SA Police Museum: Keith checks out police history in the Adelaide City region of South Australia

Their beat covers every square kilometre of our fair state - from the outback to the city. The South Australian Police are an everyday part of our lives and their long serving story is celebrated in a museum run by a dedicated band of volunteers from the Police Historical Society.

At the Police Museum at the Thebarton Barracks you learn that policing in South Australia goes right back to the Royal Marines who arrived on the Buffalo 175 years ago. Twenty Royal Marines disembarked with Governor Hindmarsh but it was a bit of a disaster - quite a few of them ended up in clink themselves.

Bill Prior, Police Museum: "The Marines were entitled to have a daily issue of rum and it was quite a generous issue of rum as I understand. Most of them took up the ration, therefore for many parts of the day they weren't fit to be doing their duties."

Two years later, our first permanent police officers were appointed - 10 on foot and 10 in the mounted division and a long and proud tradition of law enforcement began. The museum tells their story and includes some of the 'first' the Department has racked up. In the early days it was all a very blokey affair - but come 1915 women like Fanny Kate Cocks were playing their part.

Bill Prior, Police Museum: "South Australia was the first in the British Empire to have women police who were employed equal to their male counterparts."

That meant equal powers and equal pay but in the early days they weren't always part of the mainstream force. That changed in 1974 when they got their own uniform and became fully operational. Although, I'm not sure about how serviceable that first uniform was. The short skirt, heels and a handbag for their handgun must have had its drawbacks. A more practical uniform followed.

Another gallery in the museum houses one of the biggest collections of police badges and shoulder patches in the world. It's an impressive display - where you can take a virtual trip around the world through law enforcement emblems.

But elsewhere, there are some sobering displays - like the new memory wall honoring the 61 officers who have lost their lives in the execution of their duties. That includes the Mounted Constables who drowned while crossing the River Murray in 1847. And the 3 who were lost at sea while escorting prisoners to Van Diemen's Land in 1850.

The museum charts the ever-changing role of policing during the force's 172 years.

Kevin Beare, Police Museum: "When I joined (the force) in the early part of the 1960s there were two drugs on the streets of Adelaide - LSD and marijuana. As a result the department formed a Police Drug Squad on the 19th of March, 1989."

Kevin was a policeman for 35 years and he tells us that these days heroin, cocaine and amphetamines are the scourge of the streets and he's set up a chilling display to prove it.

In a big state like South Australia, transport has always played a big part in policing and officers have tried them all. You don't need to be a petrol head to enjoy the display in the museum garage. Here, the Chrysler Royal and FJ Holden take pride of place next to the more familiar Commodores.

Bill Prior, Police Museum: "I think we had 6 of these vehicles. They were used as highway patrol vehicles. If you speak to some of the people who drove them they were difficult to drive on the highway.

"I guess the interesting thing about the FJ Holden is it was black. As I understand it they were also the first vehicles the police department bought (in bulk) I think we bought 10 or them originally and they were plain black Holdens. It's the first time we'd ever had a uniform vehicle. Police vehicles to this stage, as I understand were a collection of vehicles that could be obtained from wherever and whenever and no uniformity about them."

From those shaky beginnings with the Marines on the Buffalo through the troopers of the 1850s to the modern law enforcement agency it is today, the story of the SA Police is a fascinating one. And it's all told at the South Australian Police Museum in the Police Barracks on Gaol Road Thebarton. It's open by appointment - to make a time call 8207 4099. More ?'s email

South Australia Police Museum
Police Barracks
1 Gaol Rd
Open by appointment
Ph 8207 4099

Published 21st August 2011

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