Ryan Elson - No Humble Opinions Chapter 8
It’s November 1991, I am 18, have lefty school and have not a single fucking clue what was next. I wasn’t particularly worried though, I was happy!
One day I was at my friend Amanda’s place just hanging out and stirring her Dad up. Bob Fielding was a good bloke and took a ribbing from a young smart arse pretty well. He was used to it though, he was a Superintendent of Police. Bob asked me what I was going to do now, I said I had absolutely no idea. Then Bob said, “ Why don’t you join the Police”.
The room went quiet. Then all us kids had a laugh!! I had been in plenty of trouble, a bit with the cops and I was quite frankly more likely to end up on the wrong side of the law than upholding the law. Bob suggested I think about it so I did. After I thought about it for a while I went back to Bob and said I would like to join up. There were plenty of tests to go through but my application went in and my first step was getting my bronze medallion. I gotta say though holding a Bronze medallion course on Saturday mornings in an outdoor pool in Hobart is fucking poor planning at the very least. Cold and generally hung over I completed the course. Then first aid and a home interview. I was living with my Nan (Dad’s Mum)for a while at that point in time so 1st Class Constable Allen came to check on my home life and ask me a few questions.
Now my Nan was a beautiful soul but she was getting on and was in no way worldly. In fact I am pretty sure that this may have been the first and only job interview she had ever witnessed. As a result we decided that having Mr. Lawson present would be a good idea so the three of us met 1/C Allen. 1/C Allen was a really friendly lady and the questions were simple, basically figuring out if I was a dickhead or not. Then she asked me a surprisingly difficult question…. “Ryan, why should we have you”?
What do you say to that? I didn’t think that I want to drive really fast, fight bad guys and chicks love uniforms sounded all that flash! I looked at Nan, Nan looked at me, I looked at 1/C Allen…… then Mr. Lawson spoke for the first time.
“Christine, do you mind if I answer that question? The best way I can put it to you is like this, if Ryan doesn’t end up on your team he may well end up on the other team. Do you want him with you or against you”?
Wow……. That was that interview done.
Soon after I got a letter asking me to attend the Police Academy on a certain date and time for physical tests and an interview. Things were about to get very real.
I arrived at this huge imposing building. It was freezing cold and the place was chock full of Cops. I felt very alone. I think there was about 8 of us up for selection that day, there were two ex Cops, a few mid 20’s and I was the youngest by a couple of years. I was shitting myself. Physicals were first and the test was a commando course, a run and some push ups etc and dragging a life weight dummy through another course. A couple of the guys were up before me and one in particular was a total wanker, he was also one of the ex cops and was telling us that was a shoo in. Righto dickhead. Anyway I completed the course successfully next up was the interviews. There were four senior Police and a Psychologist on the interview panel and we had to wait in the room next to the interview room. The whole setup was designed to be intimidating……. and it was. The order of interviews was read and I was the very last one. Great.
As I sat there in my poorly fitting suit the interviews kicked off. We in the waiting were then witness to a variety of post interview reactions, the first was the wanker who came flying out the door enraged, walked right by us and straight out the door. Never saw him again! Then a couple of calmer exits, a girl I had befriended, Heather, came out in tears and a 21 year old squash champion came out crying and saying that the board told him to go and get more life experience. Fucking fantastic……. The guy was three years older than me and he needed more life experience.
Finally I was the last guy in the waiting room and after hours I was up. As I walked in I was basically ignored and directed to a very lonely looking chair in the middle of the room. Then it kicked off. I became aware really early that these guys just wanted to fuck with me when they asked me had I borrowed the suit. Whatever my answer to questions I was met with derisory comments, laughter or notebook scribbling from the psych. I was sweating my balls off and generally having an unpleasant time but at least no one was punching me in the head at the same time. I could get through this. At some point it ended and I was shown the door fully feeling like I had fucked it up. As I was the last interviewee one of the Senior Cops came out at the same time and as I walked towards the reception area he called out to me. He said, “Hey mate, you did very well. If you play the rest of your cards right we will see you in April”.
Thank fuck for that!
I was accepted for course 2 of 1992 commencing in April. I arrived on a Sunday to get my room etc and found out that I had just stepped on to a very steep learning curve
There were 25 in my course ranging from me at 18 and a 40 year old. Another guy had spent a year at Uni but aside from that everyone had real world work experience whereas I had just stepped out of High School. In addition Cops are selected for certain attributes such as strong personalities, debating skills, solid egos and confidence. This new environment was a dead set chicken coop and the pecking order started from day one.
The first day we were to write an introduction of ourselves and present it to an audience of our course members, families and friends. I find it easy to public speak now but back then I was scared shitless. I walked by myself to the Auditorium I was stopped by a senior course member to tell me that my fly was undone on my cheap ill fitting suit.
What an awesome start.
I felt really lost here. It was absolutely alien to me. No one was particularly interested in my stories about High School, getting pissed or my Sigma and I felt myself being very much on the outer immediately. This was a real shock and really affected me throughout the Academy. I always felt like I was trying too hard or not enough and it took me a long time to feel like I was fitting in. In addition I had thrown on a fair bit of weight, as blokes discovering booze are prone to do and I was way too self conscious about it. Then I got a bit of help from an older course member who took the time to give me some advice. Kingy said to me, “Hey Ryno, if there is something you are a bit touchy about bag yourself about it first. Then no one else tends to bother”. I took that on board and it completely changed the way I interacted with people in situations where I feel awkward, it has broken the ice for me plenty of times and I still do it today, don’t ever underestimate the impact that a kind word of advice can do. Kingy is still a lifelong mate of mine and has been a source of great guidance for me many times since that day,
One of the lessons I had been so looking forward to was advanced driver training. I ended up fucking hating it. My Guardian had once tried to teach me to drive but only ended up screaming at me the whole time. I had only had my licence for a few months when I was sworn in and I was very inexperienced but very willing to learn, unfortunately the instructors were a bunch of prancing dickheads that were more interested in trying to shag the course members than build up a young coppers confidence. Although there was no yelling Driver training felt a lot like these earlier experiences with bagging, sarcasm and belittling and I didn’t cope that well with it. We did driver training in weekly blocks and I was an anxious ball of energy before and during each week. Finally I had some contact with an outside Driver trainer doing some relief work at the Academy. Judd was a really funny nice guy but the first time I ever drove with him I was nervous as usual. Judd pulled me over, told me that he knew I was better than that and got me to relax and just drive… so I did! And I was better! And driver training didn’t scare me so much after that.
You may notice that I often speak of people that have reached out to me and presented a different path. Presented an opportunity to me. I am so so fucking grateful to the people that have gone out of their way to offer help to me when they didn’t have to, if it wasn’t for them my life would have been very different. In addition though I am very grateful that I was so often the guy that would complete that transaction by taking the advice and opportunities that were presented to and making adjustments when I needed to because without taking the advice or opportunity the advice or opportunity is pointless. Don’t get me wrong, I have fucked up plenty and been arrogant and stubborn but quite often I listened, I acted and life changed.
During my time in the Academy myself and a couple of other female trainees decided to get our Motorcycle licences so we all did the course together. It was great fun every Saturday morning for three weeks and I learned a heap. Little was I to know that this act of getting my licence would kick off a life long love of two wheeled transport and adventure. I have never been the fastest, most skilful or best rider but I have had more fun, made more friends, scored more chicks and had more adventures due to motorcycling than anything else. I still love riding now.
Towards the end of the Academy when I was feeling a fair bit better about this gig we were sent out on Outstations for two weeks. Outstations is where recruits go out on the street in real life situations with experienced uniform guys and get a taste what Policing outside of the Academy. When I arrived at Glenorchy station my first piece of advice from a Senior Connie (Constable) was, “ Forget everything you think you know”. It was again great advice.
Policing is about 10% adrenalin, 70% boredom and 20% paperwork….. I lived for the 10% adrenalin! In those two short weeks I was involved in a few fights, a few arrests, a few high tension situations, urgent duty drives and a pursuit (which is about as much fun as you will ever have with your pants on) and I was hooked! This was so up my alley that I couldn’t believe they were paying me!! I couldn’t wait to get to work every night and I didn’t want to leave, this was brilliant. In addition none of the experienced guys made me feel useless at all and in fact some really praised me. Mainly because I loved jumping into a fight.
But as with anything there was always good with the bad. My bad came on a day shift working with a weasel like sympathy striper (cops that never went for rank but got one stripe just because they had been there so long) with the nickname “Glovebox”. He was called Glovebox because if there was ever a fight that’s where you would find him, locked in the car.
Glovebox and I were on patrol when we got given a reasonably common but unpleasant job, a sudden death. Police attend most sudden unexpected deaths to check the scene and prepare for a report should there not be a Doctors certificate given for a n expected cause of death. The place where the death occurred was near my Nan’s house which felt weird and on the way there Glovebox said to me, “Have you ever been to a death”. “No” I said. “Well it’s your lucky day mate, this one is all yours”.
When we got there it was a sad scene, the family was there and were all very upset for their beloved Husband, Father and Grandfather. I felt the emotion, the grief of the whole thing as soon as we got there. The mortuary Ambulance guys were also in attendance. Glovebox spoke to the deceased’s son who then led us to the body.
What a fucking nightmare.
The poor old guy had had some sort episode on the toilet, the very small toilet with the inwards opening door, and had bled out a fair bit after falling forwards into the door and subsequently blocking it from opening.
“In you go Rookie, have fun”, Glovebox said quietly as he went back to the family.
If you don’t know bodies go into a state called rigor mortis after death, this state causes a corpse to become extremely rigid and almost impossible to bend. So, here I am with a body in full rigor jammed hard against a door that I had to get in to get it out.
Please bear in mind that I had never actually seen a dead human body before in my life prior to this day. Not at a funeral, never. So what the fuck do I do?? I asked the mortuary Ambulance guys who were having a smoke and they suggested I may have to bust the door in before they calmly went back to their conversation. Back I go to the toilet where I open the door and put my shoulder into it. You could get it about two inches open doing that, which is how the gent was found in the first place. Couldn’t get him out through that gap though! So I shouldered it harder and harder until I basically smashed this poor old man into the corner of the tiny toilet just far enough that I could squeeze in behind the wooden door. But this was only the beginning.
So now we have a 100kg 19 year old in a single toilet with a stiff as a board body covered in blood and shit. I took a moment to weigh all this up trying to decide which was my least awful option before basically hugging the body under the arms and lifting him up into a somewhat sideways seated position whilst I slip around in a mix of blood, faeces and I imagine urine. If you have never really considered the term dead weight please take a moment to really grasp what that means. I then lift him again, this time from behind in a fairly dodgy half nelson style, over the toilet and cram him face first into the opposite side of the tiny toilet whilst I hold him there in a standing big spoon little spoon whilst I try and hook the door with my heel. After a stack of effort I finally managed to get the door open to almost fall out of the door, stiffened corpse in tow. I was by now covered in most of the poor gents bodily fluids and thoroughly exhausted. After we crammed the body into a body bag and the mortuary ambulance took it away I decided not to go in and see the family again…. Probably wasn’t really the memory they needed.
I was later informed at the station that the mortuary ambulance guys normally did a lot of the extraction stuff if they were on site but Glovebox had told them it would be a good experience for the rookie to have in his first couple of weeks.
And that my friends was my first up close and personal experience with death in all its ugly smelly reality!
Back to the Academy for a few weeks before we hit the we were finishing up courses and figuring out where we would be posted. My chances of getting a Hobart posting were pretty slim so I took a closer option in Launceston so I could be close to my home base, 2 hours drive is soon as a long way in Tassie but I have done plenty more kilometres since then and it was better than Burnie in the states North East.
Our Graduation day was full of pomp and tradition, I personally dislike all that shit but some people love it and the photo’s look cool. One weird thing from the mornings event was the attendance of my Guardians who arrived uninvited (to my knowledge) and proceeded to pose for photo’s patting me on the back whilst saying they always knew I could do it! I hadn’t seen them since the fight night….. what the fuck????
Graduation night was a big ole party and we all had a ball. At one stage I was having a drink with 1/C Allen who had interviewed me at home before I was accepted. She told me that when Mr. Lawson said to her did she want me on her side or against her she looked at me and decided she wanted me with her. That was her decisive moment. I have always felt that Mr. Lawson taking that chance was such a pivotal moment in my life and I have tried to follow that lead. Just put it out there, take a risk, have a fucking go.