Australian Biography

Ray Whitrod - full interview transcript

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Did this experience with the royal family make you into a monarchist? What do you think of the republic?

[Laughs] Yes, Robin, I think I've always been a monarchist, probably because of indoctrination as a ... as a young scout and my wife in the guides. We were ... and living in Murray's Lane we ... we were part of an English enclave as it were, and we'd always thought of the King of England as our King and our Queen. I don't think I've ever shifted off that ground. Being a republic, doesn't attract me at all. I know there is legally there is very, very few threads now connecting us to the British, to the English Government. We've got very few ties now back there and in fact the Governor General is almost the Queen of Australia in that respect. And so I ... I understand why some people might want to feel like a republic. They've come from countries where they haven't had the same beneficial sort of influence of their ... of their sovereign as we've had and ... or they've had dictators and so forth and they ... they may wish to have a republic and there's a large number of those people now in Australia. We've got a big migration population. So I understand, but me personally, I ... and I hope my children and as you notice in my room I've got the Australian flag with the old British ensign in the corner. I'm a monarchist I think, yes.

But not one that is worried by the idea of a republic?

No, no. I ... I ... Well times change and I've been one of those people who've been bent on change, really, so if ... if ... I'm prepared to listen to other people's proposals for change, and hopefully they'll be an improvement and I'd go along with that.

In the fourteen years that you were in Canberra, you spent seven years creating a new police force and seven years leading it, what were the principles that you put into practise? I mean, this was a wonderful opportunity for a creative police officer to do something absolutely new. What were your guiding principles? What were you up to?

Robin, you ... you're sort of probing me. I don't know that I had any deep set organisational credo, except that I'd always had this ... this belief in the English policing system. The English policing system started on the basis that every able-bodied man in the village did his share as being policeman, and took his turn at being the policeman of the village, and he was responsible to the ... a little watch committee composed of the greengrocer and the clergyman and the schoolteacher and the farm labourer. There was a watch committee, and so the local police officer maintained the sort of conduct that the watch committee approved of and ensured there was a reasonable degree of justice. It's always seemed to me that the English idea of a policing power coming from the people themselves ... They surrendered to their duty policeman the right to arrest them, the right to put them in the cells overnight, the right to charge them. The community surrendered these things as part of their assignment in a community, a community dwelling together. Now this is quite unlike the continental system. France, Germany, Spain, you name it, where ... where it's the power of the sovereign who lays the law down and in order to ... For the sovereign's wishes to be carried out, he maintains an armed gendarmerie, quasi-soldiers, quasi-police, and so the law is imposed from above and enforced from above. Whereas in the English original policing system it was the people's own choice. They decided they would do these things. They set the standards and it seemed to me, being one of the common people, I suppose [laughs], if I'd been the king I might have had a different idea, but being part of the, the community I thought that was good and so I tried to form our police force mainly on the English tradition rather than the ... rather than the continental system. In New Guinea for ... In New Guinea for instance, we'd put in a gendarmerie, the Australian police force. Maybe that was right. In Africa the Brits had put in a gendarmerie and maybe that was right. But for us in Australia, we ... we were citizens in the same as they were in Middlesex or Woking and so we ought to elect our own police officers and ... and make our own laws, and that was the ... that was my aim that we would have this English tradition of being a community policing force.

Well it's a very deeply democratic idea of a police force, but in fact we don't elect our police officers, do we?

No, no, we don't.

So how do you apply that kind of ideal?

Yes, yes. Well, we do in a sense because the ... the ... We've set down certain standards for the police. They've got to be citizens of the country in which they live and they're responsible to a Minister and the Minister is responsible to the people. And when I got to Queensland I followed that rule very religiously that I was not responsible to the Premier but to the Minister. He was the Minister of Police and if he didn't do the job which the community wanted, the community could vote him out. So I fell foul of Joh Bjelke-Petersen for that and other reasons.

Back in Canberra, with the Commonwealth police, and thinking about what you did, you wanted it to be representative. You wanted it to serve the community. What kind of officers were you after? What did you need to do to give you the officers you wanted?

Well, it was difficult because I couldn't make my own rules and set my own standards. The only ones I really could choose were those that I encouraged to apply for the senior positions and ... and because I needed badly this bridge between the Commonwealth agencies and the States, I picked State experienced men, who were I knew from my own personal experience or from friends were corruption free, were intelligent, were enthusiastic, were men I could rely upon, and they were the type of person I was recruiting from the State police forces.

What did you see as the role of education and training in a police force, because I'm sort of thinking your Commonwealth police force was the one that you created, what were you after?

Yes, training was a very difficult aspect because I was trying to get middle-aged and elderly public servants, fourth division, to undertake training courses for promotion and for efficiency, doing things they'd never done before, and then I had to set up a ... a programme, which would do this effectively, and this was one of my problems as I really never, I think, succeeded fully in doing it. I did get the staff college going down at Manly and we used that to train our own ... our own Commonwealth police forces, to start with, and I recruited some very good teachers: some civilian teachers, some academic teachers, some practitioners and they ... they ran the ... the college down at Manly. It was inadequate but it was the best I could do because I ... I was fighting against a lot of apathy. My ... my departmental head, Professor Bailey, the a lawyer I've talked about, was all for the status quo: 'Don't rock the boat, Ray, you only cause waves', and he had in fact appointed an assistant secretary of finance who was of the same mould, and so I was kept very short of money by Neil. We called him Negative Neil because every time I put up a proposal to get more funds he would either refuse, or put it in a stack of files in the corner of his room, so months would go by and I'd have this quite important ... important proposal going forward and it would be wasted because it was in Neil's cupboard and I couldn't appeal to ... to Bailey because Bailey wasn't interested. He was not an empire builder. He didn't want to enlarge his own area and he had enough challenges. He was both the head of the Attorney-General's Department and the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor. He had two jobs combined in one, so he wasn't interested in taking on any more responsibilities.

But in order for you turn the old CIS into a proper police force, you needed an act of parliament. How did you manage with these people above you to actually get an act of parliament to occur?

Well, that was, that was a problem I used to wrestle over at night, because I was not well-known in Canberra. I was a new comer from ... from Adelaide. I was ... I was not a member of the ... of the Forrest Bowling Club where most of the upper servants played bowls, or the Royal Canberra Golf Club, where you went and played golf and had drinks with your mate, or with the Commonwealth Club. I later joined it but I was not then a member, and lots of the sort of upper echelon decided policy at lunch at the Commonwealth Club. I was not a member of the Catholic church. I was not a member of St. John's, the leading Anglican church. I was not ... I'd been a Freemason for about three months so I was not ... I had no connections. I was not a member of the Labor Party. I was not a member of the Liberal Party. I was strictly politically neutral which I saw as the police role. So somehow I had to change that situation around from being a caretaker of a dying organisation to being the innovator of a national police force. But what I did actually I ... I worked on the seven gnomes. These were seven dwarfs in Canberra and they held the power of the Commonwealth in their hands. These were seven well-established departmental heads and they were shorties and that's why they were called gnomes. And I had one or two lucky breaks. One of them, who lived near me, his wife and he had a lone daughter, who was physically handicapped, an only child, and they were very, very fond of this child, and she joined Mavis' guide company. So I got to know them socially and ... and I would go out when the guides would go camping, I would help put up tents and this gnome would be there and we became friendly and he was a former professor. He knew I was doing some studies at the university, so he thought ... he thought I wasn't a redneck copper inside, and so he became a friend of mine. And I gradually got to know several others in the same way, and so the gnomes in fact swung over to my side and ... and because of their influence and power with their Ministers, when the bill came up that I'd drafted incidentally ... it went through cabinet, the ministers okayed it. But it was a long hard haul. It took a lot of scheming and diplomacy and ... and hours of work to get these people on side, but I did eventually.

A fantastic act of will on your part to make it all happen.

Well looking back I realise now that it was such a big thing, but at the time, Robin, I was so immersed. I was doing studies, part-time studies at the university. I was running a scout troop. My wife was running a guide company. We were looking at bringing up a family and I had the CIS on my hands, so it was a fairly, fairly full life but a happy one, really. I had happy years in Canberra.

And those years in Canberra you were busy developing the force, you were also doing some self-development with the degree. How did your studies go and why did you go to study? I mean, you'd sort of arrived. You were a Commissioner or working your way towards that. Why the study? Where did that fit?

Well, when I went to commissioners' conferences I ... there was nobody round the table with a degree so that .... that didn't affect my standing there but when I went to Commonwealth departmental conferences with my opposite numbers in other departments, they all had degrees ... all had degrees of some sort or other and there would maybe ten or twelve, and I was trying to sell the idea about the national police force. They tended to look down upon me as a typical Australian copper: untrained, uneducated, rough necked. The only way I felt I could improve that relationship was to get some sort of academic qualification so that I could talk both with academic knowledge and practical knowledge. I had the practical knowledge but I didn't have the academic standing and I needed that. And so I went along and I did two subjects every year and eventually after, what, six years, I got my degree in economics and by that time there was a ... a realisation you needed more than one degree, so I started on a Masters degree in sociology part-time, and that led me to go to Cambridge to get a Cambridge postgraduate diploma and ... and then later on of course I tackled a doctorate.

Why did you choose economics and sociology? I mean, mostly people would choose law. You did the postgraduate in Cambridge in criminology, but why sociology and economics?

Well, economics was in fact an accident. [Laughs] I started off by doing a diploma of public administration which only required half the time of a full degree and I found I could cope, not easily, but with a bit of perspiration and I passed them with distinction and credits my first ... my diploma of public administration. And then I thought well why not do the full degree? So I incorporated my diploma of public administration into a degree of economics, in which I did political science as my major, plus some psychology which came in useful later on. And then when I got into sociology, I was interested in sociology from the policing aspect. There hadn't been any real depth researching about the social climate in which police operated and it seemed to me we live very much on anecdotes and hand-to-mouth stories and so forth. There could perhaps be some, some value in looking at the foundations on which a community existed. That's how I got into sociology. And then, I went to Cambridge because they were offering a course in criminology. You could do a course, a diploma, in one full year. They later gave ... gave you a masters instead of the diploma but I was there when it was a diploma and I went there because I think ... and I shouldn't say this, because of its snob value, because the crowd of the public servants, senior, that I was ... there were no Cambridge or Oxford men, and in academic world, where you stand it's not so much the degree you got, but where you got it at. And these days, when universities are ten a penny sort of business, it's the name of your institution that counts, and to me, uneducated in the tertiary world, it always seemed to me that Oxford and Cambridge were the two top criterias, so I elected to go to Cambridge.

Now coming back to Canberra, part of your duties of security was also to look after the prime ministers. What ... how ... Did that present any particular problems?

Yes it did. It ... it helped me move towards the idea of a national police force for one thing, because whenever our Prime Minister went abroad he was escorted by a member of a national security agency, [the] national police force, Scotland Yard. When Dame Pattie Menzies came ... came to me, rung me up of course. I went to see her and she said to me, 'Oh Mr. Whitrod, every time we go to London or my husband goes to London, when he arrives there, there's a Scotland Yard man waiting for him who stays with him during the whole time of his stay in England and we feel much safer, at least I do. My husband's not so scared as I am, but I'm worried about my husband. There's been one or two attacks'. Arthur Caldwell, I think, had an attack. Anyway, she said, 'I'm worried about ...,' and she said, 'I would like you to provide similar security for my husband'. And I said, 'Well, Dame Pattie, I'll need more than your wish. You're the Prime Minister's wife but I've got to get ... get it through the middle of the public service'. So she said, 'Go and see the President of the Legislative Council'. So I went and saw the President, and he said, 'Yes, I'm in total agreement with Dame Pattie. You provide an escort service to the Prime Minister. I'll see that your budget is increased to cover it. I know the Prime Minister will not like it but you persevere with it'. So we ... then I had to find somebody. It's ... it's a very discreet sort of job, being a personal assistant, as you might have gathered from some of the disclosures which are now being made by valets and others about their royal masters and ... and luckily I had amongst the Peace Officer Guard, which had been one of our more lowly institutions, a former detective sergeant from England who'd migrated to Australia, a fellow called Howard Farnsworth, and I'd been impressed by Howard Farnsworth. He'd played hockey for England and was a fine sort of character - very ... a lot of common-sense. So I took him across to the Prime Minister and said, 'Sorry, Prime Minister, Mr. Farnsworth will have to hang around here because that's what your wife wants'. So the Prime Minister put up with it and he didn't like it very much and, and Howard escorted the prime minister to and from, sat in the outer office and luckily used to scrutinise the press that came in and the people who wanted to see the Prime Minister. Did it very nicely. Never got any complaints. The press wrote him up favourably so that part went off very nicely. We also had to look after the Lodge, and the Lodge, the prime minister's Lodge, was at that stage surrounded three-quarters by a hedge, another by a small wall but a wall which could be jumped over, and this was the Lodge where the Prime Minister slept at night, and so I put a ... two or three of my uniformed guards out there and they used to patrol the grounds. But I used to worry because there was ... it was a very bushy park nearby and if somebody wanted to get even with the Prime Minister, and Prime Minister Menzies had a few vocal enemies. They could do so ... despite three men so about this time I became interested in using guard dogs.

The ... the New Zealand police were using them very successfully so I got cabinet to approve that might import a ... a Alsatian dog from the New Zealand police as a gift. There had been an embargo, a nation-wide embargo upon the importation of Alsatian dogs put in by the ... mainly because of the graziers' association who felt that the ... the German shepherds might be a threat to their flocks, and so I had to get cabinet approval and we got ... we got a bitch come over from ... from New Zealand with some pups and we started our own little breeding programme. So one day I went to, to Dame Pattie. I said, 'Dame Pattie, I'm sure I could improve the security of this place if ... if I could have one of our own bred German shepherds, who'll be on a lead going around at night, when the street lights are out and I know you and the Prime Minister will be much safer'. And she said, 'Oh Mr. Whitrod, I don't want a dog here, he'll frighten my cat'. I forget what the cat's name, Katherine or something. 'My cat will be frightened and go away'. I said, 'Look, my dog will be on a lead the whole time and I'll make sure that his handler keeps well away from any cat he spots'. Impossible of course but ... so anyway Dame Pattie agreed and we put a dog in. The dog had only been there three days and I got a ring from the sergeant of my guard at the prime minister's Lodge and he said, 'Sorry, Commissioner, Dame Pattie's cat's disappeared and she's frantic'. I said, 'Well, go around, knock on all the doors'. It was school holidays. 'Go and knock on all the doors nearby. I'll send some more help'. We knocked on all the doors of Forrest and ... and Yarralumla and said, 'Have you seen this cat?' and we put a note up. There was no sign of this cat and Dame Pattie was most upset about this.

Did she think the dog had eaten it?

Well, I went to her and she said, 'It was your dog, your dog and the dog has frightened it away'. And then on the Saturday I think, the dog [sic] disappeared on the Monday. On the Saturday one of the ... one of my guards, who'd been searching the bush, found ... found Katherine the cat and it was dead, and it had what looked like teeth marks on the stomach of the cat. And he said, 'What will I do with it, Commissioner?' and I said, 'Take it to the nearest vet, the one in ... one in Forrest and see if he'll give you some sort of autopsy and certificate of the cause of the death. It might just be natural causes'. So he took the cat up to the local vet at Forrest and the vet said, 'Oh, yes', he said, 'The cat's died of old age'. He said, 'Her kidneys' given out', and the guard said, 'What about these teeth marks?' He said, 'Oh they're not teeth marks, they're maggot holes'. So with that I felt a bit reassured, so I got this certificate sent to me, and I turned up at the Lodge with the dead cat in a box and the certificate and saw Dame Pattie. And I said, 'I'm awfully sorry, Dame Pattie, we've found your cat and it's dead'. And she said, 'Your dog's eaten it'. I said, 'No he hasn't'. She said, 'Let me see it'. She had a look at it. She said, 'There's his teeth marks'. I said, 'No they're not teeth marks, they're maggot holes. It's been four days in the summertime, it's school holidays'. She said, 'They're not maggot holes'. She said, 'They're teeth marks. I told you it was your dog'. I said, 'Well here's the vet's ...'. 'Oh', she said, 'I know that vet up there. He's a butcher'. She said, 'I never believe a word he said. Don't ever let ... [don't] you ever bring any of your dogs near me again. So we never had any dogs at the Prime Minister. We had them at Government House. But Dame Pattie and I, we didn't speak for a little while.

You were very established and happy in Canberra. Why did you leave?

Another mistake on my part. Purely an accident, Robin. I had ... I've been going to these commissioners' conferences as I told you for a number of years and I'd grown very pally with the Commissioner of Police from Papua New Guinea, a chap called Bob Cole. He wasn't a proper policeman. He'd been what we call a kiap, a government patrol officer in New Guinea, but he was the Commissioner up there, and he used to come down to our conferences and in a sense he was a bit on the outer like I was, in that we weren't regular, standard State police forces, so we got very friendly. And one day he said to me ... he rang me up from Port Moresby and said, 'Ray, my wife says I'm getting too old to stay in the territory. I'm fifty-five. It's the usual retiring age for kiaps. My superannuation is ready. She wants to go south to be with her grandchildren. I need to give up'. But he said, 'The force is coming along slowly and I don't want to leave without making sure it's ... it's in good hands. Can you find me somebody who'll replace me?' And I said, 'Sure, Bob, it's an interesting, challenging job in Papua New Guinea'. I said, 'I know a number of young assistant commissioners, who would jump at the chance to do some years in New Guinea'. So I rang around to all my assistants that I knew, that I'd met at various conferences and so forth. None, none wanted the job, partly because independence was coming in New Guinea and partly because their wives refused to move, [and] partly I think because in the eastern states they had a larger income than they should have had and they didn't want to go. So I rang up Bob and Bob was crestfallen about this and said, 'Look mate, I've gone ahead on your say so and I've made accommodation arrangements down on the Gold Coast. I really can't get out of leaving and ... and I don't want to leave it'. So I said, 'Bob, I've been here fourteen years now. I've got a good assistant. I'll come up and take your place'. It was no promotion for me. In fact, I think I dropped a bit in salary to go there, but then I went and told Mavis, 'We're going to New Guinea'. [laughs] Of course she was a bit staggered by this. I hadn't consulted her and so I had to explain why it was, and it wasn't a regular sort of thing, so she ... she ... and she had a guide company, and we had children, married then. Andrew was married with kids in Canberra. She didn't want to leave her grandchildren, but she came up. We went up to Port Moresby, at an age when Bob Cole was leaving to come south because of age, we went up there at the same age. In fact Mavis was older. Mavis was sixty when she went to New Guinea.

Why did you do it?

I don't know. Partly because of this obligation to ... to Bob Cole and partly, I think, because I felt that I'd largely achieved what I'd done, set out to do, that is established a Commonwealth police force, and I was working on my Masters thesis which involved native cultures at the time, and partly I suspect because I wanted new ... new fields to conquer. I don't know. I never really examined my motives. I just felt that it was right for me to go and I talked to a couple of friends in Canberra that I ... whose judgement I trusted and they said, 'Well, Ray, it's later than you think. If you feel you should go, go now because in five years time it will be far too late'. So we ... we upped and left Canberra and went to New Guinea.

And could you sum up for me what the New Guinea experience was like? How long were you there for, what did you achieve there and what brought it to an end? Tell me the story.

Well, it's a short story because it was stupid of me to go in the first place. I ... I very soon got malaria although I took all the precautions, and Mavis had to nurse me through malaria. I went out a bit in the bush to get myself familiar with what was going on. I visited the ... the Irian Jaya border and marched along there and I talked to the local tribes, clans that were there. There were a large number and luckily, Robin, you'll be interested, they accepted me because they regarded me as a wise man. I was wise because I was bald and they had a special place in their culture for bald-headed men, so they accepted me which was nice, because I couldn't speak Pidgin. Mavis and I started to learn Pidgin from formal classes, and from our own house boy, but it was hot, in Moresby. Moresby's a bit like ... like Cairns I think, but worse, and it was hot. The ... the ... We didn't find many people of compatible interest in the place. I was out visiting Wewak and other places and Mavis was home a bit on her own, and she had a burglar one night and woke up to find a native in the bedroom with her, and she kept her cool and sung out and our house boy, who lived in a little boy house in the grounds, came and chased him away, and Pepe ... He let Pepe loose - our guard dog - and Pepe chased him away, but it was a bit nerve-wracking for Mavis. And I really found that my health was getting me down. And also, Robin, I wasn't on the same length as the administration in ... in Papua New Guinea. David Hay was the administrator, a very able, capable diplomat from ... from Foreign Affairs. A man that I admired. He'd served in New Guinea during the war and I got on very well with him. But some of the administration I felt were still twenty years behind the times, that they still wanted to be colonial administrators, whereas there was a big move within Australia, a big push by Gough Whitlam, for independence, and there was this move from Australia that the Papuans should be given independence as soon as possible, and the kiaps were saying, look, 'They're not quite ready yet. We've established a university college and we've got other schools going but really they're essentially a village people and not ready to ... to assume a national parliament'. And I think in retrospect the kiaps were probably right but there was world opinion saying that the day of the colonies has gone and Australia should set an example, so that was coming on. We had a ... a interesting group of cadet native officers that were coming on and ... but I ... I wasn't comfortable with the administration. About this time Bougainville came on the public scene, and the big CRA mining venture on Bougainville required some of the native plantations to be cleared of their ... of their little native plots and ... and the native ... natives had been told, had been prepared to sell their plots but they'd never envisaged that the land would be ploughed up and levelled and dug into. They'd always lived on the land. The land belonged to everybody and so they resisted very much the clearance for the Bougainville mine. And there was pressure from the big exploration companies to push ahead and to ... and I know Hay had in mind and some of the administrators that the police would be used to push the natives off these plots...

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