Sunday Examiner reporter CARLY DOLAN talks to Police Department deputy secretary DONNA ADAMS ahead of the women's forum in Launceston
Carly Dolan: What made you decide to become a police officer?
Donna Adams: I did work experience with Tasmania Police. I enrolled in university at the end of grade 12 to do PE teaching, but I also went through policing recruitment. I got letters of acceptance for both and decided to do policing - it was a little bit more diverse and exciting than studying for four years, and I was also going to get paid to study.
CD:Where did you grow up?
DA: I went to nine schools when grew up. My dad was a manager for Coles supermarket, so we travelled a lot around Tasmania and Victoria. I was in Devonport from grade 6 to grade 8, at Our Lady of Lourdes and St Brendan-Shaw College. And in the end, I did my grade 11 and 12 back in Hobart.
CD: Was it difficult as a woman to get into the police force?
DA: There was a height restriction and a weight restriction on female applicants, and there were also some other components - an obstacle course, which we don’t have now. One of those was to drag a 90-kilogram dummy around the obstacle course to simulate saving someone in a building.
CD: Were there many female officers when you started?
DA: There were six in my course of 20. It really wasn’t until the last eight years that we’ve really started to increase the numbers to nearly 50 per cent.
CD: You’ve achieved a number of firsts as a woman during your career. Can you take me through those?
DA: I was the first female commander promoted. Then in 2011, I was the first female to be promoted to be promoted to assistant commissioner. Winning the Telstra Business Woman of the Year for Tasmania was a humbling experience, and something I’m really proud of, and then to go on and win the national innovation award jointly with another lady from NSW was also a highlight in my career. Being in the role of deputy secretary as the first female, in our department anyway, is also a new challenge.
CD: The Port Arthur massacre was a fairly significant investigation during your career. What was that like?
DA: I was a detective at time at Bellerive and a colleague and I were on call and working on the Sunday that it happened. We were called down there in the afternoon and we got back home on the Wednesday. We spent seven days down there where we were responsible for coordinating the crime scene examinations.
One thing I recall is when we were working on one of the crime scenes and there were explosions and gunfire, which was happening only a couple of kilometres away from us when police were actually arresting Martin Bryant. So, trying to do your job in that circumstance, not knowing what was going on was certainly a bit scary.
CD: What was it like dealing with something so traumatic and dealing with people that had experienced it?
DA: You had to get on and do your job. You were there because you had specialist skills, so that was basically your focus, but that’s not to say. There were a lot of my colleagues, certainly older colleagues who had families were visibly affected and emotionally upset by what we saw. It was also just a surreal time. It was autumn, the days were just clear skies, no cloud, it was just silent and people were going about, processing the crime scenes. I haven’t seen anything else like it, to be honest.
CD: What advice do you have for young Tasmanian women?
DA: Take a risk. When the crack of opportunity, or that door or window of opportunity opens, even though it’s only a small crack, be prepared to put your hand up and take that risk.
CD: Who’s been your biggest inspiration?
DA: Our commissioner is one for me. I’ve had the privilege of working with Darren [Hine] for about 10 years now and he is a daily inspiration in terms of shaping my career in the advice he’s given me. My mum is another one. She passed away in 2014 from breast cancer. Just to watch mum in the way she encouraged us. Having to travel around and reestablish ourselves, the way mum did that, connecting with new school communities and building those relationships is a real key takeaway that I learnt from her, in that you really do need to establish yourself and have strong networks.
CD: What goals are you working towards next?
DA: To continue to be as good a person as I can and to always be able to make a difference. The people that I’ve got on my team - our role is to support the frontline police, firefighters and our SES volunteers and so everyday, we come to work trying to find a better level of support so that they can actually do their jobs in supporting the community.
CD: Do you think women’s rights have improved in Tasmania?
DA: Yes, but there’s always more we can do and I think most women just want to be judged on their merits and not be given preferential treatment, but certainly not being discriminated against as well when their applications are being assessed.
As women, we often place a barrier ourselves on our potential, and it’s one of my roles, and certainly the other women that will be at the forum, to basically challenge our younger counterparts that that’s not the case. Everything’s possible.
As women, we often place a barrier ourselves on our potential, and it’s one of my roles, and certainly the other women that will be at the forum, to basically challenge our younger counterparts that that’s not the case. Everything’s possible.Police Department deputy secretary Donna Adams