By Tracey Matthies
LONG-TIME Korumburra Police Sergeant Clive Smith was hoping to shut the door quietly this week on a 45-year career.
“I just wanted to slip out the back with no hoo ha or fanfare,” the local who has spent 20 years as officer in charge at the Bridge Street station said.
Instead, Sergeant Smith sat down with the Sentinel-Times to reflect on a journey, inspired by an uncle and a Scout leader, that saw him outwit a trainee police dog handler, deal with fatalities on the docks, get punished for having a moustache that was too long, and even appear on screen in a feature film about the Gallipoli landing.
However, the crowning glory in his long career, has been the 20-year stint as officer in charge of his hometown station.
Growing up in Korumburra, Clive Smith completed year 11 at the Leongatha Technical School before a teacher suggested he wasn’t cut out for the academic grind of year 12 and “maybe you should find yourself a job”.
“At the time I had an uncle in the police force, he was a detective at Warragul, and a local Scout leader had been a policeman in Korumburra,” Clive recalled.
“Over the years they had a little bit of an influence as to why I thought the police force might be a good occupation – especially when the teacher says form six, or year 12, is probably not for you.
“If it wasn’t for the force, I probably would have been a farm machinery mechanic or an apprentice for my father but I thought it was a better option to go elsewhere.”
And so, on February 3, 1975, Clive joined the force as a police cadet.
He recalled there were different sides to the cadets – education, discipline, PT, and law. Cadets were sent to observe at police stations once a week and every now and then they might get out on the road even though they weren’t sworn members.
Initially, he had to stay at the YMCA in South Melbourne although later that year the academy was moved to the old Savoy Plaza in Spencer Street.
Cadets were called on to “be dummies for dog training” when the police dog squad was resurrected in 1976, hiding imitation firearms and knives for the dogs and their handlers to find.
“I climbed this tree and I was watching the dog handler with the dog being trained and he was finding all the stuff that I’d left behind and then he got to the tree where I was right up the top, me being a 16-and-a-half-year-old,” Clive said.
“The dog knew I was up there but the handler couldn’t see me. The dog was climbing the tree but the handler was pulling him back down.”
Clive was among Victorian police cadets used as extras when a NSW film company shot Break of Day in Victoria.
“One minute we were landing in sailboats onto the beach at Portsea then in the next shot you’d be up in the sand dunes shooting back down, being of the Turks,” the Sergeant recalled with a laugh. He spotted himself on screen acting as a pallbearer in one scene.
The teenage cadet moved onto the Police Academy at Waverley in 1976 before going out onto the streets as a constable at City West.
“Night shifts were very quiet because there were not many people living in the city in those days. We’d patrol around the parks where there were homeless people living and we’d help out trying to get them into accommodation with the Salvation Army.”
The young constable was soon transferred back to Russell Street and, as a single lad from the country, he had to live in the police barracks where he came under the watchful eye of the barracks sergeant, VFL/AFL great Allan Jeans.
“He used to make sure we looked spick and span, and he said to me on a couple of occasions my moustache was a bit too long,” Clive said.
“So, I cut it but he didn’t think I did a good enough job, so I was put on Parliament House duties for a night shift. That was a punishment – there was nothing happening – you just had to walk around on security by yourself.”
More postings followed at the Victoria Docks and St Kilda before Clive was sent to Orbost on temporary relieving duties.
In his words, he “liked the taste of country air in my lungs again” and in 1981 he secured a transfer to Warragul.
He built a home in Korumburra in 1985 where he joined the traffic operations group for four years before deciding to pursue promotion.
After a stint in general duties at Wonthaggi and passing his sergeant’s exam, Clive took promotion to Morwell for a couple of years, returned to Warragul and spent some time relieving to South Gippsland at Korumburra, Leongatha and Inverloch.
“That gave me the grounding to get the job at Korumburra when it came up 20 years ago,” he said.
“It’s been a great station to work at. The troops that I’ve had over the years have been good to get along with, all decent people, and they’ve had the right attitude about policing.
“You need to be fair and treat people how you want to be treated and I feel that’s helped me in the community. I believe that I’ve got a lot of respect from the people.”
Clive said crime levels in Korumburra were reasonably low although “we have the same as any other town. We have our issues with drugs, we have family violence, we deal with mental health issues.”
He praised the relationship between local police and other emergency services who were always there to support each other.
Asked what he was most proud of in his long career, Clive thought for a moment before saying: “I like helping people in need. Our job is a part of that, enforcing the law and that sort of thing, but when you can help someone, that’s probably the best aspect of being a policeman.”
The decision to retire almost caught Clive by surprise. He was planning to stay on for a bit longer after his wife retired as the branch manager of the ANZ bank in Foster.
“A few weeks ago, up at the fires, my 45 years had come up on that day. I called into the Orbost police station and put in my end of service report and thought, yeah, I’ll go now. So, my wife’s retired and I may as well head off at the same time,” he said.
The couple bought a caravan last year and plan to head north and up into the Kimberleys with friends in the coming months.
However, Korumburra will always be home.
“The Korumburra community, they’re a great bunch of people. I’ve got no plans to move away from Korumburra, ‘cause I love the town, the people are great. It’s a safe town with no major issues.
“I’ll miss the camaraderie with the troops. A lot of the jobs you attend are satisfying but I believe on the road it’s a younger man’s job. It’s not getting any easier – the ice epidemic, people are paranoid and family violence is a big thing.
“I guess I’ve just had enough of dealing with other people’s issues, really.”
According to a well-placed source, Sergeant Clive Smith’s colleagues are not going to let him slip quietly into retirement without some of that hoo ha and fanfare he was hoping to avoid.