I left school after completing Year 10 and joined the Royal Australian Airforce. This was in the late 80’s, when military service including being yelled at, sworn at, at times assaulted, and when bastardisation was rife - all in an attempt to make us men. This process either made you hard or you broke and left. After 10 years of service it was time for a new start, and the natural progression for me was the Police Force. So to make a new start my young family and I packed up and headed west.
My time in policing in Western Australia began working in the suburbs, but after a few years I decided that it was time to experience some country policing. I packed up my still rather young family and headed to Mt Barker, a small rural town in the south of Western Australia with a population of about 1500 people.
Due to its location, Mt Barker was a black spot with regards to fatal collisions. There is one fatality that will stay with me, a collision that also rocked our community.
A well-known and well-loved member of the community had left for work just before 06:30. She left the farming property where she lived with her partner and his family, she had begun the 20 minute drive into town as she did every morning. The road she lived on was a major route for grain trucks, and it was harvest season. Not far from her property, at the only bend in the road, a fully loaded B- Double truck had drifted onto the wrong side of the road and collided head on with the ute she was driving. Both vehicles ended up in the ditch with the ute completely crushed under the B-Double truck.
As the truck was fully loaded, we had to organise for the truck to be emptied prior to it being moved, which was when we realised it was going to be a long shift.
Being at small community everybody at the scene knew the deceased female and her family. Trying to maintain a calm and professional approach to the situation was tough. The ambulance officer and fire brigade members just wanted to retrieve the body and have the situation over with as soon as possible. There was a weird feeling of everybody wanted to help but nobody wanted to be there.
It was just after midnight by the time we were able to move the truck off the ute and finally remove the body, and close to 03:00 by the time I got home to bed.
I moved on from WAPOL after 10 years of service and attending many critical incidents. Back then there was no support given around mental wellbeing after such horrific incidents. The standard ‘have a few drinks and harden up and keep busy’ was the standard way of coping back then.
I now work as an Educator in Wellbeing Services, and if you asked me would I now recommend seeking help and being able to understand your own mental health to others? Yes I would. It won’t stop the terrible things that happen in Policing from happening, but it will help your method of coping with them and allowing you to find your new normal in this job, and return to it when you find yourself impacted.