Women in Blue: Queanbeyan police celebrate 100 yrs of women in policing

Snr. Const. Sarah Lawrence and Const. Deborah Hanson, backed by Inspector Denise Godden, Queanbeyan Superintendent Rod Smith, Queanbeyan's first police woman Irene Murray and mayors Tim Overall and Peter Harrison, with members of the Queanbeyan police force (Photo: David Butler).
Snr. Const. Sarah Lawrence and Const. Deborah Hanson, backed by Inspector Denise Godden, Queanbeyan Superintendent Rod Smith, Queanbeyan's first police woman Irene Murray and mayors Tim Overall and Peter Harrison, with members of the Queanbeyan police force (Photo: David Butler).

QUEANBEYAN Police celebrated their female staff this week as part of the 100 years of women in policing celebrations being carried out across the state.

The celebrations have marked the progression of careers for women in the NSW Police over the last 100 years, which began with just two female officers, Lillian Armfield and Maude Rhodes, who were employed as 'special constables' and chosen from 400 candidates in 1915.

Local officers joined with Queanbeyan and Palerang mayors Tim Overall and Pete Harrison along with Queanbeyan Superintendent Rod Smith to mark the occasion at Queanbeyan Town Park on Tuesday morning, carrying a custom-made NSW Police baton for a 'lap of honour' around the oval.

Joining them was a very special guest in Irene Murray, Queanbeyan's first female police officer, who joined the Queanbeyan branch back in 1976 after transferring down from Waverly.

In those days there were no general duties policing roles for women, and Ms Murray worked as a plain clothes officer specialising in sexual assaults and other crimes committed against women.

Ms Murray said times were very different then for a woman in the force.

"I remember when I went with a male detective out to investigate a break and enter. I had my notebook out taking down the particulars, and the victim had asked my male colleague, 'Oh do you have secretarial help now?' So you can imagine how that went over," she laughed.

"But I guess, particularly people in the country, hadn't obviously experienced a female officer before."

She also had to convince male officers within the force she was up to the job.

"I must admit it did take a little bit for the men to appreciate a woman coming into the station, being an equal and doing the same sort of job. I guess they were always more the protective role. So it was something you had to overcome and show that you were an equal and could do the same job."

But with a policing beat that included towns across the state's south-east, including regularly travelling as far as Gundagai, Tumut and Young to investigate crimes, Ms Murray said she worked on behalf of many women in distress, and said it was often a comfort for female victims of crime to talk with another woman.

"I believe it was [an advantage]," she said. "Particularly on those more serious matters, like a sexual assault. It was most important that a female interviews someone like that.

"I was called out all hours of the day and night to attend some of these incidents. I did travel quite a few miles in my time here, but it was a wonderful time in my career that I won't forget."

Ms Murray's father Gilbert was also a policeman and a former Officer in Charge (OIC) of the Queanbeyan Police Station, and like her father, she went on to have a long career in policing, working in the Bureau of Crime Intelligence, as well as on domestic violence, recruiting, and victim support before retiring in 2005.

These days there's many more women in the force- some 4,542 female sworn officers across the state- and local Queanbeyan officers including Senior Constable Sarah Lawrence say they look up to trailblazers like Irene Murray.

"I think today is nice recognition basically for the people who've come before and paved the way for us today," Snr. Const. Lawrence said.

"Obviously a lot has changed for women in the police force over the last thirty years, and they were the brave girls that went first so we can enjoy the work conditions we have today."

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