Geoffrey Lit­tle The Smil­ing Po­lice­man

Dubbo Photo News - - News - – In­ter­view & photo by Wendy Mer­rick

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.

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