Amy Taylor: Trailblazer

January 2018

Amy Taylor was the first policewoman in uniform in NSW. She joined the Police Services in 1946, after serving four years in the Women’s Army Services, including active duty in New Guinea.

Amy was one of our oldest Legatees, and a proud and active member of our Police Family. She passed away peacefully surrounded by friends and family on 28 January 2018.

In her own words (and inimitable style), here are a few highlights of Amy’s long and varied life.

"I think it all stemmed from when I was young: I learnt to dance and performed in concerts; I sang and tap danced. I was Queen of Annandale at the age of 8. When I joined the Army I was called out to be a drill instructor. I never backed away from a challenge.

I was 16 when the war broke out. I used to go to the local school on Saturday afternoons where they held classes on air raid precautions and training in case there was an invasion. They formed the Women’s Australian National Service after that. The WANS they called it. You had to be 16 years old to join, so I joined. We learnt drill, Morse code signals and first aid. 

As a result of the WANS, they formed the Australian Women’s Army Service. It seemed a natural progression so I joined the Army and was sent to Killara to do the training. I was posted to the Districts Records Office as a stenographer and typist. As the war developed it was decided that there was a role for women to go to New Guinea and replace the men so they could be moved into more active areas. Needless to say, I put my hand up. You had to be 21 years of age and I was exactly that. I was sent to have a medical and they selected me because of my typing skills.

"You had to be 16 years old to join, so I joined."

So that’s how it all happened. We got a train to Brisbane and were staged in Frazer’s Paddock. We were given a course of medicine for Malaria and had lectures on the climate in the tropics and behaving ourselves. One of the Army lecturers showed us photos of a male solider and a woman and said, You see these two, well we don’t recommend that they get together. I’ve never forgotten that.

When we left, we had a big send-off procession in the middle of Brisbane. Everyone was waving as we boarded the troop ship. When we arrived we were taken to our barracks, 71 Beauty Bum Road. They called it that after the women. I went back 20 years later and our barracks had been made into a little hotel, they showed me the sign. It was still called Beauty Bum Road.

I was placed in the Quarter Masters store and was in charge of the entertainment too. I used to get all the boys in, George Wallis Judas, a comedian, and Michael Pate. We’d get a good selection of entertainment and put on a dance. The entertainment unit would send out the band, the Islanders Concert Party they called themselves. We danced the barn dance, the gypsy tap, and all those old dances. That’s where I learnt to jive too. We met the American sailors and they taught us how to jitterbug, and boy did we jitterbug!

I was 22 years old when I came back home after being discharged from the Army. My father, a Detective Sergeant in the NSW Police Force said, “And now what are you going to do?” I said I’d open a coffee shop. He suggested I meet Lillian Armfield and join the women police. I thought, “I don’t want to be a probo!” but he assured me it was nothing like that.

There were just 15 women working in the women’s unit when I started. Gladys Johnson had been in the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force, another ex-service woman so we got on well. I worked in plain clothes for two years, usually with a couple of detectives to investigate child welfare.

“Well boys and girls, we are police women, and there are police men, but the police women don’t wear pants!”

I was given a partner after that. Beth Handler, a very good police woman. We used to go around Woolworths and Coles and look for shop lifters and the like. We had an indecent assault once at the Christmas Card Counters. It really was very objectionable. We got rid of those sorts of people. 

I used to patrol the city and when the detectives brought someone in they’d call me down to take a statement, and I worked with the men then, but when we went to the suburbs it was just Beth and I. One day there was a request that the Commissioner wanted to see us. All 15 of us women police piled into his office and he said that he’d been talking with the London police and that they thought there was a place in Australia for women in uniform, particularly directing traffic outside of schools and also lecturing to the school assemblies.

I still had my Army tunic and skirt so I took it to the commonwealth clothing place for the tailor to have a look. I asked him to do the same in a navy blue with a shirt, collar and tie and stockings. They sent us to David Jones to buy two pairs of lace up shoes as well. So that’s how it was that Gladys Johnson and I were chosen to trial the uniform for 12 months. We used to go to Sydney High School and give lectures. Gladys and I used to go in there and say, “Well boys and girls, we are police women, and there are police men, but the police women don’t wear pants!”

In the meantime I had met Bruce. He was a prosecutor down at Central which was below the police women’s office. We used to go down there when they had a line-up so we could familiarise ourselves with the faces. One day I was down there and all of a sudden this guy comes out and I had a little moment. From then on I used to go down a quarter of an hour earlier so we could sit on the stools outside and have a chat. I called him the handsome prosecutor. He asked me to go to the Police Ball with him.

When Bruce and I married we became a part of the police family even more. I had to retire when we got married which was just the way it was back then; you were only allowed to stay in the police force if you were a widow. I wasn’t too thrilled that I had to leave the job that I loved.

"I’ve never had any regrets, just funny experiences."

I really loved my job at the Police. I liked going on dawn patrol because we’d work with the boys from the vice squad, taking statements. Yes you had to learn the rules, and there were definitely rules. You had to have tact, common sense, and not overdo it by speaking up too much and putting your foot in it! I learnt so much. I still consider myself a part of the police family and army family as well. I got involved in the RSL and stayed in contact with so many people from all the networks and NSW Police Legacy too. 

I learnt a lot from my career. Now they talk about us as women making history but I was just happy I was able to do something for my country, I was able to do something for the job that I was in and I hope that it paid off.

Bruce and I had an excellent life together. He was marvellous to put up with me. I was a sort of free spirit, very independent and he supported everything I did and I supported everything he did. He retired as Assistant Commissioner. Life is definitely what you make of it."