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Raymond Wells (Ray) Whitrod (1915–2003)

by John Farquharson

When a prominent Jockey Club official in Adelaide sought the dropping of a charge against his daughter for under-age betting at the Totalisator, the police sergeant he approached asked who the reporting constable was. When the reply,"Whitrod", came, the sergeant's response was, "Forget it".

For Ray Whitrod, who has died in Adelaide aged 88, was one of that rare breed — an honest cop who could not be bought. And that thread remained a constant throughout a police career spanning some 42 years, which was studded with quite a few "firsts", offset by a share of disappointments and frustrations.

Much more than a simple cop, in his day, Whitrod was probably the most highly educated police officer in Australia. As such, he was the first to break the Australian tradition that academia and the police only provided quite separate careers. His other "firsts" were being the only Australian Police Commissioner, so far, to head a territorial, state and Commonwealth force; the only Australian policeman to be awarded the Queen's Gold Medal and the Gold Medal of the Australian Institute of Public Administration; and the only commissioner made a companion of the Order of Australia (AC).

His was the chronicle of a comparatively humble man who, as a law-enforcement officer, had a dedication to justice and a dream of corruption-free police forces. That vision grew out of his formative years as a young detective in Adelaide and from an experience over the use of money as a 20-year-old Scout leader. He wrote in his memoirs (Before I Sleep, University of Queensland Press, 2001) how he took money without consent from a Scout fund to make up a short fall in his fee to attend a World Scout Jamboree in Victoria. He owned up to the person who had entrusted the money to him who covered for him until he was able to replace the missing funds. "I learnt a very hard lesson which has remained with me ever since", he wrote.

That background was the key to his approach to policing and of the seven hard years he put in as Commissioner of the Queensland Police Force (1970-76) and his fight to eradicate entrenched corruption. It also explained his resignation as Commissioner over the promotion to Assistant Commissioner of Terry Lewis, then an obscure Inspector in Charleville. For Whitrod had long fingered Lewis as corrupt. He also knew that the appointment of Lewis, at the instigation of the then Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, was meant to undermine his position and his fight to clean up the force.

Vindication came for Whitrod through the Fitzgerald Inquiry. Some 15 years after Whitrod's resignation, Lewis, who had succeeded him as Commissioner, was sentenced to 14 years jail on 15 charges of corruption. Those Queensland years, marked by struggle and tension, saw Whitrod caught between a wayward Premier opposing the very reforms his police chief had been engaged to introduce and a union wedded so firmly to the status quo that it resisted innovation in almost any form, as well as moves for promotion on merit instead of seniority. However, there were some who responded to his bid to improve the image, increase qualifications, and sharpen policing methods with the message that "honesty" would be the key word. When heat from corrupt elements was at its height, Whitrod took to "locking my bedroom door at night and keeping a firearm with me."

Born in Adelaide on April 16, 1915, he grew up in humble circumstances, but was able to matriculate from Adelaide High School and go on to university for a year studying psychology. He had to abandon his university studies when his father, who worked in a confectionary factory, was put on short time as the Depression bit deeper. While cycling around the South Australian Riverland trying to find work as a fruit-picker, he learned of a scheme to recruit teenagers as police cadets. He entered the force in February 1934 and, after two years doing all the menial jobs that come a cadet's way, was assigned to the Criminal Investigation Branch. From there his career never really looked back.

It was, however, interrupted by four years war service as a navigator with the RAAF in Europe and the Mediterranean. Back home, he was recruited from the South Australian Police Force as one of ASIO's foundation investigative officers, working in the field and behind a desk at headquarters. At the suggestion of ASIO's then director, Brigadier Charles Spry, he applied for and got the job as director of the Commonwealth Investigation Service. The idea behind this move was that it might help to facilitate greater cooperation between the two organisations. Whatever else, it gave scope for Whitrod to exercise his flair for innovation and new ideas. It also led to his taking charge of Royal-tour and VIP security. This opened up opportunities for informal touches with people such as the Duke of Edinburgh, whom he once took on an early morning bird-watching expedition. On return, the Queen gave Whitrod a tongue-in-cheek admonishment for "keeping her husband out late".

Conscious of his lack of tertiary qualifications in the milieu of Canberra's Public Service, Whitrod began and completed an economics degree and later a master's degree in sociology from the Australian National University. His time in Canberra, from 1953 to 1969, emerges as probably the most creative of his career. He took time off to go to Cambridge University and win a postgraduate diploma in criminology at the age of 50. Two years later in 1967, Whitrod added to his growing intellectual reputation by winning the Queen's Gold Medal Essay Competition for a paper entitled, "As society becomes affluent, delinquency increases".

Private study aside, he was also bending his mind in those Canberra years to ways of making the CIS and its uniformed Peace Officer Guard more efficient. This was with a view to melding them into a national force. And this, of course, came about in 1960 with the creation of the Commonwealth Police Force, with Whitrod as its first Commissioner. Nine years later, he had moved on to become Commissioner of Police in Papua New Guinea, where he worked hard to bring needed changes only to find that he was not adequately acquainted with local customs and administrative practices to be as effective as he would have liked. Relations with the Administrator, Sir David Hay, and senior kiaps also proved difficult in a swiftly changing situation as independence loomed. So when the offer of the top police job in Queensland came, it seemed just like the opening he needed. The rest, as they say, is history.

After Queensland he came back to Canberra to take up a visiting fellowship at the ANU, where he taught criminology to law students and lectured on deviant behaviour to sociology students. But after two years, Adelaide, family ties and old associates beckoned. There, because of his deep concern about crime, he became the driving force behind the establishment of the Victims of Crime Service. In recent years he grappled with old age, deteriorating health and having to watch helplessly the sad decline in body and mind of his unfailingly supportive wife, Mavis, who predeceased him in March, 2001.

But in his later years he had the satisfaction of being honoured not only for his groundbreaking police work and his community activities, but also in the academic sphere with an honorary Doctor of Laws from the ANU. Truly a copper par excellence, wherever he went he made a difference to policing in Australia.

One of his two sons, Ian, and a daughter, Ruth, and their families survive him. His son Andrew died, with his wife, in a car crash in 2001.

Raymond Wells Whitrod, born Adelaide April 16, 1915; died Adelaide - July 11, 2003.

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Citation details

John Farquharson, 'Whitrod, Raymond Wells (Ray) (1915–2003)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 May 2024.

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