Queensland Police Women look back on an era

A gathering of over 200 PW, Queensland Police says

On October 30, more than 200 of the original Queensland PWs (Police Women) came together to remember the era when women were first given police powers in the state.

Female officers in the Queensland Police Force (as the QPS was then known) were given their number with a PW designation, differentiating them from their male counterparts.

From 1965-1975, 374 women were sworn in as PWs, starting with PW1 Elizabeth Boyle and ending with PW379 Lynette Bray.

The PW numbers differ from the total because a number of women left the force to marry, but then re-joined later with a new PW designation.

After the PW era, female officers were amalgamated into the standard sequencing and given numbers the same as male officers, which continues today.

The reunion event at Victoria Park was organised by a group of former PWs who wanted to bring the women together to honour this significant and unique period in Queensland’s policing history, as well as catch up with fellow officers they hadn’t seen for many years.

The event was also attended by Chief Superintendent Cheryl Scanlon and Deputy Commissioner Tracey Linford, and there was a presentation of a number of Queensland Police Service Medals and clasps, and one National Police Service Medal.

Chief Superintendent Cheryl Scanlon, Deputy Commissioner Tracey Linford and Senior Sergeant Mel Wilkins

Deputy Commissioner Linford spoke about the QPS commitment to building an inclusive and respectful organisational environment for women and an inspirational goal to one day reach 50/50 representation.

Over the next 10 years it is hoped female representation will move from 27 per cent to 33 per cent.

“We are still making progress,” Deputy Commissioner Linford said.

She pointed out how far the QPS had already come since the early PW era.

“I can’t believe you had to leave when you got married, weren’t getting the same pay, getting the same equipment.”

“I just find that mind-boggling.”

The challenges of being the first female police officers also produced a strong sense of solidarity among the PWs, which is what made so many of these women eager to reunite in Brisbane.

From 1965 women were given police powers – however, Christine Dewey (nee Pitts) recalls even when she was sworn in she didn’t have handcuffs, a baton or a firearm.

“The training was the same as men’s, but superficial,” Christine said.

In spite of limitations – and a pay grade lower than their male colleagues – the QPS offered unique work opportunities for women at that time.

PW8 Judith De Boer (nee Barrett) was 22 when she saw an article in the newspaper announcing that police were looking for women to work with children – it wasn’t until she turned up for the interview that she even realised she was applying to be a police officer.

She worked in preventative strategies for at-risk children and youths.

“I worked with a great team of male officers, and I loved all of those children,” Judith said.

“It was important work.”

Judith believes women did well in the police because they had been operating in a difficult culture all their lives.

“They were already well-prepared,” Judith said.

“They had tremendous coping skills.”

Judith’s two years with the Queensland Police set her up for a global career: she would go on to assist in setting up democratic elections in East Timor, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

As well as providing groundwork for future careers in areas like security, public service and law, the Police roles offered the kind of varied experience that wasn’t available to women in other professions.

Women could work in uniform and plain clothes, from drug squad to general duties to communications, and as time went on they would even join specialised units like photography or the mounted unit.

For the women gathered together at the PW reunion, the singular challenges and rewards of being part of that era of QPS history remain a source of pride and camaraderie.

We’ve come a long way since the PW era, and with more female recruits than ever before we’re constantly striving to make the QPS a stronger, more inclusive organisation.

PW378 Noeleen Ferguson (nee Christensen) and PW8 Judith deBoer (nee Barrett)

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