Australian Biography

Ray Whitrod - full interview transcript

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Did you have any problems with corruption among the women?

None, none that I ever became aware of, Robin. In fact on the whole I thought the women supported my ideals. It was interesting, about the women, because I had very high ideals with what they might do. We managed to get some very good qualified lasses, better than the standard recruit - male recruit. We did this because in Queensland the ... the female constable rate was the same as the male rate, whereas in the professions the women were still on a lower rate than the males. So we were able to attract teachers from the teaching profession, nurses from nursing, and quite a number of girls, who were already established in a good job and preferred ours, so that we got some very good lasses. They came in and I put them through the training course and in many cases at the end of the ... the ... the six months course, they would top it. In pistol shooting and in all sorts of things, the girls were better, on the whole, than the males. And so I'd said that, I'd promised the girls that, every job in the police force was open to them and until it was shown that they were physically incapable of doing ... doing that particular job, they could apply for it. But when I got to Queensland there were about sixteen women police there. They ... they dressed in mufti, in plain clothes, and their main job was emptying the ashtrays of the sergeants, and looking after lost children at the show, and they were nice types but they ... they weren't police at all. Now I said to the girls, 'You are police officers and I expect the same contributions from ... from you', and I got it too, I think. They were good. Mind you about one third of them, they started to recruit about 1971 or '72 and after about three years I did a check of what had happened to them. About one third that had joined the force, I think looking for husbands; about one third were as good as my best male constables; about one third were better than my male constables but in a different range of jobs. They were very good at fingerprints. They were good in the operations room. They were very good scenes of crime officer. I put them ... I formed a ... a whole female rape squad and they were very good at that. There's a whole stack of things which the girls were better than the police[men] but I met a lot of opposition from the wives of the male police because I'd started a mobile car patrol. We had about four cars on the road, twenty-four hours a day and these were manned by a male police officer, who tended to be forty-five, fifty years, and a young, attractive lass about twenty-three, twenty-four, [or] five, and they were out all hours and the ... and the police wives were ... were a bit concerned about this, and maybe there was a bit of jiggery pokery going on. I ... I never found any but I guess it occurs in all commercial and [other] things these days where there is a joint intake, but the girls were very good. They studied hard. As I say, they topped the course. One of my girls, Jill Bolen, for instance, rose to become chief superintendent in charge of the Gold Coast. Amazing for a girl to get through. When I ... when they started they ... the girl's rank was inferior to any male rank so they ... police woman sergeant was junior to the youngest male recruit and I changed that. I made it a combined force where ranks were the same. And so Jill Bolen rose to be chief superintendent.

How did that go down in Queensland?

Well it didn't help me with Joh, and it didn't help me with the National Party, and didn't help me with lots of nice people, and it didn't help me with the church people, so I really lost a lot of support because of this: my idea that women should have an equal opportunity for all sorts of jobs, and, you know, I ... I really lost ground I think publicly because of the girls. On the other hand the younger people, the students and the younger public, were all for it and so in Queensland the younger groups were on my side. The middle-aged and the country folk and the, and the National Party were, thought I was too, too advanced. In fact that's what Joh said at the end, when I left. He said, 'Oh Mr. Whitrod had done nothing wrong, he'd just done it too early'.

Your own background in education when you had in fact studied sociology and criminology and economics and so on, meant that you used crime statistics a lot, didn't you?

Yes. Yes.

What usefulness did you find in these kinds of ... of study, in this sort of material that you introduced to collect statistics and evaluate the work?

Well, it always seemed to me that a good administrator needed a feedback. What were the consequences of his innovations and the ... the ... the only tool I had was the crime rate. I think there now, I think there are better ways of doing that. I think fear of crime is probably a better tool but in those days I only had clear up rates and this was a difficult matter for all Australian police forces. I tried to introduce a uniform crime statistics nationally and met with a great deal of opposition from my colleagues. But in Queensland ... [in] Queensland when I got there, they were using a scheme known as Paddy's Book and Paddy's Book meant that when a report of a ... an offence was made it would be written in a small notebook and then put on, in an inside pocket. If it so happened that the crime was cleared up or the property was recovered, the details would be extracted from Paddy's Book and then put on an official report. So the official report all covered successful investigations so the crime clear up rate was very high. Now I arranged that all calls of offences would go on to a tape recorder and they would be numbered as they come in, and all reports would have this numbering on them, so that we could check up any discrepancies, and as well I arranged for an outside auditor, Tony Vincent, in New South Wales, who was the Australian authority on crime statistics to come up each year to Brisbane for a week, at government expense and to audit my system of crime reporting. And so when I presented my annual report through my Minister to cabinet I had not only one covering the administration, but I had an audit report covering the outcome. It was the first in Australia but soon after I left, Terry Lewis stopped that and my results had been showing that we were getting round about a fifty-five per cent overall clear up rate which was about standard for British police forces. But after I left, the first year the clear up rate jumped up to something like seventy-five, eighty per cent: the best ... the best in the British Empire, British speaking empire, and that got a lot of attention from the media: how the Queensland police force had improved going by these figures. What really upset me, Robin, about that was that there were a number of academics in Queensland who theoretically were independent thinkers. Not one, not one ever raised that point publicly, that these were no longer being audited and why weren't they, and what was the real reason for this big jump in the clear up rate. Nobody, nobody in Queensland queried that. I think on the whole there were a lot of Queenslanders who were apathetic and got a lot to answer for. I feel very bitter about that.

You were called really as a term of abuse, the academic cop, weren't you? And yet what strikes me when I look at your career, Ray, was that you actually have been very much a man of action. A man who set goals and navigated a course to reach those goals. Looking back at your own life, what do you feel about your achievements? What would you rate as the important things that you've achieved in the time that you've been engaged in public life?

In public life. I was hoping you would ask family life and I would say raising a family, but publicly, I think looking back now from a distance of time, my best years were in Canberra when I finally got a national police force off the ground from a dispirited body of untrained and really incompetent fourth division officers. I think in retrospective that's been the most sustaining one of my ideas that have come through, and now we have a ... a very effective national police force. As to my being called 'academic cop', it really was in comparison. There weren't any other police chiefs with university degrees and I'd been the only one that had gone to Cambridge, and I'd been the only that had given the Sir John Barry Memorial Lecture and so forth and ... but I'd done this in my own time. I'd, I'd been a student who ... who went to school at night-time, not daytime and so I achieved my few academic qualifications at a personal call on my family's time, not ... not on the force's time. Nowadays you can get time off to go to courses. When I went to Cambridge, I went without pay, so it was a bit unfair to call me an academic and I had been in Adelaide a first class investigator. When I went to ASIO I got very quick, speedy promotion from being a ... a field investigator to assistant director. Five major jumps in four years and that was because I'd been good in the field, not because I was an academic but because I was a practical operator. And ... but it was just a sneer term in Queensland because in Queensland people sneer at university qualifications.

Do you think of yourself as primarily a man of action?

[Laughs] If you really want to know the truth I think of myself as a man of indecision. I ... I worry about what I'm doing, the best course or not. I think about that quite a lot and you need, Robin, when you're head of a police force, or head of any organisation, you need a sounding board. You need to say, 'Well, look I'm thinking about this, are there any obvious holes?' and Mavis has provided that for me. I'd go home at night feeling dispirited and say, 'Look I've done this and that', and I'd be down in the dumps and she would say, 'Well, look what did you actually achieve?' And I would tell her, and she'd say, 'That's good concrete evidence of good, good work', and so you need somebody and I've ... I've ... on my own I would be very much a man of indecision but because I've had good back up - Mavis has never been scared to tell me the truth [laughs] either about my ideas - so that I've been lucky in that respect. And I wonder sometimes about other people who go off the rails, whether in fact they've understood what married life can provide in ... for the outside world: that you ... that you have a front, a combined front to the world and so it's not only you that's facing the world, it's a combined ... a combination of you and your wife.

Is this how you've got through the many difficult times that you've been through?

Yes, completely so. I ... I talked to you. I see myself as being a bit of a weakling to be quite honest with you and ... and it's been my wife's encouragement and inspiration in a very matter of fact way. You know, for instance, when I wanted to go to New Guinea. She was quite elderly. She said, 'Yes, let's go to New Guinea', and she hopped in and taught the girls basketball, did her fair share. When I went back to Queensland, it was necessary for me to try and sell my ideas to key people in the community, so she used to organise about every two months a nice dinner, a formal dinner party, at our home and we would have key people there so they could come and meet the Whitrods and see that we were not just academic cops and rough-necked rednecks, but we were ordinary people doing our best, and so she provided a sort of backup socially, which is important for people in public positions, that they meet you off the record and see you in your home, and she'd done that and without her help, I wouldn't have got anywhere.

Ray, men of your generation who went away to the war and then in an organisation like the police force, there's a tremendous requirement for a kind of masculine idea of toughness and emotion isn't really much allowed. Have you spent a lot of your life suppressing a sensitivity that's natural to you?

I think more so in my later years. In ... when I was younger I ... I had too much activity to do. You don't, you don't have time to reflect or reconsider. There's a job in front of you, you go and do it, and I, on the whole, didn't ... didn't have that many occasions to ... to feel emotionally involved. I did once or twice. I ... in Queensland, I felt very much deserted. Val Barlow, who had been one of my strong right hand men, retired. Gulbransen retired and these were chaps that were blood brothers to me - honest cops, and they were rare to replace and ... and I felt, you know, lost without them. I think in New Guinea, I felt a bit at a loss there. I wasn't sure whether I should stay in New Guinea and battle on, but I met Kim Beazley senior up there. I knew Kim Beazley senior and I had a long talk to Kim, who I admired very much, although I don't vote ALP. And Kim and I talked through and Kim said, 'Go to Brisbane'. So I've had some outside help and so suppressing emotion, I suppose has been a task but helped by other people. I've had more problems since I retired from the police force about emotion. When I thought I had cancer, when I met other people with cancer, when I met some old ladies that had been raped, they ... their plight impinged on me more than things that were hurting me personally.

Tell me how you got involved with the victims of crime.

Well there I was: returned back to Adelaide where my mother and father were still alive and living independently and it was my turn to look after them. My younger brother had been keeping his eye on them and I'd come back and I thought I'll do some fishing, I was keen on fishing. I'd never done much fishing and I'd come back here and it wasn't long before I got a telephone call from a strange women who said to me, 'Oh Mr. Whitrod, you don't know me, my name's Ann-Marie Myketa', and it rang a bell because a Juliette Myketa had been one of the first of the serial murders that were carried out and the girls were buried at Truro. And she said, 'I ... I see a little piece in the newspaper by Stewart Coburn, in The Advertiser and he'd written up a comment by you about how victims really needed to get organised if they wanted to get a better deal from the criminal justice system'. And I said to Ann-Marie, 'Look that was just an off-the-cuff remark I made at a Thursday luncheon group when Ray Kidney was talking about all of the good things that were being done for ... for prisoners', and I said, 'I had to speak up on behalf of victims', and she said, 'Well, we need to be organised and you are a very good organiser. Would you come and help us?' And I said, 'Not me, Ann-Marie, not me. I'm going fishing', and hung up. And then the next day I got phone call from Judy Barnes. Her son Alan had been murdered by the group that were here at the time and she said exactly the same thing, and said, 'I read what was in the paper'. Later on I'd learnt they'd rung each up and planned this attack on me. So when Judy Barnes rang up, I gave way and said, 'Look, I really can't help you, but come down and we'll talk about it'. So they came down to our place and Mavis made some of her nice scones and there was Judy Barnes and Ann-Marie Myketa and some of the other mothers of the murdered girls, and one or two men that had been badly assaulted, and we talked to them, and they soon ... soon convinced me that, that I was better qualified to organise a little voluntary group to ... just to give support to victims. So I got involved, and Mavis and I were mixed up with that for the next twelve or fourteen years.

And how big has that grown?

Well, I thought ... I thought one thing we needed to do was to improve the status of victims in the court system. I thought if we get ... could get the victims the right to have a statement read out about the effect of the crime on them, it might inform the judiciary and the jury, and so one of the things I was battling for was a ... a victim impact statement. Hadn't been done anywhere else and so what I needed was ... we had perhaps twelve original members all of whom were victims or parents of homicide victims, so I used to go around, I suppose, address Rotary and Tomka [?] and Lions' Clubs and chambers of commerce and you name it, I went. I would address five or six meetings a week and ask them to become members of our organisation. I think it cost five shillings a year. I wasn't interested in the money, I wanted numbers. So when we ... after twelve months we had 2000 members and I went to the Attorney-General, who was then Chris Sumner, and I said, 'We're interested in ... In our association, we've got some proposals we want to put before the government', and he said, 'Who are you?' and I told him and he looked down his nose a bit at me because I'd come from Joh Bjelke-Petersen. He didn't know much about the background. So I ... and our first encounter was fairly neutral and then he said, 'Well, it's certainly a good idea and ... and I'll support it', and then he planned a public meeting in Adelaide about victims' crime and we had the public meeting, and that went up very well. And about that time I learnt that in Europe there were a couple of similar bodies like ours emerging from ... from the local culture and they were going to have their first meeting in Germany. So Mavis and I had been planning to go for a holiday that we hadn't had and ... in Queensland, so Mavis agreed I could use the money to go to Germany. I went to Germany, to Munster, and there was a big gathering, an international gathering, and we formed the World Society of Victimology to look at the plight of victims. I got on the executive, on the national executive, and every year after that I went and attended their meetings, instead of taking Mavis for a holiday. And then eventually we ... we put up ... the World Society put up a little statement about victims' rights and included this victims' statement thing, and we wrote to each country that was a member of the United Nations and said, 'Look these are the points we think should be made to support victims of crime. Will you ... will you propose this at the United Nations assembly?' And every country came back and said, 'No, we've got other priorities', including Australia.

And so I was very shattered by this. I'd been one of the prime movers of the idea and I went to Chris Sumner and ... and Chris was ... was favourable and he said, 'The South Australian government will support this'. And I said, 'Well you're only a state government'. He said, 'Leave it with me, Ray'. And there was ... then we found out through the World Society that not only could member countries put up proposals at general assemblies but large scale, recognised voluntary groups could do that, so we got a voluntary organisation to put this proposal up to ... to United Nations. So the United Nations decided they should have a preliminary meeting to determine what ought to be United Nations policy, and they invited all the governments to send representatives. And we went. I went at my Whitrod expense and Chris Sumner went and we met in Milan and there were a number of items which came up and the first item was, this victims' declaration of rights. And the chairman said, 'Now who ... who proposes this declaration?' because none of the voluntary organisations could vote, and there was Argentina and they said, 'No', and then Australia, and Chris Sumner happened to be the representative at that particular assembly and he got up, without authority and said, 'Australia'. And so, then soon after that Brazil came along and joined us so we had our proposer and seconder, so then they deferred it for a week while they worked out the details. Now I think there was something like 106 countries represented at the United Nations and at that first meeting there'd only been two. At the end of a week, we'd done a lot ... lot of lobbying and the proposal came forward by Chris Sumner, passed unanimously. And so we now have a world wide recognition of the declaration that victims of crime have certain additional rights.

Ray, do you believe that things can always be improved?

Yes I do. I think we're born into an imperfect world with our responsibility for making it perfect, so I always think, not always think, it's one of my ... my ... my ideologies, that no matter how good it is, there is something that can be done to improve it. I'll let you into a secret. This institution where we are now, has just passed very happily an assessment, and they got satisfactory on all accounts. A lot of nursing homes didn't, and the nursing home here has been saying very happily, 'We're good'. It seems to me what we ought to say is, 'We're the best, we [want to be] perfect and we've got a long way to go yet'. So some time later on I'll start seeding this place with the idea that maybe we've still got a little way to go.

Can I ask you, more generally, to talk about this idea you've got of the goal of perfection and how you think about that and the part it's played in your life?

Robin, you've asked me deep questions at a time when I'm ... I'm in difficulties because of my wife's illness, but it always seemed to me that if ... if there was a creator and my voting is 51:49 that there is one, that the thing he would have done, he or she would have done, was to not make a perfect world because then we would be just like heaven and we'd be a lot of zombies like the angels going around, just a lot of yes men or yes women but we had a task to do, so that if God was all knowing he would have set us forth with a task to do. It seemed to me that he's given us this task of making the world perfect. Now how it's going to be made perfect I don't really know. I only know that in my own little sphere I'll strive to improve it, and that means personally, but also means socially and world wide.

How have your ideas about religion changed in the course of your life?

Well I think I told you that I grew up very much within the shadow of a Baptist Sunday school. I sung faithfully all the old Sunday school hymns, and I didn't question what I was singing. But later on some of the words seemed to me to be a bit ridiculous and I couldn't really accept them and I spoke to a number of Baptist ministers about this and said, 'Why do we sing all these old hymns with ... with words which are obviously, have got no real meaning?' And invariably they've said to me, 'Ah Ray, the congregation like singing these old familiar tunes and so we don't want really to rock the boat'. And so I've really sort of moved on a little bit from the ... the theology of Baptist pulpit preaching into some more independent thinking of my own and ... and right now, I ... I'm in a quandary, I'm a bit like Sir Mark Oliphant, who you did interview. Sir Mark had a wife who was ill for three years and he looked after her. And I remember him saying that he could see no point, no point at all, in people having to suffer for three years and if there had been a God, the God had been fairly defective in letting this slip through, and I'm ... I'm in that situation right now.

What about your own death, Ray, do you think about that at all? What do you think will happen?

Yes, here, particularly of course, you don't get to a ... these days to a hostel or a nursing home, more particularly a nursing home, unless you're half dead [laughs] really. It's God's waiting room, no doubt about that. But as for dying, I ... I ... I would hate to go through what Mavis is going through: a mental loss of I'm never sure who I am. She keeps saying to me, 'I'm Mavis. I want to die. I can see no point in me continuing on'. I think from my economics training that I'm more a drag on society than an asset and I ... I could die quite easily tomorrow if Mavis died, if she died first.

What do you think would happen to you then?

I don't know [laughs]. I'm still 51:49. I would hope that there might be some ... some sort of after life but I'm not too sure, Robin. I'm not too sure at all and if there wasn't any after life, well, I really wouldn't care all that much. I think that I've had an interesting life here. I've by and large, done my best, I suppose I could have done more, and I don't mind if ... if ... if ... if I'm cremated and my ashes go to fertilise a tree somewhere. We did that with my sister-in-law, when Brenda died, she ... we ... we buried her ashes and planted a tree over her at the guide camp ... camp site, and I'd be happy with that.

[end of tape]

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