William Leonard ESPIE
aka Bill, ‘Buckshot’, ‘The Wasp’
New South Wales Police Force
Regd. # 10092
Rank: Probationary Constable – 14 September 1961
1st Class Constable – appointed 1 April 1967
Sergeant 3rd Class – appointed 1 February 1978
Sergeant 2nd Class – 1984 ( Central Police Station )
Sergeant 1st Class – 9 August 1986
Chief Inspector – February 1989 ( Fairfield & Cabramatta )
Chief Inspector – Patrol Commander ( Cabramatta ) until Optional Retirement in April 1991
Stations: Central ( No. 1 Division ), Darlinghurst ( No. 3 Division ) to Liverpool ( 22 Division ) in November 1963, Merrylands ( 26 Division ), Cabramatta, Fairfield, Cabramatta ( 34 Division )
Service: From ? ? 1960? to ? April 1991 = 31? years of Service
Awards: Queen’s commendation for Brave Conduct – granted 19 October 1965 ( rescue of two people from their burning vehicles after a collision – whilst standing in fuel )
Commissioner’s Commendation – rescue – 1965 ( rescue of two people from their burning vehicles after a collision – whilst standing in fuel )
Peter Mitchell Award, a perpetual trophy, for selfless & brave conduct – 1965 ( as above )
George Lewis Trophy “for the most courageous act by a member of the NSW Police Force in 1965” ( as above )
Australian Defence Medal
Commissioner’s Commendation – for pursuing & arresting an armed prison escapee – 1971
Commissioner’s Commendation – pursuit and arrest of an offender of a fatal shooting at Cabramatta – 1977
National Medal – granted 11 December 1980
1st Clasp to National Medal – granted 7 November 1988
Australian National police Service Medal
Born: 25 June 1935
Died on: 22 September 2011
Funeral date: Wednesday 28 September 2011 @ 10.30am
Funeral location: SOUTH CHAPEL, ROOKWOOD CREMATORIUM, ROOKWOOD
Buried at: Cremated
Memorial location 1: NSW Police Academy, Goulburn
Memorial 1 description: Framed picture & literature in relation to Bill’s Service
Memorial date: 29 October 2015 @ 1pm
Memorial location 2: Hartley St School Museum, 39 Hartley St, Alice Springs, N.T.
Memorial 2 description: Plaque
Memorial date: 29 July 2017
BILL is NOT mentioned on the Police Wall of Remembrance * NOT JOB RELATED
WEDNESDAY 28 SEPTEMBER 2011
CREMATION CEREMONY FOR RETIRED CHIEF INSPECTOR WILLIAM ‘BILL’ LEONARD ESPIE. Born 250635 – 220911
SERVICE AT THE SOUTH CHAPEL, ROOKWOOD CREMATORIUM, ROOKWOOD, 10.30AM.
RETIRED POLICE COMMISSIONER KEN MORONEY GIVING THE EULOGY.
Bastion of culture and community October 15, 2011.
Bill Espie was one of several talented Aboriginal men born in the Northern Territory in the mid- to late 1930s who went on to make, each in his own way, his mark on Australia and to contribute to the progress of his people. Espie was the first, destined for an exemplary police career in which he became the highest-ranking police officer of Aboriginal descent in all the Australian police forces. He was followed by Charlie Perkins, who became a famous activist; Professor Gordon Briscoe, an academic and activist for his people; the artist John Moriarty; Vince Copley, chairman of Indigenous Cricket; and Brian Butler, in Aboriginal aged care.
William Leonard Espie was born in Alice Springs on June 25, 1935, one of seven children to a mixed-race Arunta woman, Edith Espie, who was part of the stolen generation, and Victor Cook, a European who had moved from South Australia to work in Alice Springs as a labourer.
Espie’s sister Ellen said the family lived in a good house in Alice Springs and their parents did their best for them. Like Perkins and Briscoe and several others, Espie came under the benign influence of an Anglican priest, Father Percy Smith, who arranged for the boys to go to St Francis House at Semaphore in Adelaide, an indigenous boys’ home.
Espie, known then as Buckshot by the boys, went to school in Port Adelaide and showed himself to be an outstanding tennis player, facing at one time Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall. He completed his Intermediate Certificate, then trained as a maintenance fitter.
In 1955, he joined the Australian Army, became a sapper in the engineers and was appointed a field engineer. He served at Maralinga during the atomic testing. Along the way, he married Irene Zachary and served in the army until 1961. At 26, Espie decided to go to Sydney. He entered the NSW Police Force as a recruit and did his training at the Redfern academy, where he was noted as ”a good all-rounder”.
He became a probationary constable on September 18, 1961. Assigned for 12 months to Darlinghurst, he experienced a profound culture shock – the place could have not been more different from Alice Springs – but he managed the situation and was then transferred to Liverpool.
During the following 16 years, he was to serve there, at Merrylands and Cabramatta.
Espie quickly came to notice for his discipline and attitude to his work. Former police commissioner Ken Moroney said: ”It was in these early formative days of his career that Bill deservedly earned the respect not only of his senior officers and peers but, as important, of the community in which he worked. Long before the words ‘community-based policing’ became the fashion of the day, Bill Espie’s life skills and worldly experiences had seen him well versed in the importance of effectively communicating with people at all levels. What you saw was what you got and there were no in-betweens. You knew exactly that he meant what he said and he said what he meant.”
What Espie did in practical terms did not escape official notice either. In March 1965, he went to the scene of a collision and found both vehicles burning fiercely. Without hesitation, he went in and rescued a trapped man from each of the burning cars. For that, he earned a Commissioner’s Commendation and the Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct.
Commissioner Norman Allen also awarded him the Peter Mitchell Award, a perpetual trophy, to recognise his selfless and brave conduct. On top of that, he received the George Lewis Trophy ”for the most courageous act by a member of the NSW Police Force in 1965”.
In 1971, he received another Commissioner’s Commendation for pursuing and arresting an armed prison escapee.
A further Commissioner’s Commendation came in 1977 when he received a report of a man leaving a crime scene following a fatal shooting at Cabramatta. He was able to secure the crime scene and pursue the man, whom he arrested. The man was charged with murder and prosecuted.
In December 1980, Espie was awarded the National Medal for service and was later awarded the First Clasp of the National Medal.
Transferred to Central Police Station in the city, he became a sergeant second class in 1984 and sergeant first class in 1986. Arranging a transfer back to Fairfield, he continued performing well and, in February 1989, became a chief inspector. He served as patrol commander at Cabramatta until his retirement in April 1991.
Bill Espie is survived by his long-term partner, Maureen Ola, brothers Robert and Linton, sisters Ellen and Peg, his children Marita, William junior, Bettina and John, 11 grandchildren, great grand-daughter Sienna and nephews and nieces.
Bill Espie: Police hero from Alice Springs
By JOHN P McD SMITH
Bill Espie, born in Alice Springs in 1935, holds the unique distinction of being the highest-ranking Aboriginal police officer in any Australian police force.
In March 1965 he attended a two vehicle collision with both vehicles on fire.
He rescued a man from each burning car, putting his own life at distinct risk.
For this act of bravery Bill was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct as well as the Commissioner’s Commendation.
Bill’s mother Edie Espie was one of a group of Aboriginal women in Alice Springs who wanted their children to have a better chance in life.
Others like her were Hetti Perkins, Dido Cooper, Tilly Tilmouth, Melva Palmer and Millie Woodford who accepted assistance from Father Percy Smith to help further the education of their children at St Francis’ House in Adelaide.
All these mothers had one thing in common, and that was their determination to do the best for their children. They were strong women.
Bill Espie’s nickname was “Buckshot” or “The Wasp”. All the Aboriginal boys who lived at St Francis’ House had nicknames.
Peter Tilmouth was called “Truck” because every Saturday he would go with the local greengrocer doing deliveries in his truck.
David Woodford was known as “Woody”.
This is Bill Espie’s account of his life. He passed away on September 22, 2011.
John P McD Smith
This story involves three components, St Francis House, Father Smith and Mrs Smith and me.
The identity of “me” is not important as “me” could well have been any number of young Aboriginal children who grew up in Alice Springs in the thirties.
My Aboriginal mother, through no fault of her own, could not have raised me in the way that she would have wished, due mainly to economic and social barriers.
Fancy phrases of course, but simply meaning being poor and not being fully accepted in the community.
My mother had a choice; bring me up herself in an environment which offered no more than a twenty percent chance of being successful, or to let me grow up under the watchful eye of Father Smith who was the first resident Anglican priest in Alice Springs in 1933.
No doubt at great pain my loving mother chose the latter.
After spending a few years at St John’s Hostel in Alice Springs, I travelled with five other young Aboriginal boys to St Francis’ House a Semaphore.
This was to be my home for the next seven or eight years, again for most of the time under the care of Father and Mrs Smith.
It was to become my fortress, my haven against an outside community who did not fully accept persons of Aboriginal descent.
It was also to become a place where friendships would flourish, ambitions take shape and my character develop. It was a place where I would gain an education so that I may at least obtain future employment.
Looking back one would ask, how? How could a big rambling one-hundred-year-old house containing some twenty or so young Aboriginals, who came from far and wide, possibly help me in achieving my goals?
I expect the logical answer would have been: “I really don’t know.”
Perhaps calling this beautiful old house “St Francis’ House” might help in some way, but we all know that names alone will not press the magic button. The next obvious question was of course: “Well, what was it then that made this house so successful?” A place where I would achieve some of my ambitions.
The accolades must of course go in the main to Father and Mrs Smith who brought about the concept of St Francis’ House by an overwhelming desire to help young Aboriginal children take their place amongst the general community with pride and qualifications to reach attainable goals both in the present and future.
Their private lives were non-existent due of course to their dedication in what they were doing was justified and correct. It was this dedication and commitment that made St Francis’ House a success.
Of course there were other factors that must be considered when judging the overall effectiveness of St Francis’ House.
Those factors were “the boys”, the occupants or to be more explicit the Aboriginal boys themselves.
The same boys who slept three, four, five in a room; and if it was a ghost story night or someone had imagined seeing the ghost of Captain Hart (the original owner) wandering the halls prior to bedtime, then it was six to a bed – not unreasonable I would think!
These same boys depended on each other for guidance, support, company; but most of all I think each and every one craved for that family environment, and because of the actions of Father and Mrs Smith it was achieved.
The individual personalities of each of the boys also contributed towards the overall aura of the house. Their continuing effort to “fit in” within the community and their sense of humour in day to day activities made life unique and gave the house a “soul”.
Even though the function of this house has long since gone one would still hope the “soul” still haunts the corridors, hallways and rooms we affectionately remember as St Francis House … who knows?
John P McD Smith picks up the story.
After completing his Intermediate Certificate at Le Fevre Boys High School Bill Espie trained as a maintenance fitter. For a short time he returned to Alice Springs to be with his family, but he soon realised that there wasn’t much of an employment future for him there.
In 1955 he joined the Australian Army and was appointed a field engineer.
He served at Maralinga. The world was opening up to him.
After his marriage to Irene Zachary, Bill decided to go to Sydney where he was accepted into the NSW Police Force.
He trained at the Redfern academy becoming a probationary constable in 1961. During his career Bill served at Darlinghurst, Liverpool, Merrylands and Cabramatta.
He became an effective communicator as a police officer and was very good at dealing with different types of people and situations.
After rescuing the two men Bill merely said: “There wasn’t time to think, I just had to get the men out.” They were saved from a firey death.
His commendations, which also included the Peter Mitchell Award, in 1971 Bill received another Commissioner’s Commendation for pursuing and arresting an armed escapee.
Towards the end of his career Bill was awarded the National Medal for meritorious service to which later was added the First Clasp.
By 1986 Bill was a sergeant first class. Then in 1989 he became a Chief Inspector and served as patrol commander at Cabramatta until his retirement.
He deeply appreciated the chance he was given in life, which was manifested by his exemplary service. Much of his memorabilia is on perpetual display at the NSW Police Academy at Goulburn. He passed away in September 2011.
John P McD Smith is the son of Father Percy Smith (1903-82), first resident Anglican priest in Alice Springs in 1933. John has written his father’s biography, “The Flower in the Desert.”]
Report of the Police Department for 1965
Bill Espie was born in Alice Springs. He was in the Army for six years and remained in Sydney upon completing his service. He joined the Police Force in 1961.
|Interviewed by Shirley McLeod 5th September 2005|
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.
The Canberra Times ( ACT ) Thursday 21 October 1965 p8 of 36
Award for bravery
Constable William Leonard Espie has been awarded the Queen’s Commendation Medal for brave conduct. He rescued two men
trapped in burning vehicles after a motor accident earlier this year.