The History of the Tasmania Police Department Motorcycle Unit
Tasmania (Van Diemens Land) has a population of less than 500,000 people roughly divided between the north and the south. It was setteled by Europeans in 1804 at what became Hobart Town. In the early years most policing functions were performed by military personnel from the British Army garrison until small Forces were established in Hobart and Launceston (which were administered separately from the larger Colony of New South Wales in Sydney. Mounted Police patrols were a feature of the Colony from those early years. Many of the mounted police (from the so called Field Police) were well behaved convicts who could ride a horse. Their Job was to catch runaway convicts or bush rangers.Up to 1898 the organization of the police was based on Municipal boundaries (similar to US counties) in which Municipal Police served. Another Force, the Territorial Police, served in areas not yet established as municipalities. Both Forces were predominantly horse-mounted. In 1898 the single Tasmania Police Force was established under a Commissioner or Police who was appointed by the Government (this practice continues today). The population at the time was less than 150,000 whilst the police force numbered about 240. Most of the State’s 100+ police stations were one and two man stations dotted throughout the country side, all served by horse-mounted police.It wasn’t until the late 1920s that the Police Department had one car. (to serve the Commissioner). As the 1930s approached some members who had their own cars were paid an allowance for using them for Department use. as the number of privately owned motor vehicles were registered in the State the Department felt that it needed to increase its policing capacity. Whilst bicycles had earlier been purchased for police use, particularly in the city areas, by the mid 1930s about 50 motorcycles, Broughs, Harley-Davidsons and Indians, (both solos and others with side cars) were issued to police in both city and rural areas and the use of horses for police use diminished. The last horse mounted Trooper lost his his horse to a motorcycle about 1942. The term “Trooper” continued to be used by police who rode motorcycles until 1956 when the title was phased out.By the mid 1940s a small number of cars were purchased by the Police Department but it wasn’t for another 5 years that the use of cars for supervision purposes and patrol work. Some of these cars were fitted with radio equipment.by the Mid 1950s the use of radio equipped cars for general patrol or traffic patrol work (traffic patroll was partly funded by the Transport Commission). The first cars in widespread use were FJ model Holden cars with number of utilities (pick-ups) also in service. In later years the contract for the supply of motor cars alternated between Holden (a General motors subsidiary) and Ford. About 1962 black leather caps worn by Police motorcyclists and replaced by a safety helmet of questionable value. Apart from the Traffic Patrol cars which bore a small logo on their front doors, other cars bore no signage. No sirens or flashing lights were carried or used. Some Traffic cars had loud hailers fitted. in 1967 the Department was examining warning devices and actually fitted one car with a loud bell! In the meantime the number of cars increased for use by police at smaller stations and motorcycles were consigned to a specialist State Traffic Branch with the greater number of bikes, (from Matchless, to BSAs, Honda and BMW) being centred at either Hobart or Launceston ( north by 200 kilometres). they provided general patrols, escorts or, in some circumstances, quick response to indents but, over the 1980s to present times gradually diminished in numbers. In the mid 1960s the first radio equipped bikes entered service. The State Traffic Branch ultimately phased out with control of Traffic police being transferred to more local control.By the mid 1970s some signage on police units was evident and the fitting of standard sirens was commenced. Police sirens are the same as those used by both Tasmania Ambulance Service and Tasmania Fire Service. External lights are the same also made their first appearance. Firstly, as a signal blue light on the roof, to two blues lights on a roof bar and ultimately a locally made roof mounted red and blue flashing light system was fitted. Motorcycles were also fitted with a single, extend-able, blue flashing light. In 1976 the use of various coloured cars ceased and replaced by all white cars. (The Commissioner believed that this would create an appearance or more police cars on the road,).Today we have the gaudy blue and white chequered signage on our vehicles. The word “POLICE” has reduced to “Police” because it was felt that the word in bold upper case print was too aggressive. Ordinary sedans have been largely replaced by larger four wheeled drive vehicles with lights and sirens. On average the cars are replaced about every 18 months. Currently motorcycles are BMW’s fitted with sirens and radios.
Information and Photos provided by the Curator Russ AMES of the Tasmania Police Historical Group Museum of Australia