Ron Van Saane to put down police badge after 40 plus years
It was the year 1981 and Ron Van Saane was a bright-eyed 19-year-old Constable starting out his policing career at Cunnamulla.
By 2011, that youngster had made his way up the ranks after various postings throughout Queensland and was promoted to the District Officer for the Capricornia Police District.
And now, after a decade in the role, Superintendent Van Saane is preparing to hand in his badge at the end of this month as retirement calls his name.
Mr Van Saane began at the police academy in 1979 and was sworn in on January 2, 1981.
Having grown up in Brisbane and Bribie Island, he requested to go somewhere west for his first posting.
West is surely what he got with his first station at Cunnamulla.
It was a learning curve for the young officer who was one of about 10 police officers.
“It was very isolated in those days, it was a big eye opener,” Mr Van Saane said.
“It had its ups and downs but I really enjoyed it.”
It was here he met a Sergeant who would go on to become one of his mentors for a number of years.
After 18 months, he moved on to Cloncurry where he spent a couple of years.
He then went towards Birdsville where he took up a relief role for six months at Bedourie and ended up staying three-and-a-half years.
“I absolutely loved it, it was just becoming part of the community and the friendships I made from there in the mid 80s - they are still great friends now,” he said.
“Just the people are salt of the earth people, those communities are where everyone connects so strongly, doesn’t matter what background you are, and everyone works together as a team.
“It really opened my eyes to how wonderful the outback is, and the people are.”
Mr Van Saane was the only officer at Bedourie, with two at Boulia and one at Birdsville.
During this time they also had some flooding of the Georgina River.
“The roads were all dirt, now you can just about drive bitumen the whole way to Birdsville,” he said.
From there Mr Van Saane was transferred to Charleville, where he did lots of different policing and relieved at places like Wyandra, Cunnamulla again and Quilpie.
After five years at Charleville, he moved to the Bundaberg Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB).
“It was a very busy place and I learnt a lot,” he said.
It was 1989 when Mr Van Saane moved there, and it was when the drug “ice” was just coming into Australia.
“It’s never left unfortunately, it is the scourge of our society at the moment,” he said.
After five years at Bundaberg, Mr Van Saane moved to Murgon where he was promoted as the Officer in Charge of the Murgon CIB.
“It was very busy but also very rewarding, had a lot to do the with the Cherbourg Aboriginal community,” he said.
“Again, I saw the best and worst of lots of situations, but lots of really good people.
“Over time formed some great bonds, still good friends with lots of people from Murgon and Cherbourg.”
Not one to stay still by this point, Mr Van Saane was promoted to Senior Sergeant at Longreach where he stayed for five years, followed by Inspector at Toowoomba for a couple of years.
Gympie became his next post as Inspector and in 2011 he made the move to Rockhampton as Superintendent District Officer.
Rockhampton is not somewhere Mr Van Saane ever thought he would end up, but it turned out to be his longest post.
“Throughout my career I have touched on Rockhampton a lot, when I was at Longreach, Gympie and Bundaberg we used to come here a fair bit … I used to always say I am not a big fan of Rocky, I can’t see myself going to work there full-time,” he said.
“As it turns out I have been here the longest and I just love the place.
“I was here three years and I met my current wife …. all of a sudden I was happy to stay here, every year it became better.”
Throughout the decade Mr Van Saane has been in Rockhampton, there has been some sort of disaster from a cyclone, to a flood or fires.
“Going through each of that, my community involvement, my pride in the town really increased because I saw how resilient they were,” Superintendent Van Saane said.
“It was always really uplifting and inspirational, and I was proud to be the District Officer of the police for a community like this.
“There are people that have come and gone, but there are lots who have been here since day one with various government or non-government departments and still work as hard today as they did 10 years ago when I first met them.”
Over the years he saw the likes of Cyclone Debbie and Marcia and the associated floods and the Gracemere and Cobraball bushfires.
In his role, Superintendent Van Saane was also the District Disaster Coordinator in times of emergencies.
“The success you have is only as good as the parts that make up the entire entity - all of the people from the ground up,” he said.
“From the SES operators on the ground, from the police on the front line, fireys, ambos, all of those people, how they are trained, how they know their job and how they work together will dictate how everything all the way to the top works.”
His biggest advice in those situations is to have faith with the person beside you and never double guess them.
“If you’ve got a fractured team, it doesn’t matter how good everyone is individually, you are not going to go one step further,” Superintendent Van Saane said.
Reflecting on his career in Capricornia, he said he had the chance to work with some great police officers in the district.
“Some really isolating and challenging places and they have just been fantastic people,” Superintendent Van Saane said.
“99 per cent of them are just 100 per cent committed for the community and for their job.”
Over his career, Superintendent Van Saane has been heavily involved with child safety and youth at risk.
When asked if he had been able to make inroads at reducing the juvenile crime numbers, he said it was hard to measure.
“I think the number of crimes that have been committed over the years by youth may have reduced marginally … but what the big improvements have been is the network of people that are out there trying to work and support the kids at risk,” he said.
“There is no one easy fix, and it’s not just the kids but their families as well.
“There are lots of social issues affecting the kids and so over the years I have seen those relationships and networks really mature and there is a lot more talking between groups.”
Superintendent Van Saane recalled a conversation he had with someone at a community meeting years ago who asked how many kids were offending and the answer was 50 or so, out of 10,000 children.
Superintendent Van Saane said once you looked at it in that ratio, it was not that many.
“What we are doing really is a lot better than what it was, it’s a lot more targeted and working together,” he said.
With more than 40 years in the police force, Superintendent Van Saane has seen his fair share.
“Over the years as a police officer you do unfortunately see the worst in people but the other side is that you also see some of the most inspirational, amazing things by people in bad situations that drag themselves out of that or save others,” he said.
“Sometimes you get jaded about human nature and then in the blink of an eye, you will go somewhere and see someone do something or see a fellow officer do something, or someone who you thought had no hope and they are really achieving stuff and you think that’s what we are here for.”
Becoming a police officer wasn’t something Superintendent Van Saane imagined doing his whole life.
When he was about, 16 he was at a barbecue and a friend’s dad was a police officer and was talking to him.
“He lit the spark and I joined up,” Superintendent Van Saane said.
“I had no vision all my life to become a police officer, but once I had this conversation with him I though that’s a good job.
“I just thought I would give it a go.
“But once you join the police service, it becomes part of your life, it is more of a lifestyle than a career.”
Looking back at his illustrious and long career, Superintendent Van Saane said he couldn’t imagine doing any other job.
“I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t stayed with the police service,” he said.
“And the people I got to know and bonded with have become part of my family.”
He never would have imagined he would have worked his way up to be in the role as Rockhampton’s police boss.
“I really just joined the job to be a police officer …. then things happened, doors opened, I put in for positions and I just went with the flow but I was just happy.
“I never would have thought that in a million years and I would be here.
“I am really humbled by it and proud of it but also understand I am a figurehead for a lot of people.”
Retirement will bring about another move and Superintendent Van Saane and his wife will relocate to Kenilworth.
“That will be a sad day but we still have kids, family and connections here so we will be coming back every couple of months,” he said.
His plans for his time off include some travelling and renovation.
“Live life a little bit and just see what the next chapter is.”