By John Pedler
Published: Wednesday, September 8, 2021
Warning: This story covers issues relating to mental health.
Over the past 20 years, more than 50 Australian police officers have died while on duty, including five during the past 12 months. This tragic loss of life not only affects their families but it’s also felt throughout the policing community.
On top of this, many serving and retired police officers suffer from mental health issues due to the highly stressful and often traumatic nature of their work. The four-year National Mental Health and Wellbeing Study of Police and Emergency Services conducted by Beyond Blue, found that one in four former employees experience probable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and one in five experience very high psychological distress. In some instances, this has led to suicide.
The annual Wall to Wall motorcycle ride started in 2010 to honour the memory of police officers who have died in the line of duty or as a result of their duties. In previous years, serving and retired police have ridden from their respective states to the National Police Memorial in Canberra, where a ceremony is held for colleagues and mates who’ve passed away – their names recorded on touchstones on the memorial wall.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has prevented interstate road travel, so this year’s commemorations will be held within state borders.
On 14 September, the South Australian contingent will gather in Seppeltsfield for a ceremony to honour the fallen. The riders will then spend the week travelling through the Mid-North and Eyre Peninsula.
This is not only an opportunity to remember mates and colleagues, but also a chance to share past experiences with other members of the policing family.
Retired police officer and RAA Mobility and Motoring Road Rules Consultant Stuart Churchill spent 21 years in the service and knows all too well the pain of losing friends.
“I’ve lost a couple of mates in the job,” Stuart says.
“One was shot and killed at a traffic stop a few years back. I was having a conversation with him one day, and then a couple of days later he was killed, and that really hit home.
“So, for me personally, this is the opportunity to honour the mates I’ve lost, and also to honour my own service – to be proud of what I did and acknowledge that I’m a PTSD sufferer.”
Senior Constable Mick Klose, one of the event coordinators, also sees the ride as a great opportunity to catch up with serving members as well as former colleagues.
“You get a chance to rekindle some old friendships, and some of those who’ve left the job will only talk about policing when they come on these sorts of rides,” Mick says.
“I’ve actually had phone calls from partners of members who’ve been on the ride, saying ‘Could you please take them again? It’s had such a good impact—they need this.’ That’s quite heart-warming.
“PTSD has raised its profile a fair bit in the last few years, but it’s always been there. So, for members to be able to talk to each other about it – perhaps relive the fun times and relieve that pressure – is a great thing.”
Another of the ride’s goals is to raise awareness of the charity SA Police Legacy, an organisation that provides financial and social support to families of serving or retired police who’ve passed away. Financial support is also made available for serving SAPOL officers and their families who are facing serious health issues.
Mick first saw the organisation’s wonderful work in action when he too lost a colleague in the line of duty.
“Back in 1990, my senior constable was killed out at Salisbury, and it’s always stuck with me how his family was assisted by Legacy,” he says.
“I had only been in the job for about three years, and it had a huge impact on me. So, when this ride came up, it touched a nerve and I’ve been involved for about 10 or 11 years now.”
Wall to Wall is also an opportunity for current and former police officers to connect with local communities.
“We get to see the bad side of life a fair bit,” Mick says.
“So, to have a positive interaction with people who appreciate us coming through and saying g’day, it brings a smile to their face, and it also brings a smile to our dial as well.”
The Wall to Wall ride honours the service and sacrifice of our police men and women and highlights the valuable work carried out by SA Police Legacy.
“To go out and serve the public, we’re putting ourselves in the line of fire, but that’s why we wear the uniform,” Stuart says.
“So, when a police officer loses their life in the line of duty while protecting others, it’s felt by all of us.”
RAA is proud to offer riders and support vehicles Road Service for the trip.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.