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Monday 13 July 2015

Special Edition 144

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Victor Harbor's Eric Rhodes talks about life as a police officer


Eric Rhodes is content in retirement after serving in the police force at numerous country
locations over the years.

Eric Rhodes moved to Victor Harbor from Murray Bridge in 1989 and for the last 26 years has been a
member of the Lions Club of Victor Harbor and Port Elliot, Encounter Bay Bowling Club and a Justice of
the Peace (JP).
Eric is proud of his involvement with the community and has been rewarded with not just life membership of
the association of Justices of the Peace, but also of the Encounter Bay Bowling Club and Bowls Past
Presidents Association.
“It has been wonderful living in Victor Harbor,” Eric said.
“The people, the weather and family make Victor a great place to live.”
Eric has volunteered in the community and has seen the goodness in other people.
There are projects in the Victor Harbor area Eric is proud to be a part of such as the restoration of
the stone wall at Cut Hill. Lions Club to maintain the wall,” Eric said.
“That was about 15 years ago and it got to a stage where it was so overgrown you could not see it.
“The stone wall has such historic significance and is a great sight on the main Adelaide Road, which is
the gateway to Victor Harbor.”
As a JP Eric also thought of other regions.
“Justices of the Peace have training days and JPs on Kangaroo Island were not benefiting from the
training days, so I suggested we include KI and we ran a day on the island, which was well received,” he said.
Eric still volunteers one day a month at the council chambers in his capacity as a JP.
But it is Eric’s life before he retired that is most interesting.
He joined the police force in 1956, served in Adelaide to 1958 and received his first country posting to
Born and bred in Adelaide, the country posting gave Eric an instant love for country life.
“The people from the country and the communities that are built are what country life is all about,” he said.
Eric served in the police force at Renmark, Whyalla, Woomera, Kingoonya, Tarcoola, Coober Pedy, Robe,
Kadina, Riverton and took his promotion to sergeant when he went to Naracoorte.
Naracoorte was his last post, he then retired to Murray Bridge for six years before discovering
Victor Harbor.
With all the towns Eric served as a police officer it was at Coober Pedy where he believes he made the
greatest impact.

“I was only there for 12 months, but my appointment was very political,” he said.
“I was stationed at Woomera when I received the phone call from the country superintendent and he told me
I had to take all my time off, overtime and hours due and return to Adelaide to pick up material and
open a police station in Coober Pedy.
“I said I wanted time to think about and I was told I had five minutes.”
The first police station was opened in Coober Pedy on June 28, 1965, and Eric Rhodes was the first and
only police officer at that time.
June 28, 1965 also was the day Aborigines were legally allowed to drink alcohol, which made the appointment
a challenge for Eric.
“I drove into Coober Pedy on that day and there was a melee in the main street involving about 20
Aborigines,” Eric said.
“I went to the mining department’s residence to set up the new police station and when I went back to
the main street the fight was still going.
“In the first hour I arrested six people.
“I convened a court of law on the very same day as I arrived and convicted six offenders for disorderly
behaviour and sentenced them to 28 days in jail at Port Augusta.
“Over the period I was at Coober Pedy I developed a good relationship with the Aboriginal people.”
At the time of Eric’s appointment there were about 4000 Aborigines and 200 white opal miners living in
the town, and the nearest back up was 210 miles away at Oodnadatta or 190 miles away at Kingoonya.
Eric was all on his own.
This challenge did not deter Eric and his time at Coober Pedy has become legendary.
In the first month as the only police officer at Coober Pedy, Eric made 69 arrests, but the number of
arrests had reduced dramatically by the time he left.
This was due to the relationship Eric built with the Aboriginal elders, which benefited the community
of Coober Pedy.
He was not just a police officer, but a man interested in trying to help a culture coming to terms with
“The elders would talk to me about the problems they were having with alcohol,” he said.
“They did not want it, as the young men would get horribly drunk, and so I would sit on the ground with
the elders and help guide them on how to solve the problem.
“I have a lot of respect for the elders.”
The alcohol issue at Coober Pedy became very political and Eric recalls the state minister for Aboriginal
Affairs making a visit to the town to see how Aborigines were coping with the alcohol.
“He arrived on an aircraft flying overhead, did a couple of laps and then flew out. Did not even step
foot in the town,” Eric said.
“There was a big spiel in the paper the next day on how well the Aborigines assimilated with alcohol.
“The funny thing is the minister responsible was Don Dunstan.”
After completing his stint at Coober Pedy, Eric was sent to Whyalla and was summoned to the office of
his divisional inspector, who requested information on how he interacted with Aborigines at Coober Pedy.
“I said I tried to maintain law and order amongst the natives,” Eric said.
“He told me he had received a letter from the elders at Coober Pedy and they said I was a “Waddi Bulka”.
“I smiled and replied that it was an honour to be called a Waddi Bulka, as in Pitjantjatjara language means
a fine distinguished person or honourable man.
“It is a great compliment.”
On June 6, this year, Eric returned to Coober Pedy for the 100-year centenary of the town and to witness
the unveiling of a plaque for the milestone and to remember 50 years of alcohol becoming legal for Aborigines.
“A police officer who served at Coober Pedy 11 years after I did came up to me and shook my hand and said
I was a legend.
“It felt good,” Eric said.
In 2015, 50 years after Eric served in Coober Pedy, the police station now has 19 officers, a big
difference from when there was once only one man in town.

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