Lillian Armfield: How Australia’s First Female Detective Took on Tilly Devine and the Razor Gangs and Changed the Face of the Force

Lillian Armfield: How Australia’s First Female Detective Took on Tilly Devine and the Razor Gangs and Changed the Face of the Force

Leigh Straw

Hachette 2018


 

Leigh Straw’s striking biography about Australia’s first policewoman, Lillian Armstrong, provides an insight into the life of the trailblazer that paved the way for Australian women in the police force. Detailing her life and career, Armstrong is brought to life though the infamous cases she worked; some of which have become ingrained in mythos of Australia. A rich landscape of Australia’s post first-wave feminist era is examined through the life of one courageous, paradigm defying woman, who rose to the rank of Chief of the Women’s Police.

By exposing the dark and dingy crevices of Australian history, Straw paints a gripping and occasionally graphic portrayal of a working-class Sydney – which is often forgotten in the national narrative. Her wry humour assists in highlighting the restrictive paradigms of early 20th century living and working for women, with the first female police women expected to protect women and children without being given the means or resources to protect herself. While providing a flattering account of a policewoman, Straw does not fall into the trap of glorifying or justifying the pitfalls of the early 20th century police forces in their treatment of women and Indigenous Australians.

Lillian Armfield has been largely forgotten by history despite her contributions to the force. The middle-aged woman, who had a habit of wearing pearls on her patrols, managed to win over the people ignored by the greater society. While exposing how difficult it was to live as a woman in the early decades of the 20th century, Straw further probes into the dangers of living as a woman generally and the failed measures taken by a patriarchal authority to protect them.

It is clear that Straw has an immense adoration and respect for her subject which she actively portrays through her writing. Her extensive research has paid off in creating a riveting homage to a woman who revolutionised women’s role in society.

While written superbly, Straw occasionally becomes so involved in the relaying Armstrong’s life, the reader is left behind if they do not have an extensive knowledge of underground Sydney crime. Although the stories and cases highlighted do make for fascinating reading regardless.

Lillian Armfield is a beacon of hope for women today, providing a shining example of a woman who defied social norms. Her impact on the police force is undeniable and despite history ignoring her in our national story, Armfield deserves the recognition which Straw has given her.

Overall this is a must read for true crime lovers and fans of strong, influential women who shaped our society.

4/5 Stars

 


Words by Georgina Banfield

Photo from Hachette: https://www.hachette.com.au/book/lillian-armfield

‘The Lovelies’- By Audrey J. Menz

Each of the three women bore a red heart-shaped tattoo on her shoulder with the phrase ‘The Lovelies’ in striking black calligraphy. Once, they had worried the tattoo might prove more permanent than the name. Now they hid their ink with the sleeves of frilly white chiffon shirts.

Standing beside the parking meter, ticket in hand, Amy watched the officer survey the three old women organizing themselves into the Mustang, his heavy brows furrowed. He took in their weathered brown skin and dark black bobs with roots of grey, shirts hemmed in frills, and pink lipstick staining off-white teeth. They had tottered over the cracked sidewalk in clacking satin heels, too tall for their fragile frames. They had worked quickly, the oldest of the trio pulling open her own door and lowering into the car, wrinkling hands gripping the doorframe, before she leant back to unlock the passenger side doors for her sisters.

From behind the wheel, Murielle Martins pulled on a pair of soft leather driving gloves and chunky black sunglasses. She blew the man a teasing kiss and behind her the women erupted in giggles. The officer was young and tall with a dimpled mouth dusted in 5 o’clock shadow. Amy’s mother loved a man in uniform. ‘You need a little danger when it comes to love, Love,’ she was fond of saying.

Amy watched the man glance back and forth from her to the women in their Mustang, silver rims glinting in hazy afternoon light. He knew something was off and she wanted nothing more than to melt away into the concrete.

Why don’t you talk to the officer,’ Murielle had winked dramatically and called from beside the car. ‘I’m going to sit and rest these old bones.’

Amy had fought to keep her jaw from dropping, ‘really Mum?’

Murielle hadn’t replied. Amy’s aunts grinned at her like Cheshire cats.

Amy turned to the man and brushed down her frilly white chiffon dress, drawing his eyes. She had grimaced internally as the car clicked open behind her, ‘I can explain.’

The parking officer folded his arms. A small smile played on his thin lips, but his voice was firm, ‘Miss, this is a two-hour parking zone. You’ve been here well over that time.’

She sighed, turning to gesture with the parking ticket she’d plucked from the windshield to the women in the car. From the driver’s seat Murielle smiled sweetly with off-white teeth. ‘Officer,’ Amy pleaded, ‘you have to understand how long it takes me to get them anywhere. Yes, we’ve been here over two hours. But we would have been back well before the two hours,’ she raised her voice slightly, side-eyeing the trio, ‘had we not stopped at every hat store in the state.’ Her aunts in the backseat of the car visibly bristled in their new feathered bonnets. Amy met the man’s gaze once more and found him smiling. Something in her chest leapt slightly and she continued, ‘we were supposed to be going to the post office.’ She waved the unstamped letter she still held in her other hand, ‘we didn’t even make it halfway down the mall.’

Behind them, the youngest of the trio flourished a large paper bag from the backseat of the car, ‘Ames, the scones will go cold.’

Amy leant towards the man somewhat conspiratorially, ‘somehow we still made it to the bakery.’

The officer let out a huff of laughter and Amy felt a corner of her mouth turn up. In the distance the open mall was alive with voices and music. A busker’s acoustic guitar strummed gently.

The officer moved to lean against the parking meter. ‘Mr. Anand does make the best scones,’ he conceded. He ran a hand through slick black curls before propping it on his hip. ‘I suppose-’ he stopped, sniffing the air. Amy smelt it too. She felt herself cringe into her chiffon monstrosity of a dress.

The officer’s head jerked towards the Mustang where trails of smoke drew up into the air. ‘Are they smoking weed?’ His brows had risen into his hairline.

Talk to the man indeed, Amy sighed.

The women lent out the car windows dragging from a hand-rolled joint they passed cheerfully between them. Muriel met their eyes and waved them away. ‘Nevermind us,’ she mouthed, leaning further out of the car when the officer continued to stare, pulling away from the parking meter and propping his hands onto his holster. Business once more.

Cigarette hanging daintily from one corner of her mouth she called, ‘it’s for my hips.’ Satisfied, she drew back into the car to fiddle first with her driver’s seat, then under the dashboard, smoke trail darting.

It was the officer’s turn to sigh, long and low. He met Amy’s pleading eyes. ‘I can explain,’ she started.

He held up a hand to stop her.

Please, Officer, I’m the one who has to drive home with them now.’ She tried for levity, ‘have some mercy.’

He shook his head, ‘believe it or not my Ma’s the same. Nothing the meds can do for her, and nothing new the doctors can prescribe.’ His smile was small now. ‘I’ve learnt to turn a blind eye where I think it’s important.’

Amy felt herself relax a little.

But,’ he continued, ‘this is a two-hour parking zone and you have been here well over that time.’ He shrugged, voice smug, ‘that results in a fine.’ Distantly, the trio started laughing over again. Amy pocketed the ticket and the officer glanced her over. Quickly he added, ‘some friends and I drink at Benny’s on Fridays. ‘Round Eight.’

Amy blushed, pulling at the frills of her dress, ‘right.’

He made to shake her hand then thought better of it, propping it on his holster. ‘Right then,’ he echoed. ‘As you were.’ He turned, then, ‘It’s Evans,’ he said.

Amy.’ A final nod, and she watched him keenly as he walked away down the quiet street.

Amy approached the Mustang. Her mother and aunts grinned at her with hot pink mouths.

‘You’re going to make a wonderful Lovelie,’ Muriel said. They’d finished hot-wiring the Mustang. The women rolled up the sleeves of their frilly white shirts. Amy knew they found their ink just as permanent as their name. ‘Now let’s see about getting you that tattoo.’

 


Audrey J. Menz HeadshotAudrey J. Menz is currently studying a Bachelor of Creative Writing at the prestigious Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia. Her studies focus upon the representation of gender and women in contemporary media and arts. When she’s not stalking her favourite YA authors online she’s writing fantasy with LGBTQ themes or shouting into the void. This is her first publication.

The Psychopath Test

Jon Ronson
Picador 2011

When a mysterious book is anonymously delivered to several of the world’s best brains, the Curious George of journalists gets involved when none of them can crack the code.  Someone has single-handedly sent the earth’s leading experts into a simultaneous tailspin, and Jon Ronson is sent to find out who they are and what they want. He begins his journey into the people who aren’t so plugged in, those with a screw loose: the world of psychopaths.

The Psychopath Test’ is a light-hearted, creatively uplifting approach to the potential madness of the human brain, and I have never read anything like it. It’s wonderfully easy to read and I would recommend for anyone 17 or older.

The dynamic, embarrassingly humorous book takes the reader by the hand to meet psychopaths of all shapes and sizes. Do psychopaths really exist? And who are they? The book shows interviews between several so-called psychopaths and the traits that define them. The description of how psychopathic tendencies have been treated in the past is indeed quite shocking. LSD-induced trances, deep sleep therapy, even nude group therapy baths. None of it worked.

Psychologist Bob Hare invented the Hare Psychopathy Checklist to identify psychopaths out in the wild. Equipped with this checklist, Ronson travels to high security prisons, mental health hospitals and a Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder unit to see if he can determine who is psychopathic and who isn’t whilst trying not to be devilishly charmed in the process.

On a bizarre accusation by Scientologists that psychiatry is a farce, he reads the DSM-1V-TR; a handbook for psychiatrists everywhere containing all the mental disorders known to man. If you or I were to read this book, we could probably diagnose ourselves with several disorders right off the bat. Ronson could: he diagnosed himself with twelve. Ronson speculates that we may have taken if a bit too far with our desire to label. From experiencing shakes after too much coffee (Caffeine Induced Disorder) to procrastination (Malingering), anyone with any kind of anomaly is labelled and segregated.

Ronson forms wariness and doubt in the mind, which he gleefully explores. Is the psychiatry business just due to the compulsion to categorize things? Do the pharmaceutical companies just want to glean another profit by exploiting this compulsion? How many people have been unnecessarily labelled?

I was moved by his willingness to get down and dirty with the people that the average Joe would personally stay away from. This allowed for an invitingly fresh point of view unhindered from social censorship. His personal take on these certainly colourful characters, along with his willingness to get up close with murderers, makes for a wondrous read that I devoured.

4.75 stars


 

Words by Sarah Ingham