DID BLACKHEATH REALLY NEED A BOBBY?
During the summer of 1892 the cash box was stolen from the general store in the Blue Mountains village of Blackheath. There was an immediate call to appoint a policeman. Not everyone was in favour of this step, as the following editorial shows;
Now just as one swallow does not make a summer, I fail to see that one robbery makes this a place of crime, especially when there can be no doubt that the burglary previously alluded to was the work of strangers. There can be no valid reason why this peaceful and crimeless Mountains resort should be made a paradise for a lazy bobby to take his measured walk, wearing out Government boots and clothing by doing in their well known style…..nothing!
Another argument against the idea was that any Mr Plod stationed in the ‘Heath’ might have died of boredom within a month.
Well of course the powers that be had their way. Like it or not, Blackheath got a bobby. They built him a house, which still stands on the Great Western Highway. It was constructed on the site of the old, 1840’s convict stockade. Apparently there were holding cells underneath, as well as a prisoner’s hut in the backyard. The house is now a bed and breakfast establishment.
The appointment of a bobby had some amusing repercussions a few years later.
In 1895 there was a concert in the village’s Albert Hall. A comic called Mr Baster dressed up as a copper and sang, ‘Ask a policeman’. It went like this;
If you want to know the time, ask a policeman,
The proper city time, ask a policeman.
Every member of the force, has a watch and chain of course
Where he got it, from what source? Ask a policeman.
It was a much loved, but slightly risqué ditty;
Unfortunately the local Bobby’s two daughters, the Misses Hanley, were present and took great offence. They got up and walked out. Before Mr Baster could leave the stage the target of his humour arrived and confiscated the songster’s costume; helmet, jacket…the lot! The Blue Mountains Gazette reported the incident with much humour;
‘Whether he will be sentenced to death, or come under the provisions of the First Offender’ Act, fitting punishment should be meted out to him for having committed so grievous a crime as one at which he was caught red-handed, so to speak, at Blackheath.’
There were other newspaper reports suggesting that a collection had been taken up by locals to fund Mr Baster’s criminal case.
UPDATE – Next day, a rebuttel to the above report was published in the Sydney Times;
A telegram recently appeared in a daily paper to the effect that at a concert at Blackheath, a local resident, Mr J Baster, had contributed, in character, a song entitled ‘Ask a Policeman’, which gave such offence to two daughters of Sergeant Hanley that they left the hall, and that after the performance Sergeant Hanley came among the singers and confiscated the police uniform worn by Basker and intended to summon him for wearing it.
We have received another version of this incident, which puts the matter in a very different light. According to our informant, the Misses Hanley, who had themselves taken part in the concert, did not leave the hall on account of this song, but some time afterwards, owing to the conduct of some boys who were present offensively chaffing them on the subject. Sergeant Hanley himself, it is stated, also took not the slightest notice of the matter on that evening, but believing the uniform to be the property of the police department, next day made enquiries of the singer and asked him to hand it over , which he without demur. Sergeant Hanley then reported the fact to the police superintendent at Bathurst, and there the matter ended.
It was not the only occasion that Blackheathens have had a bit of fun at the expense of the village bobby. Recently I met a born and bred resident for coffee, and she pointed out a rusting sign in the main street. I think it dates from the 1960s.
As a supposedly observant writer type, I was shocked to think I have been walking under it for 16 years and never noticed.
The arrow points to historic Gardiner’s Hotel. The story was that the policeman of the day could always be found in the pub.
Must say I had a chuckle when I remembered the old song Mr Baster sang;
If beer you want, and stores are closed, go to the man in blue.
He’ll show you where the side door is, and tell you what to do.
If you want to get a drink, ask a policeman,
He’ll manage it, I think, will a policeman.
He’ll find out the secret way, where you can, both night and day,
Get a cocktail right away, can a policeman!
Of course some wag took the joke even further, and painted a gun-slinging Deputy on the sign.
Thus far, no-0ne has felt the need to take down the sign, which pleases me no end. Oh yes, the humour and spirit of Blackheath lives on.
Thankfully I have never had occasion to call on our current bobby, who is stationed in nearby Wentworth Street. You know what? I honestly don’t remember ever seeing a policeman in the village. I thought I might just pop in and ask him (or her) the time. The sign is prominent enough.
Hmm, the building was like a little fortress. No way in at all, how odd. Oh look, an intercom;
I had the feeling that if I pressed the button the poor bobby might collapse in shock. Or maybe there was nobody in there at all? A recorded voice might say; ‘For robbery, please press 1. For assault and battery, please press 2 ….
So much easier in days when you could find Mr Plod in the pub.
Bu wait….there is one place where you will always find a copper in the village….at the Blackheath Rhododendron Festival. Last year Editor Des was picked up for loitering with intent (intent to do what was never revealed) . He was sentenced to a few hours community service, spent enforcing one of the no parking zones.
UPDATE – 10 MAY 2019…..SIX NEW BOBBIES FOR THE BLUE MOUNTAINS
The Gazette announces six extra police, to be spread from Springwood to Katoomba.
You see, Blackheath still doesn’t need one!
For more on the quirkiness of the affectionately dubbed ‘Bleakheath’
FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A MESSAGE, ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE THE BLACKHEATH BOBBY.