Female Bobbies, 85 Years

This blog has been used by kind permission from the Queensland Police Museum

FROM the VAULT – Female Bobbies, 85 Years
QPS Media on Mar 29, 2016 @ 11:00am

POLICEWOMEN! By the uninitiated and unthinking the name is uttered to the accompaniment of a snort of derision. The policewomen of Queensland, and there are but two, are ladies of culture, discrimination, and tact. All hours of the day and throughout many hours of the night they work quietly and unobtrusively, literally doing good by stealth.

‘Meet Policewomen Dare and O’Donnell. Foiling park prowlers is just as important in their daily task as detecting the criminal, this writer declares’ By Eric Hanman, The Queenslander, 27 Feb 1936, p. 4, 36

The first women to be appointed into the Queensland Police in 1931, were Miss Zara Dare, 45, and Miss Ellen O’Donnell, 35. Initially, these women performed heavily gender stereotyped functions. In essence, they carried out duties of a so-called maternal police. This did not mean their jobs were limited to ‘mothering somebody’s unwanted babe that had been thrust into their strong arms’, though according, to Eric Hanman’s recollections, it has been known to happen.

Prior to her appointment Miss Dare, born in Shoalhaven, NSW, was a member of the Salvation Army and devoted her efforts to the care of the poor in the slums of Sydney. ‘For 13 years she worked as a sectional leader on the mission fields in China.’ (Hanman) She was considered the ideal person for police work. Miss O’Donnell, ‘a typical happy go-lucky Queenslander, hailing from Gympie’, kept house for her brother. However, she felt she could do the most good as a police woman and applied for the job.

Public imagination saw these women as either ‘stern, hard, relentless beings mercilessly pursuing the evil-doer’, or as girls sent out to do the jobs done by men. In reality, there was no end to the variety of duties these women were called to perform. ‘All hours of the day and throughout many hours of the night they [worked] quietly and unobtrusively, literally doing good by stealth.’ Dressed in respectable, rather matronly plain clothes Police Women regularly patrolled shopping centres for shoplifters, parks and streets, theatre and hotel lounges watching for young people or children loitering or truanting from schools. Regularly, they advised girls in connection with their conduct, mode of living, and at times, intervened to protect them.

One such case involved two ‘young and very pretty girls’ from England. A young woman, 17 years of age, arrived to Queensland from Midlands with intention to join her older sister in Brisbane:

But, by the time the boat arrived, the older sister had fallen on lean times, and before many weeks had passed they were homeless and destitute. Hungry, shabby, and in despair, they were seated on a bench in a city park, when they were approached by a well-dressed young man, of prepossessing appearance, who with honeyed tongue, and offers of help, drew from them the pathetic story of their plight. It was soon apparent that the man was violently in love with the younger girl, and by impassioned speeches, and verbally painting rosy pictures of the future state of married bliss, he swept her off her feet. Word was quietly passed to the policewomen, and Misses Dare and O’Donnell went to work.

The investigations soon revealed the would-be bridegroom as an unsavoury character, ‘who had a deserted wife and children, a bad criminal record, a lurking place in Spring Hill, and a bestial manner of wringing his livelihood from the earnings of fallen women.’ As the awful truth came out, the prospective bride ‘burst into tears, tears of joy at her escape’. The policewomen did not let it stop at that, filled with pity for the girl, they placed her case before the authorities. The Home Secretary granted the unlucky would-be bride a free passage on a boat back to England.

And thus, ‘owing to their timely intervention many a thoughtless girl has been rescued from the clutches of those – who prey on defenceless womanhood.’ (Hanman)

QPS PM0450-female bobby 2
Policewoman Ellen O’Donnell presenting gifts to children at the Royal Brisbane Children’s Hospital, c1955. Image PM0450 courtesy of the Queensland Police Museum.

Today female officers perform a full range of police duties. The drive to help people links these auxiliary policewomen of the Queensland Police Force in the past with the officers in the Service in the present. In words of Sergeant Dell Fisher, Caloundra Station: ‘when you do your job and charge an offender, there is justice for the victim. As much as we can, the wrong has been put right.’ (Central Regions Inspirational Women in Policing, p. 47)


By Permission:

This information has been provided by the Queensland Police Museum from the best resources available. The article was written by Museum Volunteer and Crime and Policing Historian Dr Anastasia Dukova.

The Police Museum is open 9am to 4pm Monday to Friday and 10am to 3pm on the last Sunday of the month (Feb-Nov) and is located on the Ground Floor of Police Headquarters at 200 Roma Street, Brisbane. Contact: museum@police.qld.gov.au

“FROM the VAULT – Female Bobbies, 85 Years” by the Queensland Police Service is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (BY) 2.5 Australia Licence. Permissions may be available beyond the scope of this licence.