Shirley McLeod: Good morning Bill.
Bill Espie: Good morning Shirley.
Thank you very much for giving us your valuable time.
Bill Espie: My pleasure.
Shirley McLeod: First of all I'd like to ask you, what's your full name?
Bill Espie: My full name is William Leonard Espie, E-S-P-I-E.
Shirley McLeod: And what suburb do you live in?
Bill Espie: I live in Croydon.
Shirley McLeod: Croydon, right. I'll just go a little bit into your early life. I see here that you were born in Alice Springs, were you?
Bill Espie: Yeah I was, yes. I was born, strange as it may seem, in a tent outside the Alice Springs hospital back in 1935.
Shirley McLeod: And what were your parents doing there?
Bill Espie: Mum was a general hand, a cook, she had many jobs. When she grew up there as a young girl, there was about a hundred people in Alice Springs and that was about it. So my father was a grader driver in the bush.
Shirley McLeod: Right. Now, you went to Alice Springs Primary School and then you went to La Favure Tech College, that's in Alice Springs is it?
Bill Espie: No, the Tech College is in Adelaide. The schooling in Alice Springs was very limited when I was growing up. You only had a primary school, no high school.
Shirley McLeod: And what, you would have gone to it at the age of 15 or 14?
Bill Espie: 15, 16... 15.
Shirley McLeod: And what did you do at Tech?
Bill Espie: It was a different type of Tech as they know now. It was just a high school but they called it a Technical College.
Shirley McLeod: Well we had some in Sydney, Technical College. We had North Sydney Technical, Boys Technical High School I think it was called.
Bill Espie: Usually you had to get your intermediate at those schools.
Shirley McLeod: Yes. So you did that in Adelaide?
Bill Espie: Did that in Adelaide.
Shirley McLeod: And you stayed there and you got the equivalent to your intermediate certificate?
Bill Espie: Yes.
Shirley McLeod: And what did you do after that?
Bill Espie: Well then I went back to Alice, worked as a fitter in the Department of Roads for four years prior to joining the Army.
Shirley McLeod: And where did you join up in the Army?
Bill Espie: I joined in Adelaide. So I went from stayed in Adelaide for a couple of years and then I was fortunate enough to go to Maralinga where the atom bomb tests and came back to Sydney and stayed here for the rest of my six years.
Shirley McLeod: Right. What sort of work were you doing in the Army?
Bill Espie: I was in the engineers. So it's like an Engineering Corp that I was in.
Shirley McLeod: All right, well we'll get to the Police Force. Why did you decide to join Police Force?
Bill Espie: Again, it was just a change of direction. Six years in the army seemed to be long enough for me. And it wasn't quite what I wanted so someone suggested to me why don't you join the Police Force, well, I will. So I joined the police and never regretted it.
Shirley McLeod: Where did you join up?
Bill Espie: At Bourke Street in the City.
Shirley McLeod: Is that where the Mounted Police are now?
Bill Espie: Yes.
Shirley McLeod: I've been there a couple of times. And you did your training there didn't you in those days?
Bill Espie: Yes, I done six weeks. I was lucky to get in actually because when I, when I came to the office, the sergeant that was behind said to me, hop up on the scales. I was three pound light. And he says, we can't take you. And I said, well I'm fit enough, I just left the Army. He said, no you gotta have the right weight. but he said, I'll tell you what you do. He said, come back and see me at 3 o'clock, this was obviously in the morning, it was in morning. Come back and see me, but in the meantime go down to that fruit shop down in Bourke Street and eat 20 bananas. This is a true story. Eat 20 of bananas, and he said, then go to a tap and a drink as much water as you can until you start to be sick. I thought he was joking. He said, do it if you want to join the Police Force. So I did, I ate 20 bananas, this was over about a two-hour period. Drank so much water out of this tap, I was bloated, looked like I was pregnant, went back and seen the sergeant and I tipped the scales at three and a quarter pound. He said, you're in.
So and the bananas (.. unclear ..) with me for a fortnight.
Shirley McLeod: Oh dear. So you did your training and Bourke Street.
Bill Espie: Bourke Street.
Shirley McLeod: And how long were you training there?
Bill Espie: Well in those days it was six weeks initial training and then one day a week for a year. So that's the way they used to do it back in 61.
Shirley McLeod: And the initial training was also shooting?
Bill Espie: You're shooting, and law
Shirley McLeod: Hmm. And typing?
Bill Espie: And typing down at Harris Street in the Ultimo, typing. With your fingers underneath a cover that you couldn't see and couldn't cheat. But they didn't want much, only wanted can't remember now but it was some paltry amount of 20 words a minute or something like that.
Shirley McLeod: You've done your training, where was your first posting?
Bill Espie: Darlinghurst. I spent two years at Darlinghurst initially.
Shirley McLeod: Was that a culture shock to somebody from ?
Bill Espie: That was a, well I was going to say terrible culture shock, but it wasn't, it was an interesting culture shock. Being smothered in Alice Springs in the quietness of the bush and then hitting Darlinghurst when Darlinghurst was Darlinghurst it was a shock but a nice one. For me it was interesting.
Shirley McLeod: Where was the Police station in Darlinghurst?
Bill Espie: Right opposite the Court of Sessions Court in Taylor Square.
Shirley McLeod: All right. Cabramatta. How did feel, the first time you came to Cabramatta, you've come from Fairfield anyway so you knew it fairly well. Cabramatta didn't have such a bad name in those days did it?
Bill Espie: No, I think no. It had a, you know, it was just a normal suburb. Policing wise it was just a normal suburb. Because when I first came there were a lot of nationalities, English, Spanish you know. They had a big in Aleck Street Cabramatta, they had a big migrant hostel where there was quite a number of nationalities living there.
Shirley McLeod: They were a mixed nationality then, were they? What year would that have been about 57?
Bill Espie: That was in 65, 63-65. There must have been 10, 12 nationalities living in the hostel. They had the old army huts for accommodation.
Shirley McLeod: Did you have problems there, did the police, were the police called in there very often?
Bill Espie: Strange as it may seem, no. No, it was well run. The people were intermingling with one another. Occasionally you'd get a fight caused by different nationalities, but very rare, very rare.
Shirley McLeod: But Cabramatta was, in later years became very much different and you were here working at the time that the south-east Asian migrants came in here.
Bill Espie: No I was here for... didn't... in the last three years of my working with the police, that's when they were here in Cabramatta. Say from I didn't take too much notice of it because I wasn't, until I became the officer in charge, I wasn't sort of really aware of the extent that we had. So that was in 19... say, 1987, 88. It was starting to become noticeable that it was gonna be an Asian suburb so to speak.
Shirley McLeod: How did that affect you?
Bill Espie: I don't think it really affected me that much because we, we didn't get an over problem for the first couple of years. There were minor skirmishes, minor problems that could be solved there and then on the spot. Didn't hit the news as much as it did when the drugs were involved in Cabramatta. So we hardly ever hit the newspapers for the first two or three years that I knew. And then all of a sudden it started to change. That's when them drugs started to come in and I was lucky enough you know, I retired prior to that occurring.
I was at Cabramatta when we only had a little call box you know, a little seven by seven (feet) box.
Shirley McLeod: Where was that?
Bill Espie: There were four of us stationed.
Shirley McLeod: There was one at Fairfield like that before the police station was built. There was one here at Cabramatta too?
Bill Espie: Yes. Cos when I first came in 63, you might know one the people you've interviewed, Baz Lawler he was there a (.. unclear ..)..
I haven't interviewed him yet, I'm going to.
Bill Espie: And, it was a little call box, seven by seven (feet). And when it rained you'd get wet, it would come in underneath the floorboards, you know. We were in that for about two or three years. But there was only four of us then, that was in 63 to about 70, then the police started to come and things started to improve. The more police came the more improvements we had.
Shirley McLeod: Have you had, I suppose you've had some very funny incidents over your many years as a policeman. Can you remember anything specifically?
Bill Espie: Oh yes.
You don't have to mention names if you don't want to, just incidents.
Bill Espie: I think the funniest episode was I was on my way to work when I lived in Liverpool and coming to the intersection, this car was on my right and I noticed two people sitting in the car with ski masks on. And being very astute I thought, well that's funny, it's hot (laughs). So, they had, they were both holding what appeared to be shot guns and I stopped to give way to em, because I couldn't believe my eyes. This was about 10 to 3 (2:50pm) in the afternoon, going to work, afternoon shift. So they turned the corner and stopped a hundred yards up the road outside the Post Office and they both bounded out and sure enough, they both had shot guns. So, I had an old car, an old the Gemini that could hardly run and it was famous around the police and they all knew it was mine. So I stopped just behind this car containing the crooks, so to speak and I said, I'll nab thee when you come out of the Post Office. But I had another bad habit of leaving my gun at home and I realised when I stopped my car and took position behind my car, I didn't have a gun. So I said, I'm not going to be a fool, I'll race across the street and ring for the police to come. By this time they'd come out of the Post Office with bags. So I got... raced back to my car, they had an old car as well and they couldn't start it.
Shirley McLeod: You hadn't fixed it?
Bill Espie: No, but they couldn't start their car. Their car was an old bomb too. You know, real brainy armed robbers. So I said, I'll have thee now. Then their car roared into life, so I got back into my car, I said, I'll follow you. My car wouldn't start because it was a bomb.Shirley McLeod: Sounds like comic capers.
Bill Espie: Comic capers. And finally it kicked over, their car kicked over, they put it into gear and somersaulted, you know how you jack-knife down the street? And here are these two crooks getting away from me, jack-knifing down the street. I'm in my car jack-knifing after them, we must have done it at no more than 10 kilometres an hour. And in the end my car just blew just stopped. The engine blew it was so old. They went down the street getting away from me and when they got to the corner they put the old forefinger up into the sky towards me and turned the corner. I was more insulted by the actions of the finger than the robbing.
Shirley McLeod: And you lost them?
Bill Espie: That was about the funniest thing.
Shirley McLeod: Did you ever catch them?
Bill Espie: Never did.
© Fairfield City Council