Geoffrey Little The Smiling Policeman
How did you get the name, ‘the Smiling Policeman’?
Before we had traffic lights in Sydney back in the mid-‘60s, you did have your famous policemen, like the Whistling Policeman, who were directing traffic.
I happened to be working traffic in 1976 at a pedestrian crossing on the corner of Bent and Young Street in Sydney every Tuesday and Friday morning for about two-and-ahalf hours.
I was a senior constable at that time and that’s about the time my wife decided she was not amused with me anymore, so I was going through a ‘happy’ divorce, and miserable, standing at the top of a hill on my patrol in the middle of winter.
Of course the only way to forget your problems was to lose yourself in what you’re doing so I used to make a point of saying to all the pedestrians coming across, “Good morning, nice to see you, how are you?” I bunged it on just to try and forget my own feeling of being miserable.
How did the publicity start?
The Sun newspaper did a few stories about me, just off hand because people were so surprised at seeing this active policeman. When it rained I got given an umbrella one day, and someone else gave me pot plants, all that sort of silly stuff.
But it started something.
There was a one-off picture of me directing traffic at Waterloo, and I had no idea it would be published and then it was.
Some of the senior boys didn’t like me getting all this publicity, I was just a senior constable you know, and decided to take me off the point. So I was in the station asking why was I was being taken off the point.
What happened next?
The boss puts his arm around me and he says, “Geoff, you’ve got a problem,” and I said, ‘Why, what’s the problem?’ and he said, “You’re smiling too much – you should act more like a policeman.”
I didn’t utter a response but it didn’t intimidate me, it drove me on as a challenge.
All adversity is a challenge to overcome. Being optimistic I thought I should stick up for my rights, for what is good and honourable. I’m an idealist.
Could they stop you?
I had a colleague who was being sympathetic to the hard time I was going through. He could see I was being followed around and treated like a pariah, and being done over.
I used to be screamed at by old traffic sergeants telling me how to direct traffic. Do this! Do that! Treated me like an idiot because my behaviour was idiotic, it wasn’t “police-like” as far as they were concerned. I was undermining the prestige and image of the police force in their view.
Today, happily, the attitude toward smiling is different. Police are encouraged to be normal people.
One day my colleague and I were talking to this guy we’d see regularly each morning and he was a solicitor, and my mate was telling him how I was being punished for trying to do the right thing. It turns out that guy had a friend at “The Mirror” newspaper, and his friend was chief of staff John Hartigan (who went on to become the CEO of News Corp, Australia’s biggest media company).
John sent down a gentleman by the name of Mike Munro who was a cadet reporter. I was on the job and this man comes to me and says, “Geoffrey, I’m Mike Munro. Is it true you’ve been told to stop smiling while you’re directing traffic?”
I wasn’t about to spill the beans because I couldn’t be dropping a bomb on my colleagues. My job was on the line and I felt I had more loyalty to the system than try to denigrate it – because I was a very loyal policeman, despite all the rubbish that was going on.
I said to Mike, “Well you know it’s not unreasonable to say I’m not having an easy time of it, because of one thing and another, and I have had some adverse comments about the way I direct traffic here.” So we had a bit of a chat.
Two days later I had the day off work. There on the third page in the Daily Mirror was a full page: “Geoffrey Little the Smiling Policeman, told to stop smiling while he directs traffic.”
That would have gone down well! Like a bomb, I can tell you.
z Mr Little is now renowned around the world for being ‘the Smiling Policeman’.
Among many lifetime achievements, he is currently an executive member of the United Nations Association of Australia. He was in Dubbo recently as a guest of Rotary.