In the run up to NAIDOC Week 2021, Fortem Australia spoke with Carleen Armour about her experiences as a Gamilaraay woman and Senior Constable with the Queensland Police Service.
Tell us a bit about your background Carleen.
I grew up in Liverpool in Sydney, my mother was a Gamilaraay woman, which is actually from up north a bit, around the Moree region. We didn’t go around shouting it from the rooftops though, I think there was probably still a bit of suspicion of the government in people around my mum’s age. I also grew up in a housing commission area, so being a bit suspicious of the authorities is a pretty normal part of growing up in that area too. To be honest it’s not a topic we spoke about heaps as kids, but that was just how it was in those days.
From a housing commission kid to a police officer – some people might think that’s an unlikely career path. Thinking back, what parts of growing up do you think made you want to become a police officer?
My Dad was pretty clear with us kids about the importance of having a work ethic – actually both of my parents were, which was a pretty big influence on me.
I learned from my parents that the best way to get ahead is to get a good job and chip away at things. Thanks to my parents, now I own my own house – and so do all my siblings.
I think the other thing that influenced me was growing up in Liverpool and the importance of community in that part of Sydney. I joined the police because for me, it’s not about giving someone a speeding ticket, it’s about helping people. It’s really about being a part of the community – not above it – and I think that attitude comes from growing up in a close community like Liverpool.
Do you think growing up as an indigenous woman is part of why you’re successful in your role?
Yep, I think so. Being able to talk to people is a big part of indigenous culture.
A while back I spent a bit of time right up in the Cape (York) in a little community called Pormpuraaw. In that community everyone knows everyone, and it is very important to be able to get to know people and have a chat with them. It is very different to my work here on the Gold Coast, but there’s a lot of overlap too.
In my experience you get the best results in policing by putting yourself on the same level as the people you deal with. My mum always said never forget where you came from, and I always try and remember that when I’m dealing with people.
As police officers, we see a lot of the hard, ugly reality of our society. If someone is homeless or they’re going through a bad time, it’s important that people know you’re not judgemental, you just say g’day to people like you do to everyone else – you get back the same respect that you show to everyone else.
Another big part of our job is being a role model. We have to show people what doing the right thing looks like. Then when people do the wrong thing, you’ve got to be firm, but fair.
I think in a smaller community it’s important to have very clear boundaries. That can be hard in the beginning, but in the end, people like to know where the line is with what’s right and wrong and they respect you for it.
That’s some great advice. Do you have any other advice for people who might just be starting off their career as a first responder or police officer?
I think part of the reason I’ve done pretty well in my job is that I’ve had a partner who’s really supportive. To have a husband who’s a shift worker has been really helpful to me, because you understand their sleep and work cycle and they understand yours.
When we first had kids, it was pretty hard – my husband was doing a lot of shift work. But I knew that just because it was 11 in the morning, didn’t mean his body clock was on the same time as everyone else. Having people around you that understand your life – and especially the shift work – makes a real difference in my opinion. Whether it’s your partner or your mates – it’s very helpful if they understand the challenge that comes with being a police officer.
More generally, another thing I would say to people coming into the role is just realise you’re going to make mistakes. Be kind to yourself. Own your mistakes and laugh at yourself. Try not to worry too much about what other people think.
I mean, I still make mistakes. The other day I was trying to sneak up to a house with a search warrant and I left my radio on. Someone inside heard it go off! The other guys didn’t let me forget that one for a while, but I saw the funny side of it, so it was fine.
Having a sense of humour is very important in general I think. Crack jokes and muck around a bit with your mates. For me that has really helped me get through some of the toughest days.
What are some highlights of your career as a police officer? How do you think your cultural background has contributed to your achievements?
One of the coolest things was being involved in the Commonwealth Games, which we hosted here on the Gold Coast back in 2018. That was pretty awesome. Having the opportunity to meet a lot of different people, especially people from overseas and with different cultural backgrounds, was a great experience.
As an Aboriginal woman, having that cultural awareness can be a pretty helpful thing – just knowing that there are other people out there with different views or beliefs or habits – it was useful during The Games. It’s also useful when I am working in the Cross-Cultural Unit of the Queensland Police. That’s a highlight for me too – I’d love to be able to do that full-time one day, because it’s one of my passions.
Another highlight is probably when you get to go to the footy as part of your job. It can be a full-on environment, so you’ve got to have your wits about you, but to me it’s more interesting than sitting at a desk doing paperwork.
I’ve gotten to meet some of my favourite footy players in the job actually. There was one time where (Rugby League player) Preston Campbell was supposed to be getting an official photo with one of my bosses, but he saw an opportunity to be a bit cheeky and pulled me into the photo too.
Luckily my boss has a sense of humour. It was awkward when it happened, but it ended up being hilarious. I would have to say that it’s the little memories like that which mean the most to me, I think.
That leads us to what might be the toughest question of all: who do you support in the State of Origin?
Yeah I cop a lot of grief about this one. I’m a Broncos supporter living in (Gold Coast) Titans territory. In the Origin I go for Queensland – no apologies for that.
Good on you – that’s community spirit in action. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us Carleen.
No worries – thanks for the chat!
To get involved in upcoming Fortem events check our Wellbeing Activities Calendar, you’ll also find mental health resources for first responders and their families in the Fortem Resource Library and via Peak Fortem. Fortem Australia also offers psychology support for eligible first responders and family members. Call 1300 33 95 94 to find out more.