(with apologies to the late John Clarke)
“Minister, thanks for joining us. This week you released a new initiative you are calling The Red Thing.”
“That’s right David. This is yet another bold and excellent initiative of this government. We’re immensely proud to have delivered The Red Thing for the benefit of all Australians.”
“Why is it blue?”
“It’s a red thing, David.”
“Minister, we’ve examined it closely. We’ve asked experts for their analysis. It is unquestionably blue.”
“David, I can’t speak for the competence of your experts, but I can assure you that this is a red thing.”
“But Minister, look at it. Right there in front of you. It is blue.”
“What you are displaying here, David, is a lack of proper understanding. You need to look beyond the veneer. Underneath what you erroneously call it’s apparent blueness this is, fundamentally and without ambiguity, a red thing. Thanks for allowing me to clear that up.”
"But oh, beamish nephew, beware of the day,
*from 'The Hunting of the Snark', by Lewis Carroll
Most police officers entering into retirement have found their Snark to be a Boojum. This is not necessarily a bad thing. There is something to be said for softly and suddenly vanishing away. Organisations evolve relentlessly and leave all contributors, even the most significant of them, in their wake. If cricket can move past Don Bradman, then policing - well, you get the analogy...
The trick to softly and suddenly vanishing away is, however, a pathway laden with hazards as fearful as Lewis Carroll's Bandersnatch; even more perilous than the JubJub. It is a journey requiring; in fact, demanding, significant forethought and planning. Of course, almost all retiring professionals will arrive at this realisation; but many of them do so too late.
The Bellman looked uffish, and wrinkled his brow.
Our profession, the profession of policing, is an immersive one. We take it home with us; and to parties. It comes in phone calls and emails when we are not at work. It gets between us and those we love. It comes in insomnia. It comes on our holidays with us. It appears suddenly in the places we thought we went to escape it. If we are not careful, it consumes us. We need to be careful because, if we allow ourselves to be consumed by it - if policing becomes our identity - then, when we are no longer police, what remains?
The loss of his clothes hardly mattered, because
Of course, at the beginning of our careers, when we are young and strong and can leap tall buildings in a single bound, none of this matters. Except it does. We are the frogs in the heated pot, and we need to be conscious of the water temperature rising around us. There are two alternative certainties: we will learn to cope, or we will fall over. Coping, therefore, is good. However, it is a learned skill, and all of us learn in differing degrees, at different speeds, and by different methods. But teaching ourselves how to cope is an important and necessary thing, and it is is beyond dispute that having some deliberate strategies to guide us is much preferred to a reliance on good luck and a fair breeze.
He had bought a large map representing the sea,
Don't be that Captain.
Have a sensible map; a realistic plan. Some reference points are handy.
Many of us commence our vocational journey without that plan (or, if you like, possessed of a map with no markings). We have no conception of the shape or direction of our career other than, perhaps, a careless awareness of the absence of any such direction. And often there is comfort in drifting with the current and breeze. But all of us, even those who enter the profession with clear and unambiguous plans for their journey, can discover that a life in policing will take us in unexpected and, on occasions, inexplicable directions.
But the principal failing occurred in the sailing,
Trust me; in 40 years of policing, I have seen examples of such navigational absurdity. So a plan is great, but not foolproof. Plans don't always go according to - well, you know. What does one do when the plan fails? When we are being tossed about in the tempest, how is control regained?
You might begin by discovering - and it is a journey of discovery - who you are. Not name, rank and payroll ID number, but what is at the core of your being. Who are you? Where do you belong? What makes you happy? Are you the winger with no left foot but a liking for tall stories in the bar after the game? Are you the only member of the choir with the vocal range required for the Hallelujah Chorus? Are you a favourite uncle / aunt? Ratbag cousin? Are you the most predictable non-winner in the tipping competition?
Where do you belong? And, most importantly: who is there for you when work is not?
When you make that discovery, never let it go. To do your job well, you do not have to neglect that aspect of yourself. In fact, to continue to do your job well is almost impossible without that aspect of yourself. Nurture and develop your self as if it is your most precious possession. Because it is.
You may seek it with thimbles, and seek it with care;
Having found your self, and having discovered your place, you always have safe harbour to which to return. Which provides confidence, and great comfort, for a person who subjects themselves to the tumultuous forces of a career in policing. This job will offer you a profusion of possibilities, and for every single one of them, there are further multitudes of uncertainties.
If all goes according to plan, my own journey in this profession will end on my 58th birthday, having spent 40 and one half of those years as a police officer. Can anyone doubt that the 58 year old me would be a very different person if the 17 year old me had made a different career decision? This profession has shaped me into the person I will be when I leave it and go out into the world. Whether that is a positive or negative result is a judgement for time and for others, but here is the crucial point: if a career in policing is going to alter the person you are, then should you not do everything in your power to observe and control that process?
'Tis a pitiful tale," said the Bellman, whose face
I'm pleased to be retiring. Not because I dislike this career, nor because I have tired of my colleagues. I'm just ready to embrace the opportunity to live a hundred percent of my life as the person I now know myself to be. Like any veteran police officer, I have seen my share of stuff, and not all of it has been disheartening. In dealing with situations that bring the worst to people, we often see them at their best: spirited; stoic; generous; strong; determined. And of course, in dealing with those situations we, as police, form our own bonds of fellowship with each other. I've been supported, nurtured and reinforced in that fellowship. Of the countless people I have worked alongside over four decades, I could count on the tines of a cocktail fork the ones I found it hard to like. And even they taught me things!
So, thank you Tasmania Police, for taking the teenage me and shaping him into something which I hope is not a complete bastard. Thanks for teaching me about life. Thanks also for equipping me, at least in part, to bring the three finest young adults I know into this world.
Thanks to this island. If you are going to be police, this place is a good place to do it.
Thanks to the villains, victims, bystanders, collaborators and magistrates who played their role in my pageant. Thanks to my mentors; and to those who at least pretended to heed my (too often not) occasional advice.
Above all else, thanks to those who love me (others might doubt their existence, but I know who they are!) for giving me a retreat, and a mirror. And here, primarily, I mean my wife, Michelle. A now retired mentor of mine reminded me recently of the toll this job takes on personal relationships; of the countless hours of not being present for Christmases, New Years, school holidays, weekends, presentation nights, public holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. My mentor asks, "What bastard would do that to his family?". Well, I was one of the many to do so. Through all those absences, including the ones where I was physically present but otherwise absent, Michelle carried on stoically, and often alone. I wrote above about the importance of knowing where you belong. She is where I belong.
I'm stepping out the door with a smile on my face and a sack full of plans. Four decades after accidentally starting an unplanned journey, I can sense that the Snark is nearby - so close, in fact, that I think I can distinguish its features ...
In the midst of the word he was trying to say,