parties and ‘someone’s-back-from-three-months-undercover’ parties, littered our social calendar which meant waking up underneath a few discarded vinyl jackets and finding party goers asleep on the couch using the blown up bladder from a cask of wine as a pillow.
My brother and I were always welcome attendees at these gatherings. Anyone that would have babysat while Mum and Dad went out was either on duty or at the same party. We would busy ourselves by handing around platters of cabana, Jatz biscuits and French onion dip and we were always met with the warm, caring, beer scented smiles of Dad’s colleagues ready to ‘sort out any boys at school that gave me a hard time’. I didn’t know what ‘sort out’ meant exactly, but putting a stop to 11 year old boys flashing unwelcome body parts to classmates under desks delivered peace of mind.
One party in particular sticks out as a fairly accurate summation of the life and times.
It was Mum’s 31st birthday. She was having a 31st because she never got to have a 21st birthday party on account of breastfeeding a new baby at the time, so significant life milestones and partying in halter necks had to wait… until that kid was at least eleven!
The fibre optic lamp lit up the white shag pile carpeting to the joy of revellers, and Hot August Night boomed out from the turntable; the dial was set on ‘9’ when normally Dad only ever let us have it set as loud as ‘5’ . The crowd consisted of the usual line up of off-duty cops and their partners trying to out Farrah Fawcett each other. Naturally as the night wore on, the frequency with which the ‘uniforms’ (on-duty cops) dropped in to say happy birthday and stay for frothy, increased.
Across the road the noise level had begun to rattle the skirts of Mrs Simpson. Her three sons went to our school, but they were discouraged from playing with us for reasons we never understood other than she was just a ‘miserable old cow who had no friends and wouldn’t know a good time if it bit her on the ass’, apparently.
Mrs Simpson soon tired of the din and by 9.30pm started calling the local Police Station to complain. What our sharp-as-a-fondue-fork neighbour didn’t realise, was that was where Dad was stationed, so every time she called to request attendance, a dozen of Dad’s on-duty work mates clambered over themselves to ‘investigate the disturbance’.
Slowly but surely, the street started to resemble a scene from the Blues Brothers with police vehicles of every model and size filling the front yard and nature strip. Between the off-duty members and the newly arriving on-duty cops, one did have to question who was left guarding the front desk back at the station.
It finally got too much for Mrs Simpson who bravely navigated around sedans, paddy wagons and the police search and the rescue truck to arrive on our doorstep some time later in the evening in a waft of Imperial Leather. Simmo answered the door and the conversation went something like this.
‘G’day love how’s it going? Where have you popped out from?’
‘I am from across the road. Don’t you think that you should keep the noise down?’
‘It’s not that late yet love, why don’t you come in and have a drink?’
‘I don’t want a drink. I rang the police station to send a car around but no one seems to have done anything! I want to speak to a policeman!’
‘Of course madam what rank would you like?’
‘What police rank would you like? I can help you out with a Constable, a Snr Constable, a Detective Senior Sergeant, and I am pretty sure I just saw the Chief Inspector having a piss out by the lemon tree. He is off duty but I am sure he is up for a chat!’
Mrs Simpson threatened that the full weight of Dad’s superiors would come down on him. Simmo explained that they were out the back getting stuck into the vol-au-vents!
Mrs Simpson never complained about our parties after that.