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WOMEN POLICE OFFICERS : 100 years of service

Published:
24/09/2016
Author:
Think Local

Superintendent Doreen Cruickshank has seen it all during her 44 years (thus far) in the force. For decades, she has been one of the most respected officers in the country and she’s only too happy to help paint a picture of what things were like for women officers back in the early 70s.

"When I was sworn in, in April 1971, there were only about 80 women, 40 in plain clothes and 40 in uniform,” she explains.

"When women were sworn in, they went to the traffic branch. That’s where we all went - we had no option.”

She says there were elements within the police force that made life very difficult for the women coming through.

"In that time, with changes of duties, the women had obstacles they had to overcome because while there has always been a good percentage of male officers being supportive of females in the police force, there has been a small percentage who were not supportive and they put up a number of barriers that the women had to get over," she reveals.

"There were height restrictions to start off with, then you had to climb a certain fence, and many women couldn't get over the fence so they would fail. Then they'd go into sections where they had to maybe lift certain equipment. They made it so heavy that most females were never going to be able to lift it.

"Fortunately, those discriminatory acts have been taking out of the workplace."

One of the other differences between now and then has been the uniform.

"When I joined, we wore an outfit that was quite commonly referred to as an 'air hostess uniform' because it was a jacket and a skirt. Also we were not armed with appointments - the only thing we were given when we left the academy was a notebook, and we also carried a handbag," she says.

Firearms then started to get issued to all staff in the early 80s, handcuffs became a regular item for all females, and the women's uniform was changed to allow calottes. Later on, females could wear slacks because they found that calottes and skirts were not suitable.

"Now if there's a change in uniform, it's across the board -there's no thinking, 'Well this will have to suit women and this will have to suit men'," Supt Cruickshank simply states.

But most importantly, the veteran police officer says there have been huge changes and improvements in the role of women, how they are viewed, and their paths to promotion within a male-dominated profession.

Her sentiments are probably no different to the first female officers to be admitted to the force in NSW in 1915 - Lillian Armfield and Maude Rhodes. They were chosen from 500 female applicants after a recruitment drive for just two women. Ms Rhodes resigned in 1920 and Ms Armfield retired after a significant career and 33 years of service in1949.

It was not until 1946 that the NSW government permitted an increase in women police to 36. Even in 1965, only 58 women of various ranks were sworn into the force as regular officers.

Since then, women like Supt Cruickshank have inspired officers like Northern Beaches' Leading Senior Constable Lisa Berry and Constable Gabrielle Yeomans to strive for prominent positions within the force.

The two peninsula locals have not had to deal with the challenges pioneers like Ms Armfield faced throughout their careers because gender division has simply not been a factor for them. "We've never experienced any discrimination at all," Ms Berry tells Peninsula Living.

"You only look back not long ago, especially when women first started in the police and they couldn't do very much at all but we do the same now as what the males do.

"There's no stigma attached to being a woman. If anything, they probably want more females to join because it's still very-much male dominated."

Ms Yeomans chose to attach herself to the detectives and she doesn't take that freedom of choice for granted.

"We have so much choice, we can do whatever we want to do. It wasn't that long ago that women were limited to traffic duties," she says.

In celebrating 100 years of women in the NSW police force, we are really celebrating the end of discrimination as the overwhelming consensus is that our men and women in the blue are treated equally and enjoy the same opportunities for career progression.

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