Married to a Country Cop

Yesterday I was chatting with the staff at Ivanhoe Central School (population around 40), where I teach casually. In fact, with five or six kids in the class, ‘sickies’ are few and far between so I actually teach very casually – which is great because it has allowed us to go on quite a few sorties ‘back and beyond’.

We were discussing the fact that there was, as yet, no one to replace Nigel.  Even worse, Jackson is leaving the following month and there’s no one to replace him either. We surmised that apart from obvious reasons like having teenage children, who would rather leave home than leave their friends, the lack of interest in special remote policing was probably due to a lack of knowledge and understanding of what’s involved.

So for all those police officers and their partners, who might be considering life in a special remote location, here are some of my own thoughts as the ‘copper’s wife’.

Nigel became a police officer later than some- after a 15-year stint in sales and some very ordinary wage and work conditions – and from day one, he loved the job and never looked back.  However we owned land on the mid north coast and our dream to build, live and work there seemed impossible considering his ‘newness’ to the Force.

When we first looked at special remote locations, we made a list of the advantages and disadvantages and decided that we liked the idea of ‘jumping the transfer ladder’ instead of waiting for who knows how long, for a transfer by the usual means. Here’s our list:

Advantages                                                                Disadvantages

Free removalist fees (both trips – in and out)             Lack of shops

Very cheap rent                                                              Lack of services

Free computer                                                                 Distance

Free $5,000 (but not tax-free)                                     The Summer heat

Monthly broadband subsidy                                          Two-cop station

If we’d known about the dust storms and the blowflies, we would have included them in our list of disadvantages.  However, if we’d known about country policing, we would  have written the ‘Two-cop station’ in the Advantages column. Jackson had already been here a couple of months when we arrived, which made settling in that much easier. At around the same age and with similar interests (well, except for taste in music), Nigel and Jackson hit it off straight away – which is important when you’re living, working and socialising in a very small environment. While they each developed separate friendships with the locals, they looked out for each other and became good mates on and off the job.

Another ‘plus’ is the yearly spousal allowance paid to police partners for the odd inconvenience of answering the door/phone when the station is closed. After all, in the bush you’re always a team.

Luckily, we arrived in winter and had no way of knowing just how hot Ivanhoe becomes in Summer – think walking into an oven – or we may have been tempted to leave. In fact, a teacher at the school (they have to ‘do’ 3 years out west to earn points) apparently drove into town and burst into tears. However, having searched the Internet in vain for information on Ivanhoe we were pleasantly surprised to drive down the main street and find not only a general store but a service station and even a take-away café.

There’s also a hospital complete with nursing staff, and while no doctors live in town, the Royal Flying Doctor Service flies in and out twice a week (as well as for emergencies) bringing specialists as well as dental practitioners on a regular basis.

Our police residence was much bigger and better than we had expected (apparently, we’re ‘one of the lucky ones’) with 4 bedrooms, a huge kitchen and sun room and a gigantic backyard for our dog. There were some teething problems when we first arrived – sorting out the phone lines, no air conditioners in the police station and a dysfunctional septic system – but NSW Police was fairly accommodating and slowly the problems were rectified.

The lack of shops was quickly overcome by overnight  trips to Griffith (just down the road at about 275 kms) or Mildura (about 4 hours) where we’d combine shopping with a couple of days’ sight-seeing, staying in pet-friendly caravan parks. Plus, it only takes a phone call to organise door-to-door meat deliveries from Mackers (the butcher) in Hay (210 kms away).

As it turned out, we probably ended up seeing more of our friends and family because most had no idea where Ivanhoe was and were happy to come and stay with us and check out the emus, kangaroos, people and places that make it unique.

The fact that there are only two police officers in Ivanhoe has meant that Nigel and Jackson wear multiple hats. At any one time, they might need to act as Custody Manager, BAS officer, RMS inspector, School Liaison Officer, detective etc. Apart from the usual ‘domestics’, they occasionally deal with sheep rustling or illegal shooters but most of their work is pro-active and involves maintaining a healthy relationship between the town and the Police.

Living and working with Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents has its own challenges and rewards. Police work closely with the Indigenous elders, whose advice and support can make the job a lot easier. If you make an arrest, you can usually expect a large support group of extended family – for whom you’ll supply cups of tea/coffee along with advice of what to expect. No matter the cultural differences, you’ll be fine if you treat the locals – black or white -with respect.

When accidents occur (usually rollovers because most roads in and out are dirt) there is no such thing as a crime scene investigator because the closest would be at least 4 hours so Nigel and Jackson handle accidents themselves – sometimes with the aid of the local RFS. In fact, the boys do everything from being in charge of all the station’s accountable books to checking road train truckies’ documentation to handing out awards at school presentation nights to trucking prisoners to Menindee or Broken Hill and driving back in the same shift (round trip at least 5 hours – unless it rains!) and on it goes. No two days are often the same.

Of course, country policing definitely wouldn’t suit everyone. If things go badly, there’s no back up for 200 kms in any direction and not always time to ring a sergeant or a D.O. for advice. Basically, the buck stops with them and apart from training (Nigel reckons that the mandatory Four Wheel Drive course in Broken Hill was the best day of his working life)  and court days, they choose what they’ll do and when they’ll do it.

The community has certain expectations of their police officers and as I said, there’s a lot of pro-active work that goes with the job – especially if you’re hoping for intel from the community or help from farmers when you need wounded livestock euthanased or tractors to tow vehicles off the road. Plus, out here, everyone is on a first names basis so it’s not the ‘Ivanhoe Police’ who ensure the town’s safety – it’s ‘Nigel and Jackson’.

As for the disadvantages, the heat is definitely the biggest one – but there are two air conditioners in the police station and six (Yes, six) in the residence. The blowflies are punishing, especially if you’re cooking meat and you leave a window open. And the dust storms (think sitting in a car and not being able to see the bonnet) can become so frequent in Summer that you give up trying to keep the house dust-free.

But there are people out here who, even after 15 years of drought and hardship, would give you the shirt off their back and when it comes to the POI s, it’s not unusual to charge someone one day, and say “G’Day, mate” the next.

The community has grown accustomed to breaking in new cops every 2 ½ years and they do it with a great deal of patience and respect. They’ll also respect your right to not get involved– if that’s what you want. But if you do want to become part of the community, they’ll be more than welcoming. They’ll patiently teach you that dams are called tanks and grids are called ramps and turning air conditioners on during a storm will keep a lot of the dust out  etc etc. They’ll invite you to go yabbying or to come and see sheep being sheared or crutched. Basically, they’ll help you to settle in and to feel ‘at home’.

There are lots of memories that make us laugh too – like the first time that Nigel and Jackson took a prisoner to Broken Hill Gaol, they had to ask him for directions! Then there was the time that we woke up to find a sheep in the front yard……. and the emu that, literally ran at the police truck so that Jackson had to take evasive action.

I hope that I’ve at least made you think about a (lack of) tree change because there’s not many places where you can leave your money on the bar all night and no one will take it, or where there are hardly any break-ins (see the station summary) or where you can send your kids to school with absolute confidence that they’ll be safe and well-educated.

It certainly is a different world from the ‘job to job’ life in store for Nigel when he returns to the real world. We have many fond memories that neither of us would swap and we’ll definitely have mixed feelings when we leave next Wednesday.




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