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Australia's first Indigenous police officer celebrated as Queensland's Senior of the Year

Sarah Smit -

Dr Colin Dillon is a Kombumerri man of the Yugambeh nation.

His Country is Queensland's Gold Coast but his extraordinary life has taken him all over the state, and he's now being recognised as the state's Senior Australian of the Year.

In 1965, as a young 20-year-old, Dr Dillon entered the Queensland Police Force. Little did he know, he made history as Australia's first Indigenous police officer.

He'd been inspired to want to enter the force by the local policeman in his hometown of Caloundra, a friend of his father who he describes as an "exceptional human being".

Dr Dillon stepped into the uniform two years before the 1967 referendum, which saw the counting of Aboriginal people in the nation's census, and a decade before ratification of the Racial Discrimination Act.

"When I joined, in 1965, that was two years before the referendum. I was a non-citizen, I didn't even exist," he said.

"That was the reality. I didn't even exist as a human being because we had no status as human beings."

When Dr Dillon blazed a trail for mob by arriving at the Petrie Terrace Police Depot in January 1965, he thought he was following a well-worn path.

"When I had decided to join and I started my training, I was of the honest belief that they were many others before me from my race that had joined," he said.

"I thought 'oh, it would be good when I get in there, I'll be able to catch up with some of those are from previous intake, so I won't be on my lonesome'."

But less than 48 hours after he arrived at the barracks, a staff member pulled him aside and warned him to watch for people who would target him for being the first Blak officer in the force.

"You could have knocked me out with a feather, I honestly could not comprehend what he was saying to me," Colin recalled.

"He said to me, 'I've got to tell you, you are the first person in your race to come through those gates, and there are moves afoot to get you out. They don't want you in the police force.'."

"The words that he said to me, were absolutely crushing. They were absolutely crushing."

In his career, Dr Dillon was frequently confronted with racism and corruption that eventually came to a head in the 1987 Fitzgerald Inquiry into Police Corruption, when he was the first serving police officer to voluntarily step forward and give first-hand evidence under oath.

His evidence brought down the police commissioner, several politicians and many corrupt police.

When asked if he'd ever have envisioned this future while he was being racially targeting by a corrupt police force, he admitted he hadn't expected to survive long after the inquiry.

"There was nothing futuristic when I did what I did," he laughed.

"Once I finished telling my part of what I knew of corruption and so forth, I thought well, that could very well be the end of my days. The end of my career, and yeah, it could be the end of me too.

"There were threats coming from all directions."

But despite those experiences of racism and corruption, today Dr Dillon speaks highly of officers he worked with.

"There were periods where I used to stop and think to myself, 'why did I ever join this profession?' Because of the entrenched racism."

"But there were good men in there also, and that they were very good towards me, so they gave me some support."

Dr Dillon's story reveals his iron core of perseverance that is undeterred by people who wanted to see him fail.

"I entered [the police force] because I was very determined. I thought, all I ever wanted to be was a police officer, a very honorable profession. Why should I allow a few others to deprived me of fulfilling my dream in life? So I kept pushing on," he said.

Since retiring from the police force, Dr Dillon served as Chairman of Indigenous radio station, 98.9FM, and as a former Director of the Queensland Heart Foundation.

At 77-years-old, Dr Dillon holds the Australian Police Medal, an honorary doctorate from the Queensland University of Technology, and a membership in the Order of Australia for his services to the Indigenous community.

Currently, he serves as a community member on the Parole Board of Queensland and said he's unlikely to step back from that role any time soon.

"I'd think whilst you've still got energy, whilst you've still got drive and you can make worthwhile contributions, that's what you should do. I think that's what, what life's about. That's what you owe life," he said.

"It's a privilege to be part of the human race. And I think that you should do every little bit you can to make things better along the pathway for your fellow human beings. That's what I reckon."

By Sarah Smit


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