Detective Senior Sergeant John McGee was originally deemed half an inch too short to join the NSW Police Force. But last Thursday the retiring detective said he felt “100 miles tall”.
DSS McGee’s career came full circle last week as he walked out of the door of Penrith police station for the final time, finishing his last shift on June 1 from the very same police station he started at in the late 1980s.
Belfast-born McGee was led through a police guard of honour by a lone piper, his colleagues saluting as he made his way to a cavalcade of 70s, 80s and 90s highway patrol vehicles that whisked him and his family away to a new life.
McGee started at Penrith police 29-and-a-half years ago, moving onto Parramatta, Mt Druitt and Green Valley before coming back to Penrith. He enjoyed Mt Druitt the most – “it’s very busy, there’s a lot of variety in your work” – but it was the people he worked with that gave him the warmest memories from his time with NSW Police.
“It’s not the jobs you do or anything like that, it’s the people you work with and how you work together,” he said. “When the big jobs are on everyone is just into it. We run into the bad times when everyone else is running the opposite way.”
He recalled his first day on the job at Penrith, receiving a half-hour induction before beginning patrols with a colleague in a police vehicle.
“We drove around the corner onto Henry Street and there was a prang,” he said. “[My colleague] said ‘this looks simple enough, you can do it’.”
DSS McGee was originally unable to join the police because recruits had to be 5 foot 8-and-a-half inches tall – “I’m 5’8” - and had to wait until the rules surrounding the height of officers were changed to make the cut.
A childhood spent watching the double-decker buses of Belfast led to him becoming a bus conductor before he was finally able to enter the force at the age of 30.
And rules are not the only things that have changed since the 1980s.
“The demographics of Penrith have changed greatly,” DSS McGee said. “When I started there was no Glenmore Park or any of those other suburbs, it was just Penrith.”
A highlight of his career was helping the younger members of the force develop as officers, he said.
After being humbled by a huge turnout at the station to celebrate his retirement, McGee now plans to enjoy life travelling in his caravan, spending time time with his granddaughter, and playing music.
And his advice to rookies on the job? “Enjoy what you’re doing and … talk to your family, talk to people about what’s happening. Don’t try and hold it all in,” he said.