Police spectacular

Eight police on a motorbike, and a tank driven by a police dog? No not a drastic response to cuts to the police budget but rather the spectacular 1930s displays of daring police acrobatic and athletic feats.

Throughout the 1930s, the NSW public was treated to annual police carnivals. These were a combination of athletic contests and displays of fancy horsemanship, daring feats on motorcycles and exhibitions of skill and training by police dogs including the immortal Zoe, the first radio guided Alsatian dog in the world. A display at the Justice & Police Museum, Police Spectacular, featured photographs from these exciting extravaganzas.

Perhaps the grandest of these events was the 1939 Police Carnival held at the Royal Agricultural Showground. With 50,000 spectators, the event included athletic and field events, a tug-o-war by burly policemen and music by the Police Military Band. A parade filled the ground comprising of returned sailor and soldier police; mounted, motorcycle, foot, and traffic police; plus members of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve, the 30th Battalion (NSW Scottish Regiment) in full battle dress, the Black Watch Regiment, and police dogs Tess, Harris, Kaspar and Zoe. The motorised forces were represented by the wireless cars, patrol cars, motorcycles and patrol vans.

The introduction of police dogs showed a friendlier, softer side of the force. This was taken advantage of through displays of the dogs’ abilities - not all directly related to search and rescue, but part of their training. The Mounted Police, with their precision and coordinated riding training were also used in exhibitions of fancy ’hoof’ work.

The Dog Squad was formed in 1932 with the purchase of the first Australian police dog, three month old pup Tess. She went on to have a distinguished career proving successful in numerous search and rescues. Her most famous achievement was the search for a young girl who went missing on Christmas Eve in Windsor in 1937. Brought on to the search 30 hours after the child had gone missing, Tess picked up the trail, tracking the girl’s scent to the murderer’s home and then his scent to the site of her body, dumped in a nearby creek. When Tess died in 1940, there was much public distress and her body was embalmed. The Dog Squad was dismantled in 1953 and was not reformed until 1979. Now dogs are used in many areas of police work including search and rescue, cadaver, drug and bomb detection.

Also included in the Police Spectacular display were a wonderful 1930s collection of images of police horses and their trainers at Redfern Police Training Depot. NSW mounted police have a long history starting with its formation, by Governor Brisbane in 1825. As the horse provided the quickest and most convenient form of transport in the colony, it is no wonder that the mounted police were the most effective in enforcing the state’s laws outside the metropolitan areas.

7 December 2002 - 27 April 2003

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