Meet Bronwyn Keighley-Gerardy. She was just 23 when she joined the WA Police Force in October 1969.
“I had to do a Home Nursing course in my own time. That should tell you something about where the focus of women in policing was in the early days. I worked in the Women Police offices in Perth, Fremantle and did relief duties in Bunbury.
Women in policing in the 70’s was plain clothes, hats and gloves, blue Cortina, old Imperial typewriters, polishing the desks and disinfecting telephones on a Saturday morning shift, assisting detectives with female offenders, promotion by seniority, equal pay but hardly equal work and resigning if you got married. Police work for women was very much a reflection of the views and attitudes of society at that time.”
Bronwyn remembers her first arrest. She was on afternoon patrol and stopped a man driving erratically in South Perth. With the help of the South Perth Police, the driver was given a sobriety test, taken to the East Perth Lockup and charged with DUI. Her male colleagues helped her complete the paperwork and the arrest brief for court. “I was feeling rather pleased with myself until the next morning when I had to front my superintendent. She told me in no uncertain terms that Women Police didn’t arrest drunk drivers. Well, I just did and as far as I was concerned I was doing my duty as a police officer. Afterwards, I received several phone calls from male officers who congratulated me and said the women police should do more actual policing.”
Bronwyn always saw herself as a police officer, not a woman police officer. She set her sights on becoming a detective even though women detectives were unheard of at that time. Bronwyn applied several times to join the Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB). “In response to my first application, the then Commissioner advised me that he had checked the Routine Orders and could not find a reason why women could not be detectives, but he was not prepared to make an exception for me!”
In 1975, Bronwyn was finally appointed as a detective, along with Anna Schaper, and were the first female detectives in the State. She worked in general crime, investigated sex offences and then moved to the Fraud Squad.
In 1980, Bronwyn returned to uniform duties at Central Police Station and then as a sergeant in Prosecuting Branch and at City Police Station. She studied law at UWA and worked full-time doing shift work to complete her studies. After graduating, she was appointed Officer-In-Charge of the Law Reform Unit, which became Legal Services, and later was commissioned as a superintendent and worked in the Personnel Branch and Administration at Police Headquarters.
Among other things Bronwyn represented WA on the Police Commissioners Policy Advisory Group, which provided Australian Police Commissioners with policy advice and direction, and also spent time working with the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
“What I enjoyed most about policing in the early days was the variety. No two days were the same and you never knew from day to day what you would be doing. However, things were different then. I don't think the women today would believe half of things that we had to put up with. There was no equal opportunity legislation; some men still thought women should be at home and not on the frontline. There were some enlightened officers but they were few and far between. You couldn't be as good as the men, you had to be better. Times have changed, thankfully, and women in policing today have so many doors open to them. In my day, I had to kick them open!”
Bronwyn resigned in 1993 to take on the position of WA Freedom of Information (FOI) Commissioner and remained in that position for 10 years until her retirement in 2003. “This appointment offered me new challenges as I was the first FOI Commissioner in the State.”
In 1983, Bronwyn married Jock Fraser, General Secretary of the Police Union. Today, they are still happily married and both enjoying retirement.