100 years of Women in SA Police


Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (16:22:09): It gives me great pleasure to rise today to congratulate Linda Williams on her appointment as South Australia's first female Deputy Commissioner of Police. I want to talk a little bit about Linda Williams and her appointment and also about 100 years of policing by women in South Australia. South Australia was the first police force in the British Empire to appoint women on the same pay and conditions as male police, with Kate Cocks and Annie Ross starting work in that role on 1 December 1915. I think Linda Williams' appointment is one more step in the line of the great work that women are doing in the South Australian police force, as they have for nearly 100 years.

The appointment of Linda Williams comes after an exceptional record that she has had as a police officer over 35 years. She served in just about every area within South Australia Police. Since 2010, she has been chief superintendent of the Ethical and Professional Standards Branch before becoming South Australia's assistant commissioner of the Operations Support Service in 2012. The Liberal Party is confident that she will distinguish herself in her new role as Deputy Commissioner of Police in the tradition of not only those trailblazing female police officers such as Kate Cocks and Annie Ross, and a few others who I will talk about in the few minutes remaining, but indeed also in the distinguished tradition of the two most recent deputy commissioners, current Commissioner Gary Burns and the soon to be police commissioner, Grant Stevens. On behalf of the state Liberal team, I congratulate Linda Williams on her promotion to deputy commissioner. The opposition looks forward to working with her over the coming years.

It was only a couple of weeks ago at the Police Foundation Day, celebrating the 177th anniversary of the South Australian police force, that we had some special celebrations for the centenary of women serving in South Australia Police. We heard terrific speeches from two women in particular who worked for the South Australian community and the police force for decades, in particular Senior Sergeant Chris Bettess and Constable Sharon Grant.

During the course of these celebrations, the plaque at Mary MacKillop Plaza outside St Francis Xavier's Cathedral was refurbished identifying the history of South Australian women police. I was talking to Assistant Commissioner Bronwyn Killmier after the ceremony and she identified a terrific piece of literature which was written by none other than Christine Bettess who we just heard from, as well as Patricia Higgs. It is To Walk a Fair Beat: A History of the South Australia Women Police 1915-1987 and it is a terrific publication. I encourage all members to take the opportunity of the parliamentary library and have a look.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: When you put it back.

Mr GARDNER: Once I have returned it, as the Deputy Speaker identifies. I am sure it is not the only copy that they have; it is a very significant work. There are some particularly important things in the book that I want to share with the house because I think it puts into context the significant challenges faced by those early pioneers of women in the police force, and the way that the role has evolved over 100 years, or at least in the first 72 years identified by the book and subsequently, but I particularly bring to the house's attention the history.

On 27 April 1915 the chief secretary at the time, the Hon. A.W. Styles, met with a deputation from 16 religious and philanthropic organisations putting to him that the morals of the time, particularly of young women and children, would be well served by having women serving in the police force. So this was debated in the course of 1915, but in particular on 2 October 1915, the crown solicitor, Mr C.J. Dashwood said—and I am quoting from the book here:

...after examining the Police Act advised the Commissioner that there were no legal complications regarding women being sworn in as police constables. On 7 November, 1915, in answer to a question in the Legislative Council, the Chief Secretary announced the appointment of women patrols, and that the two officers concerned would commence duty on 1 December 1915 and [critically, and I quote here from the chief secretary of the time] that 'they will be treated the same as constables in regard to hours of labour and remuneration ' .

The first woman police officer in the world was one Alice Stebbins Wells, who was appointed to the Los Angeles Police Department in 1910. A number of other states of the United States of America had women police by the time we did in South Australia in 1915, but Kate Cocks and Annie Ross, on their appointment in October 1915 to start work in December 1915, were the first in the British Empire and outside of the United States.

The women police office opened on 1 December 1915 and its functions and duties were loosely defined but allowing those officers to find the work in which they could best serve the South Australian police. The first principal of South Australian women police was Kate Cocks, and that 60‑year period of the South Australian women police branch was really in the vision of Kate Cocks who we remember significantly.

To put into context the significant role that Kate Cocks had in South Australia's history, on her retirement she had about a year of dinners and testimonials through the period until her retirement in 1935. In 1935 she was made a Member of the British Empire for her services to community. She had 20 years with the children's department before her 20 years with the South Australian police force—an incredible woman.

There is one story related in the book about Annie Ross, her co-founder of the South Australian women police, when they first started having women patrolling the wharves to meet naval and freight ships, and I quote from the book:

As they walked along the y were constantly subjected to unflattering innuendos and whistles from the wharfies. On one occasion Annie Ross and Cora Trestrail were stopped in their tracks by a burly waterside worker holding his hand up in a stop fashion to the laughter and cheers of his mates. Annie took his outstretched arm and after a quick flick of her wrist the man found himself flat on his back with Annie's foot across his throat. Stony silence. Without a word the women continued on their way. The story obviously spread quickly around the docks a nd the women were no lo nger bothered whilst on patrol.

I thought that was a terrific story to hear and imagine.

The first report of the women police in June 1917 identifies the sort of work they were doing: 1,659 long distance trains met, with 147 persons assisted with accommodation or escorted to homes of friends; 79 steamers were met; 12 inquiries for other government departments; 43 girls rescued from immoral surroundings and placed voluntarily in institutions; 14 women placed in institutions; 65 women in distressed circumstances helped; 58 was the number of persons arrested and placed before the court, which were 47 juveniles and 11 adults; six absconders from state homes arrested; 600 plus persons warned regarding their conduct whilst on patrol; 610 miscellaneous inquiries, including white slave traffic, suspicious advertisements, ill-treatment and neglect of wives by husbands, misconduct of wives, especially soldiers' wives with children, houses of ill repute, mentally deficient persons, aged, destitute and drunken women; and 20 cases involving assisting the criminal investigations branch.

They did significant work assisting that criminal investigation branch, particularly where there were instances involving women, including larceny, indecent assault, abortions, concealment of birth, one coining charge and, indeed, fortune telling. The league of nations in 1927 recognised the significance of the South Australian police. Dame Rachel Crowdy was the secretary of the league of nations committee inquiry into the trafficking of women and children. A visiting South Australian women's police officer reported that Dame Crowdy said:

She considers the South Australian Women Police are among the leaders in their work and considered it a credit to South Australia that her Government realised the necessity and value of Women Police so early and leads the world by giving women commission to enquire into women police work.

Other work involved dealing with couples lying indecently together on beaches. Some of those roles seem a little ancient to us now, but at the same time there are also examples given in the 1920s and 1930s of women police officers getting honourable mentions for incredibly brave work, such as one might expect of any police officer.

The women's police office was disbanded in the early 1970s in a reorganisation of police. A new uniform was designed—the first time women were in uniform. Women were not forced to retire on their marriage. Of course, that early work (much of which is now done through the department for families and communities in its various form), by the 1970s was being done by the department of social welfare, and women fully integrated eventually into the police force as we know it now through the uniformed role.

Assistant Commissioner Madeleine Glynn was the first assistant commissioner from 2002. We now have 27 per cent of our police force made up by women. Linda Williams will do a terrific job in her role. We commend her on her appointment.