Don’t let the bastards get you down.
“Gentlemen, this is not going to be an easy job,” said Senior Sergeant Bernie McCann, Officer in Charge, Cadet Course 4/74.
It was early in January 1974, and I was irrigating a potato paddock on the farm when I received the news. Dad drove into the paddock, waving an envelope out of the Landrover window. I had an interview to join Tasmania Police.
After passing the interview and medical examination, my application to join the Tasmania Police was accepted.
I reported for duty on the 24th of February 1974, having just turned 16 years of age. I was the second youngest in my course.
There were 32 young men in Course 4/74. We were aged between 16 and 18 years of age, most of us were 16, and I think there were a couple of 17-year-olds and one 18. We lived and worked together for two years and became a brotherhood of men in ways that people would not understand unless they have experienced it.
There are so many great stories to tell about those two years of police training, which need to be told because they describe how we were trained and prepared for work on the streets.
We were made ready for police work in a totally different way from the police training methods of today.
The first morning, after the official opening of the course, we fell into our instructors' hands. They were Senior Sergeant Bernie McCann, Senior Constable “Chook” O’Rourke, PT instructor First Class Constable Graham Pedder, and drill instructor Sergeant Peter Connell.
How naïve I was!
I did not expect a policeman to swear, and it was then that I heard the word ‘fuck’ used as a punctuation mark. I sat through that first morning with my eyes bugged open and jaw hanging slack. It was a no holes barred introduction to policing.
Bernie McCann was a soft-spoken, hard-arse country cop. One of the first things I remember him saying is, “Gentlemen, this is not going to be an easy job.”
He described the gory details of how people died and what we were expected to do with the deceased. He explained that we would often be working alone and would have to deal with the best and worst of human nature. He described what it was like to be first on the scenes of murder, suicide, car accidents, and other forms of sudden death.
He described what it was like to attend a pub brawl. He said that when turning up, “you work out who is the toughest and loudest person involved, and then you knock him out.” he said. “That way, you will get everyone’s attention and respect.” By the way – that is still the best strategy.
He said the instructors would not only teach us the law and police procedures; they would lead us to be men. We were to become men who would be loyal to the badge and loyal to each other above all else. He said we would be fed well and given physical training to make us strong enough to stand up to the violence and other rigors of policing.
Self-discipline was forced on us, and it started with being confined to barracks for the first two weeks with no days off work. Every night was a study night; a high standard of academic achievement was expected.
It is fair to say that these three officers were my first experience with ‘good cop, bad cop.’ Bernie McCann was the elder statesman and clearly the boss. John O’Rourke and Graham Pedder were the good guys, and then there was Peter Connell.
Connell was a self-professed retired British Grenadier Guard. He wore his police cap with the brim cut down like a German SS officer, and he liked nothing better than to chew out and abuse the members of course 4/74.
He is the reason that Course 4/74 was blamed for the Bastardization Inquiry that took place in 1975.
By today’s standards, Connell’s oppressive behavior was appalling, but it was not so bad back then. However, one of our members was related to a senior officer. Over dinner one night, he revealed some of Connell’s bully-boy tactics to him. The Inspector reported what he had been told to the senior command.
The subsequent “bastardization inquiry” resulted in transfers of some officers, including Connell, and Course 4 would be forever tarnished with the reputation for ‘dobbing in’ the instructors. It was the first, but not the last, internal investigation I was involved in.
One of Connell’s mates was the driving instructor, Senior Constable Webb. For years after, he would call me Dobber Dyson. Dobber is a derogatory term like being called a narc or informer.
He knew I hated the insult, and it pissed me off every time he called me ‘Dobber Dyson.’ I never did anything about it and laughed it off.
The worst thing Webb did to me was to fail me on my first attempt at qualifying for my police driving permit.
I had been driving for several years, having learned to drive tractors and four-wheel drives on the farm, so there was no problem with my ability to drive. Webb failed me because I did not pull into the right-hand lane of Argyle Street three bloody blocks away from where I was to park on the right side of the road outside the Academy building! That was an act of bastardization.
Connell’s antics did not hurt us one bit, and even after all these years, many of us admit that he helped make men out of us.
Indeed, the bastardization helped prepare me for coping with the workplace bullying that plagued the last years of my police career and ultimately led to my early retirement.
Here are a couple of examples of workplace bullying, the 1974 style.
We did marching drills, twice a week, at the Anglesea Army Barracks parade ground in Hobart. There was a flagpole at one end of the parade ground that Connell sent us to march to when we messed up a drill. His language was too florid to print here, but I think you will get the picture if I write it this way. When we made a mistake, Connell would put his hat brim up against our forehead (or close enough to it). He would pour out a mouthful of foul abuse, calling us whatever name came to his tongue and ordered the victim to repeat it. For example:
“Cadet Dyson, what are you!?”
“I am a police cadet, Sir!”
“You are NOT a police cadet; you are a dozy, snot-nosed cunt; now, what are you!?”
“I am a dozy, snot-nosed cunt, Sir!”
“Very good! Now we all know what you are, march over to that flagpole, and at the top of your voice, tell the flagpole what you are until I call you back!”
Playing games with him did not work out too well for us, although some of us tried. We would still be sent to the flagpole to repeat what he called us in our loudest voice.
It was funny to all but the victim at the time, and I reckon most of us got the opportunity to talk to the flagpole at one time or another.
I recall him catching me out on one occasion, muttering something abusive about him under my breath. I can remember the stink of his tobacco breath as he demanded that I repeat what I had said. I might have said something like, “one day I am going to knock you on your arse,” because he said, “When you are old enough and tough enough, I will be in a fucking wheelchair, boy.”
Every morning before work, the duty instructor conducted ‘stand by your bed’ room- inspections. We had to make our beds according to military standards with the sheets and blankets folded to an exact shape, size, and order. The bed cover had to be tucked in so tight that a coin would bounce when dropped onto the bed. Clothing had to be neatly folded in drawers or hung in wardrobes. Our room kept spotlessly clean in inspection order until the end of the day.
While we stood to attention at the end of the bed, Connell would inspect every nook and cranny with a white glove. Our evening or weekend leave was canceled if he found any dust. There is no way that sort of bastardization would be tolerated today.
Back in those days, people were selected for police service more by their backgrounds than their academic qualifications, which were mid-level qualifications as a minimum. I recall that the police cadet system was not popular among long-serving officers because eighteen was too young for the job. However, the training we received was robust, and cadets that lasted two years were reasonably seasoned by the time they graduated.
We weren’t angels either!
Neville was not very fresh with his hygiene, so a mob of us ambushed him one night and gave him a bash-broom bath in cold water with all sorts of detergents and stuff in the water.
We all got fronted to the Inspector, but nothing much came of it. Neville turned up to a reunion a few years ago for the first time after resigning from the Force soon after graduation. It was great to see him and it gave me a chance to apologize to him for me being an arsehole.
As I said before, I have done many things that I am ashamed of, and one of those was to make fun of Ken’s religious beliefs in front of the whole course. I am fairly sure I have apologized to Ken for that. I was a total arsehole then too.
Tojo was a Hobart city boy with a lot of street smarts. We celebrated his 17th birthday at his parents’ house in Sandy Bay. I made a bet with the boys that I could scull a 10-ounce glass of Johnny Walker whiskey. I won the bet and made some money out of it, but it was not worth it.
I got crying drunk and remembered spewing over the back fence. Brett found me leaning on the wall outside the house, and I remember him laughing and kicking the legs out from under me, making fun of me.
I suffered that week during search and rescue training. I suffered from the hang-over and the shame of being a crying drunk. It took me years to be able to drink whiskey after that little episode.
In our first year in the Academy, we lived in a 2-story hostel in New Town called Woodlands. Someone got interested in Ouija boards, and out of that came one of the best pranks we ever carried out.
We set it up to have Tojo sit in on a session, and we created the message to him that he was to die at 11 pm that night.
Well, Tojo was shitting himself and wanted fellas to sit up with him all night, but of course, none did. We all went to bed, or so it seemed to Tojo.
Tojo had one of the few single rooms downstairs, and I snuck into it with a table tennis bat and climbed on top of his wardrobe, which was behind the door. Tojo carefully opened the door and shone a torch around to make sure it was safe to enter before he turned on the light. Just as he turned on the light, I threw the table tennis bat at his feet, making a hell of a racket on the wooden floor, and at the same time let out the best blood-curdling scream I could make.
His reaction was all that we hoped for. He let out a blood-curdling scream of sheer terror and almost jumped out of his skin before collapsing in a heap on the floor.
Naturally, course members found their place in the pecking order in the first year in the Academy. The instructors kept a tight reign on us, but at the same time, they allowed us to toughen each other up with a bit of mischief, skylarking and even bullying.
Bastardization and bullying are harmful behaviors. Not being afraid is the first step to protecting yourself from them, and we all toughened up during those two years. However, I didn’t realize how much worse it would be outside the Academy.