The great question is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with failure. - Chinese Proverb
I have had failures in my life and they have impacted upon the person I am now. I failed physics in Form 5 and Chemistry in Form 6, primarily due to a total lack of motivation and the fact that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. One of the worst questions you can ever ask a kid is what do you want to be when you grow up. I envy those who do know early on what direction they wish to take but for the vast majority of us it’s a bewildering and complex decision. What you aren’t told is that most people these days will have several different careers and that is not a bad thing.
Despite the failures at High School I still qualified to do an Arts Degree at
The first couple of years I drifted through doing as much as I needed to pass, but not excelling in anything. In third year though I realized that I still had no real idea of what was at the other end and I took an easier option. I worked my butt off and qualified to complete an honours degree in Geography. I had decided that I wanted to be a Park Ranger but as the applications I sent in came back with a “don’t all us we’ll call you” rejection slip time and time again, I saw my options narrowing. For a lot of jobs I was either over qualified or didn’t have quite the right qualifications. In those days rangers needed to be able to use a chain saw or drive a four wheel drive, academics weren’t really valued. So again, I took the easy option and started a Masters degree, but my heart wasn’t in it.
I worked in a retail store whilst I was studying but it wasn’t enough money to give me any sort of lifestyle so I also worked early mornings cleaning offices. At one stage a lady I worked in the store with got ill and I was asked to come in full time for a couple of weeks whilst she was away. That fortnight grew to six months whilst she recovered from a major operation and the whole time I worked 9-5 there I was also working from 5-8 in the morning cleaning offices, always expecting to continue my studies at some stage. Something had to give and I gave the store an ultimatum – put me on full time or I would leave and go back to cleaning and my studies – they offered me a full time job.
I never saw that retail was going to be a long term option for me either and the store I worked for, Waltons, was sold to a bloke [Alan Bond] who was eventually declared a bankrupt and jailed for fraud offences. With the changes looming there I decided that I needed to look around for something else and applied for both Officer Training in the Air Force and the Victoria Police.
The offer to join the Police Force came through first and within six weeks of application I was marching in the front door of the
Some years later I transferred to what was then the Counter Terrorist Explosive Information Section, later to become the Counter Terrorist Intelligence Section and then the Protective Security Intelligence Group, a job I loved. Challenging and interesting, a need to keep abreast of current affairs and one I felt had an important role to fulfill. Several years in the job was reclassified and I found that I was required to do
Now this course is regarded as one of the hardest and most prestigious in the job – three months of intensive study into things such as criminal law, interrogation, crime scene examination to name a few. It is said that the participants do as much criminal law in that three months that lawyers do in an entire degree. It really is head down and bum up, eighteen hour days seven days a week.
At that time the School had a new Commanding Officer and as sometimes happens it appears he was determined to make his mark. The course consisted of six different modules and in order to pass the students needed to achieve an average of at least 60% for each module and an overall average of 75%.
It was evident early on that the 30 in the class were different, for some reason, to any class that had gone before. Where other classes had averaged 75% during the progressive exams with a spread of 60-90% across the class, our average was only 65% and the spread 50-80%. What wasn’t evident at the time was the apparent lack of effort the instructors were putting in to get the students up to the required standard. Many of them had been there a few years and were wanting to transfer out so in hindsight their motivation may have been suspect. I was later told by the Assistant Commissioner for Crime who was a past O/C of the school that he had spent many nights working with his students after hours to ensure they got through. That didn’t happen with us – all we were told was that we shouldn’t worry everything would be alright.
There were a few things that changed for that course compared to previous ones. Firstly, an open book exam on fingerprints was cancelled – as part of the overall course that subject as a standalone was enough to boost most people’s overall mark by around 5%. Secondly, the multiple choice questions on some of the criminal law exams went from 3 or 4 alternative answers to five – often with two very similar answers that relied upon a photographic memory of the law. What that meant was that it took longer to read the questions and you therefore had less time to answer them.
Additionally in the last practice exam before the finals the instructors decided not to give out the results nor to go through the questions and answers, with some of those questioned repeated on the final exam we were at a disadvantage if we answered wrong the first time around.
The final day everyone is given a number which is the order in which you are brought before a panel of instructors to answer a final lot of questions. This is also an assessable part of the course and in what I thought was a lucky stroke I drew number one. I went in to face the panel with a fair amount of confidence but that was shattered pretty quickly when I was told I had failed the course with an overall mark of 74.3%. Remember the pass mark was 75% and in virtually every course up until that one around 3 out of a class of 30 failed. As the day wore on the litany of disaster unfolded with 3 of the class failing to complete, and 16 failing. The new O/C had made his mark, drawn the line in the sand and in the process ruined the careers of a lot of good coppers. There was no second chance at this course, having tried and failed, people were rarely given a second chance to sit it again.
I was one of only two of the failures to turn up to the graduation dinner that night. I wasn’t going to skulk and hide, disappointed as I was, I was not going to give anyone the satisfaction of seeing me run away. I did object to the petty and snide remarks made by the O/C that night criticizing my fellow class mates who did not front and I therefore left at the first available opportunity.
A couple of months later I was sitting at my desk late one Friday night when I received a call from the Assistant Commissioner of Crime, under whose department the school fell.
“Laurie,” he said, “I have in front of me 15 letters of appeal from the other students who failed the course. You’re the only one who hasn’t appealed, why not?”
I explained that I believed that I had done my best and that if that was not good enough I was prepared to wear the decision. He said, “But I know you were second in your double squad at the Academy, duxed the analyst course and I would hate to think that if the appeal succeeds that you will be the only one who doesn’t get the chance to redo the course. I want you to put in the appeal by Monday morning and I’ll hold onto the others until I get yours.”
So the following week an investigation into the course was announced. It was my opinion then, and nothing has happened to change it since, that there was no way any misconduct on behalf of the instructors, nor any conspiracy to fail students would ever be proven. And to be honest I don’t think there was any. I do believe that the instructors were lacking in motivation and did not do as well as they could have to try and get the students up to standard, too many of them had been there too long. I also believe that there was no slack cut for the changes in the course structure. I do know that in previous courses, provided they hadn’t really stuffed up, that students within 2% of passing would have an extra couple of marks found somewhere to ensure they got over the line. If the fingerprint exam alone had remained as it was on previous courses then an extra eight people would have passed, myself included.We have forty million reasons for failure, but not a single excuse.
- Bishop Reginald Heber
Anyway the appeal process unfolded and I was interviewed and spelt out everything I said above. I got a call from the inspector conducting the appeal who said, “Laurie, I understand your daughter was ill during the course, if you wish that will be grounds for you to be given another opportunity to do the course.”
“Thanks, but no thanks,” I said. “There is no way I will use her as an excuse, I did my best, so be it.”
The conclusion of the enquiry into the course was that the students were academically worse than previous courses and that the proportion of failures was due to our comparative lack of intelligence and not systemic failure. They were prepared to make an exception for me but I was more than a little pissed off with the system at that stage and I also had no intention of using
Despite the fact that I continued to work at the Counter Terrorist Section and in fact was promoted to the position of Sergeant in Charge of the Analytical section, my faith in the organisation was battered by this experience. Within three years 12 of the 16 who failed the course had left the job. Many of them were very good street coppers, far better than I, who had basically had many of their future career choices taken from them. I followed them and resigned in May 1997.
So I have failed three things of an academic nature in my lifetime. I have failed many more as a person. But we can learn as much from failure as success can’t we?
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It's the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.
And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that's dead,
In the glare of the truth at last." - Robert William Service