Retiring chief reflects on life on the beat

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Senior sergeant Neil Aubert

RETIRING Mornington police senior sergeant Neil Aubert well remembers perhaps the most dangerous incident in his 46-year career.

In 1989, the then senior constable was among nine Cheltenham police sent to evict a group of Hells Angels from the Southside Six hotel in Moorabbin when a brawl erupted and he was stabbed in the stomach.

“A rock ‘n roll band was playing to about 1000 people and we went in to remove a group of Hells Angels after reports they had glassed a bouncer,” Mr Aubert said.

“We confronted them at their tables and asked them to leave. The next thing I knew a fight had started and I had been stabbed.”

At a time when there was scant emphasis on a policeman’s mental health, the wounded constable was comforted mostly by his fellow officers while recovering in hospital – until a call came through from former Chief Commissioner Mick Miller who took the time to check on his welfare.

“That was a big call to take,” said Mr Aubert, who started as a 17-year-old cadet at the old St Kilda Road police depot in 1972.

His 46-year career saw him posted to many stations, including Springvale and Frankston.

When he retired last month, Mr Aubert was a senior sergeant and officer-in-charge of Mornington police station, making him possibly the last permanent officer-in-charge of a Victorian station under the current senior police staffing arrangements.

His long-term appointment brought a sense of stability to the station which had had 25 different senior sergeants over the previous two years. “They had been relievers who offered no real guidance and who didn’t really get to know their people,” he said.

“I had to focus on where I thought policing was going in the district and find out about the community I was working in.

“I have a passion for emergency management and got to know the people at the local CFA, SES and ambulance services and built up a rapport with them.

“The time taken to plan, prepare and equip the crews for emergency management operations has paid off, with valuable contributions made at bushfires at Hastings in 2015 and Crib Point in 2017.

“Fires have caused a lot of concern but, thankfully, we haven’t lost anyone.

“We are in a better place now. We have got a lot better in the way we do things.”

Mr Aubert’s experience in emergency management, especially in helping community’s deal with the tragedies of the 1983 Ash Wednesday and 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, had put him in good stead.

“The Ash Wednesday fires, in particular, were awful,” he said, referring to a time when homeowners could elect to stay and fight to protect their properties rather than leave.

“I remember calling around to people’s places before the fire struck and advising them to go, and then going around afterwards and recovering their bodies. It puts you on edge.”

Other emergencies he looks back on include helping at petrol tanker rollovers and worrying about moving injured people, while thinking the rig could explode.

He was also involved with the spate of shootings by members of the notorious Painters and Dockers Union in South Melbourne in the early 1970s.

“I’ve been to 10 or 12 shootings,” Mr Aubert said. “It was not uncommon at that time to go to a shooting a week.”

That violent scene is a long way physically and mentally from the beat at Mornington.

“This is a good community but there is still a lot going on, such as the night club scene and who comes to town and what they bring with them,” he said. “When I started it was a little village, but now it has grown up. The people are good and it is such a pleasant place to be.”

First published in the Chelsea Mordialloc Mentone News – 24 October 2018

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