Marlborough's first policewoman Fleur Hansby talks pioneer policing video

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Women now make up 20 per cent of the police force, but there's still plenty of room for improvement.

The woman who first donned a police officer's uniform in Marlborough says the role women play in the police force has changed for the better.

New Zealand women will have been serving in the police force for 75 years on June 3, though there were no policewomen in Marlborough until 1985.

Rarangi woman Fleur Hansby was the first policewoman in Marlborough, when she joined the force in 1985.
JENNIFER EDER/FAIRFAX NZ

Rarangi woman Fleur Hansby was the first policewoman in Marlborough, when she joined the force in 1985.

Rarangi woman Fleur Hansby​ joined the force in 1983, in an era where policewomen were not uncommon in the cities, but were a rarity in a small town.

Hansby worked as an officer for two years in Auckland before moving to Blenheim.

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Fleur Hansby and her classmates graduating from Porirua Police College in 1983.
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Fleur Hansby and her classmates graduating from Porirua Police College in 1983.

"I'd just always been fascinated by the criminal mind, and it was a job I wanted to do ever since I was very young," Hansby said.

Nobody in Auckland minded that Hansby was a woman, so she was shocked at the response when she applied at the all-male Blenheim station.

Her husband, Nick, had been offered an ideal job in Blenheim with the Graham Veterinary Club, so Hansby visited an inspector at the Blenheim police station.

"Nobody wanted me," Hansby said.

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"The inspector said, 'our priorities are policemen, police dogs, and then policewomen. Policewomen would be last'."

But Hansby would not take 'no' for an answer.

She contacted the Police National Headquarters in Wellington and successfully applied for a position in Blenheim.

"On my first day, the inspector said to me, 'Now, I expect you to be doing the same work as the policemen'. And I said, 'well, I wouldn't expect any different'."

Hansby had to prove her worth by performing better than the men, she said.

Her partner Chris Gladstone did not mind being paired with a woman. 

"I was really lucky. I had a guy who was the keenest in the station. We worked hard together, and it was good.

"He didn't care as long as you do your job and have his back. That's what was important."

However, there were some jobs which she got as the only woman, such as making inquiries after women had died, and reports of a sexual nature.

"I remember once there was a fight, and I was on my way there, and the sergeant of the section arrived at the same time, and told me to get back in the car. That really infuriated me," Hansby said.

People in her social circles did not question her career choice, but people she dealt with for work sometimes did.

"I'd ask a question and my partner would be standing beside me, and they'd answer the question to the male. In the pub one day, a guy came up to me and said it was a disgrace I was in the police."

Hansby said the small town mindset was tangible in both the way her superiors treated her and the way Marlburians reacted to her.

"[Working in Blenheim] was nothing like Auckland. It supported all the old values. It was silly," Hansby said.

Hansby and Nick had their first child a few years later, and she became a full-time mother.

But she missed the job, she said.

Hansby suspected policewomen in small towns like Blenheim were no longer treated differently, she said.

"It was just the old school of thought."

The Tasman District, which included Marlborough, had 50 policewomen making up 16 per cent of its force.

Nationally, women made up 32 per cent of sworn constabulary staff, up from 17 per cent in 2011.

The 75th Anniversary of Women in NZ Police will be celebrated by a torch relay across the country starting on June 24, a parade in Wellington on August 1, and an exhibition at the Police Museum in Porirua to open in September.

 - The Marlborough Express

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