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Police Families

In all service occupations the families of the members provide support that in many cases is necessary in order for the member to provide the service they do.   In remote communities, especially in early times, the families of members have been required to perform a range of services to the communities they lived in and were seen as having a real role to play.   Even today a 'spousal honorarium' is paid in recognition of these responsibilities.


Prior to 1930 police officers had to seek permission from the Inspector to get married.  Foelsche himself applied to the SA Commissioner only to be told that "the applications to marry are too numerous in the Mounted Police.  I should be glad if P.T. Foelsche would get the fancy out of his head.." (A Force Apart?)

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Historical Police Families

High Expectations

Much was expected of the policeman's wife.  The following paragraph from "A Force Apart?" highlights the attitude of the time.


The troopers’ wives who accompanied their husbands north were more inclined to try to make a home for their families rather than engage in charitable works, although some of them did. The wives of officers and troopers were expected to be genteel and act in a ladylike manner, even if their husbands were less than gentlemen. Trooper Todd’s wife, for example, arrived in Darwin early in 1870. She was considered by the other members of the police contingent to be a ‘kind respectable young woman’. Despite her demeanour, Mrs Todd was unfortunate enough to be one of the first victims of domestic violence among the non-Aboriginal population of the Northern Territory.  Wives who resided outside Darwin lived under the most difficult conditions and yet they, too, were expected to be role models and act as any lady would in a city. The wives of Alice Springs police officers were the subjects of correspondence from Cowle to Baldwin Spencer. Cowle, who was acknowledged by the Northern Territory Dictionary of Biography as a ‘champion cusser’, expected all his colleagues’ wives to behave as ladies.  In 1899, after Mounted Constable Brookes had taken over the Alice Springs Police Station from Mounted Constable Kelly, Cowle wrote:


The Alice itself was just awful, especially the Police Camp, and no doubt one does miss Kelly and his wife there; no matter what people might have said about her, she was always kind and hospitable, even to extremes. But oh, the difference no, untidiness and uncouthness brought to a fine art doesn’t half describe it, the woman is generally barefooted and talks vulgarly and incessantly, squints, shrews and oh hang it that’s enough.  


The contribution of the wives of Northern Territory police officers has rarely been truly recognised. The Centralian Advocate came close when, in a 1986 article, the reporter, Michelle Foster, wrote: 


Many of the NT’s unsung heroines have been the wives of policemen who, undaunted by isolation from other white women, general loneliness, occasional danger, made hearth and home for their husbands in many out-of-the-way places...They were always unobtrusive but helpful and effective in what was often a role comparable with today’s social worker and domestic counselor. If you ask them to give you details about things of this nature, the veteran wives still about the place would smile at you and say ‘it was nothing’...I never saw a police wife flustered by an unexpected visitor. One wife for instance opened the door one day to find a very much “wanted” man at the door. Did she panic? Not her. She invited him in for a cuppa, even though her husband was not due back from patrol for some hours.  Such descriptions epitomise the role of police wives. Not many records deal with women at police stations. Their contribution, nevertheless, was considerable. 



Profiles of selected family members

  • Anna Maria Woide Waters 

  • Charlotte Georgina Foelsche

  • Anna Mary Dow

  • Vicki Darken

  • Jackie Gordon

  • Creed Lovegrove - read his tale of growing up as a policeman's son in the May 2011 Citation Magazine.

Household Staff

The colonial role of European master and Indigenous servants highlighted above had been played out for many years. In the Miller letters, the future Mrs Miller is advised by Constable Miller that, ‘I have got rid of Maudie. She wanted a spell I let her go & I have a very good cook now called Minnie’. He continued ‘she makes splendid bread and is a very particular lady .. so far she is well worth all her little whims.



Trackers Families

Police owed a debt of gratitude, not only to their trackers, but also to the trackers’ families for the assistance they rendered to police families.  The arduous life in the Northern Territory took its toll on family life. Quite often members left their families in southern Australia for extended periods rather than submit them to the rigours of life in a remote area of the Northern Territory. Occasionally, the families went south before a member transferred and later rejoined them after the transfer was complete and quarters ready for them.



In Queensland, families had one advantage over their colleagues in the Northern Territory; wives received payment for some of the jobs they did to help their husbands. In 1884, for example, Senior Constable Power’s (not related to his Territory counterpart) wife was appointed as female searcher and courthouse cleaner. For her services, Mrs. Power received £5 a year. In the Northern Territory only wives appointed as matrons in the gaols received any payment.  A modest spousal honorarium was introduced into the NT Police for remote stations in the 1990s to recognise the fact that spouses were often required to take calls and assist people while their partners were away from the station.


The housing that police officers and their wives lived and worked in was often rudimentary, providing little relief from the harsh environment. In 1870, the police accommodation in Darwin was so bad that it was the subject of a letter of complaint about rain entering the building and affecting the health of members. In 1894, the cooking stove at the Darwin barracks had ‘quite worn out’.  In 1889, the Borroloola police station had a number of broken window panes and the poorly designed and located water closets caused an unpleasant smell throughout the building.  By 1892, patience had run out at Illamurta and the members sought to have corrugated iron supplied with which to build a ceiling because the station was otherwise too hot and the ants and chaff fell onto the members whilst they slept.  At Brocks Creek in 1900, the station, in which the members also lived, ‘was in a fearful state [the roof] leaks like a sieve all over…’.

At the turn of the century when police officers worked at many locations across the Northern Territory, the state of their buildings remained extremely poor. The first Annual Report in the era of Commonwealth control noted that the police buildings at Roper River and Anthony’s Lagoon were in a bad state of repair. This, the Inspector wrote, was due to white ant infestation and he recommended the provision of angle iron buildings.

In 1912, the Timber Creek residence was a ‘big grass house’ erected by the constable in charge. Some remedial work occurred in 1912 when prefabricated steel buildings were manufactured in Adelaide and shipped to the Northern Territory for erection on some sites.  These buildings proved so simple for the Government to provide that, after the initial issues to Roper River and Borrolloola, 6 others quickly followed over the next two years. The second series of buildings for erection at Horseshoe Creek, Midnight Creek and Anthony’s Lagoon were slightly 
less successful. The problems were caused because the contractor who was to help police erect the buildings had a difference of opinion with one of the members over the standard of building required. The frame of this police station did not correspond with the plans.  The problems experienced with the last three buildings must have been greater than the files suggest because provision of prefabricated buildings ceased after the problems became known. Those stations which were not replaced continued to deteriorate. By 1915, the Inspector was able to report that the constables stationed at Newcastle Waters and Anthony’s Lagoon were now comfortable because of the erection of new buildings there.


The situation had again deteriorated by 1922 when the inspector wrote that better quarters should be provided so that more married members could be posted to remote areas.  The appalling situation continued. When Dudley was appointed Commissioner, his reports too were critical of the accommodation. ‘At Newcastle Waters…the present building is most unsuitable’.  In 1924, Commissioner Dudley reported on the urgent need for an angle-iron building at Newcastle Waters as the present building was unsuitable. He also wrote that with very small expenditure Maranboy, Alice Well, Arltunga, Lake Nash, Rankine River and Anthony’s Lagoon could be brought up to married station standard.

In 1925 he commented: Borroloola, a comfortable station, but in need of painting and minor repairs…Daly River…is in a state of dilapidation. There are three rooms, all are without a single complete floorboard; there is not a complete shutter around the veranda, and some of the uprights are unsafe…Katherine is in a bad state of repair.   Also in 1925, an official of the Department of Works and Railways advised the officer in charge, Daly River, that building materials, apparently for a bathroom, were being despatched by the steamship Kinchilla.  The officer in charge was then required to make use of the materials to upgrade his accommodation. Despite the continual complaints of senior police officers’, bureaucrats in Melbourne took no action to upgrade the accommodation. 

After the Commonwealth assumed control of the Northern Territory in 1911, both married and single members were charged for their quarters. By 1921, single members in Darwin were paying £2 each per week for their bedrooms. The Northern Standard reported the Government to be ‘boarding house profiteers’ in collecting this amount for sub standard quarters.  Members in the bush were not only required to pay £25 per year for their quarters but also paint, repair and improve them.  Station buildings continued to suffer from a lack of adequate maintenance.

Eventually, the poor state of police accommodation became a public scandal. In 1922, Senator Newlands, after a trip through the Northern Territory, asserted in the Federal Parliament that he had found ‘that the conditions under which the police are asked to live are an absolute disgrace. They have the worst horses, and the worst 
accommodation of any section of people in the Territory’.116 Even as late as 1923 it was recognised that many of the police stations were still unsuited for married members:


Young men in the full bloom of Manhood, the pick of men for strength and manliness, who are a credit to their Officers and to the Force are sent out to live in Bough Sheds, Tin Huts and even tents. Often their lives are practically with the Blacks...I know that if they were given the material, they would find the necessary time to build and fit decent homes to which they could ask a woman.  Outside Darwin, police stations were isolated, as is graphically portrayed in a collection of Baldwin Spencer’s photographs. One photograph depicts Borroloola police station standing on its own at the edge of a rough, anthill-strewn paddock with very few trees for shade. 
This photograph makes it clear that the small police community lived on its own, isolated even from the other Europeans in the town. Another photograph, this one of Arltunga circa 1910, shows clearly the rough nature of the accommodation.  The two police officers at Arltunga only had a tent and bough shed for their accommodation. This was deemed suitable accommodation for the members in the extreme heat of a 
central Australian day and cold desert nights.  Another station and residence rebuilt at the turn of the century was at Heavitree Gap near Alice Springs. The Heavitree Gap Police Station was established south of Alice Springs on the southern side of the gap where all persons passing north or south could be observed. 


The station was opened on 22 April 1886 and comprised ‘wurlies constructed of boughs’.  Thereafter, the station was modified in 1887, 1888 and 1889. By 1894, a stone building had been constructed and roofed with iron. A cellblock was also added. The Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory today uses the station as a residence. Visiting the house, one is struck by its functional bareness. 

A bedroom was originally the office at one end of the station so that visitors did not have to pass through the private area. Two other rooms, one a kitchen and the other presumably a bed sitting room, were at the other end of the structure. A cellblock was at the extreme end of the structure, farthest from the office. The addition of a new bathroom and kitchen are the only modern features so that a visitor can understand the nature of the building which provided for only the most basic living and working environment.  In South Australia, poor housing was also the norm for police. 

Robert Clyne, the South Australian Police historian, has noted how the stations were small and barely allowed for the decencies of family life to be observed.  In one case, the Rosewater Police Station and residence were unbearably hot in summer and cold in winter because of the galvanised iron ceiling and roof. In order to overcome the problem, seaweed was inserted between the two to provide insulation.  The Board of Health declared the Adelaide Police barracks unsanitary on 4 November 1901. The Director of Works thought that this declaration was ‘simply nonsense’. Nevertheless, a coat of whitewash was applied to the walls. 

In the Northern Territory, despite the poor conditions being experienced after the turn of the century, some wives had been living with their husbands at bush police stations for many years. These women made a home under the most difficult circumstances and raised children in an alien climate without any support. Their husbands were 
often away for weeks at a time, leaving the women to fend for themselves in the hostile environment. Fresh food was difficult to obtain and vegetable gardens were an important part of police life, providing fresh produce. Cowle maintained a garden at Illamurta in which he grew vegetables to supplement his diet.  The lack of rain affected the garden and when Cowle was on patrol he would return to find the garden barren and bare. Sometimes prisoners were used to maintain the gardens. What food was available was subject to attacks by mice or other vermin.

Police Families


Cut off from any daily news, it is small wonder that a visitor was a welcome sight at remote police stations. In 1916, the newly appointed Alice Springs Postmaster and his family passed through Alice Well, stopping overnight at the Police Station. His daughter recounted how her mother and Mrs Mackay became instant friends and spent much of the evening chatting.  People who lived on these lonely outposts were always delighted to have travellers call; they made new friends and caught up with news from the outside world. 


Visitors were scarce and even the mail camel trains would only call every three weeks.  Even the bachelor police welcomed visitors, often preparing lavish meals with which to entertain travellers who called. Before Constable Mackay married, he was known for his hospitality, becoming angered if someone went past the police station without calling in for a meal.

Like their wives, the police officers relished the opportunity to sit down with a stranger, discuss the news, and tell tall stories of their life in the bush.  Little is known of the routine activities of the first handful of police officers posted to Darwin in 1870. Fortunately, Trooper Edward Napoleon Buonaparte Catchlove, who was stationed in Darwin from 1870 until 1872 and later from 1903 to 1907, maintained a diary during his first tour of duty.  This provides some insight into the everyday activities of junior police and the relationships between the various members of the fledgling town.

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