Victoria Police's women celebrated in Bendigo

When June Long came to Bendigo to work as a police woman in 1957, there were no female officers at the station: she and her colleague Enid Gollop were the very first.

Things for women working in Victoria Police have changed a lot since then, a fact celebrated at an event in Bendigo on Wednesday to mark 100 years of women in policing in the state.

When Miss Long joined in 1954, no woman in the state had yet made the rank of sergeant, female recruits could not be married, women had to wear skirts, and they wore a badge that singled them out as women, rather than simply officers.

While there is still a way to go to equal representation, today in the Bendigo policing area 23.93 per cent of officers are female, as are 20 per cent of protective services officers.

Miss Long was one of many women at Wednesday’s event who carved or are making a career in policing.

Also among them was Brenda Arnell, who joined Victoria Police in 1972 at the age of 22.

Mrs Arnell had been a preschool teacher, but was looking for a change and walking past a police station on her way to work each day, she decided to apply, the start of a 15-year career.

When she graduated from the academy as dux, Mrs Arnell was one of four women in a squad of 28.

She was sent to work at Russell Street – as all police women at that time were – but later joined a breathalyser unit, worked in a computer team, and spent 10 years working in the Bureau of Criminal Intelligence, doing covert surveillance and analytical work.

Mrs Arnell said that while the areas in which she worked were very respectful of female officers, she did experience wolf-whistling and remarks.

Leading Senior Constable Lisa Bortolotto has seen women join a growing number of areas of the force in her 26-year career; while they were once excluded from such units as the dog squad, air wing and the mounted branch, they now everywhere in the force.

“Women can do now everything men can do,” she said.

Senior Sergeant Leesa Johnson,  an organiser of the event, said she wanted to recognise the work of women that came before her and the path they paved for women’s progression in the force.

Today, Victoria Police’s Western region has Assistant Commissioner Tess Walsh at the helm, Acting Superintendent Kathryn Radkins overseeing division five, and Senior Sergeant Johnson as Bendigo’s station commander.

Larissa Jones is one of the newer female recruits to Victoria Police, graduating as a police custody officer in March this year.

Unlike some of the women who came before her, she said she was not treated differently because of her gender, especially with Victoria Police’s focus on equality – in fact, she said being a woman was a benefit, because of this drive to improve female representation.

Superintendent Philip Green, a member of the Australasian Council of Women and Policing, spoke at the celebration in Bendigo.

He said Victoria Police – or any policing organisation – would not be able to achieve what it did without women.

But he acknowledged there was still a lot of work to be done, including improving the number of women at all ranks throughout the force.

It was imperative Victoria Police demonstrated the opportunities available in the organisation for younger female members of the community, Superintendent Green said, quoting former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick who said “you can’t be what you can’t see”.