I went on the first Wall to Wall ride – that stage-managed affair where the police commemorate fellow officers who have died on duty. I will never go and have never gone on another one. This is why…
My job has, from time to time, placed me in situations that beggar belief. And on this day, as I wandered around the Goulburn Police Academy clutching a leaky steak sanger and being offended at the dour neo-Stalinist architecture, my belief was profoundly beggared.
What, by all the Road Gods, on all the planets where motorcycling exists, was I doing here?
“Your job, dickhead,” my inner Borrie told me. “Get on with it.”
I had just ridden to this strange and mournful place to do my job with the biggest pack of bikes on the longest mass motorcycle outing I have ever been on – the NSW Police Force’s inaugural Wall to Wall Remembrance ride – and I was having a little trouble coping.
It wasn’t the ride – or maybe it was. I despise riding in vast packs of motorcycles. I have done my share of riding in small packs with blokes I’ve known and trusted not to screw up and kill me, and I have done my share of riding in big groups with faceless knob-holsters barely skilled enough to walk upright let alone ride a bike. I know which I prefer.
So there was a bit of that, but I think what was bothering me was the sheer preponderance of cops and the fact that I was such a glaring ring-in. I was riding the loudest bloody motorcycle for 500km in any direction, I was wearing a Batman face-sock, and under normal circumstances my riding buddies that day would be taking my knees out with their batons.
Happily, that day they were satisfied with glaring at me from time to time. Obviously, I wasn’t fooling anyone there. Even out of uniform, cops know other cops, and those who are not cops. Like me. I’m normally the bloke under the pile of police dogs, weeping capsicum tears and panting from Taser overload. And they knew it too.
The ride kicked off at about 9am after a brief memorial service at the NSW Police Force’s Memorial Wall and was led by two Highway Patrol cars and eight police bikes (three of which were being ridden by the police commissioners of NSW, Tasmania and the Northern Territory). The lights had all been turned to green and police outriders blocked all the access road to make sure the more than 600-strong procession was not broken up or interrupted.
I was utterly amazed. Not only was this the very first ride in my entire life where there was no chance I was gonna get booked, it was also the first mass motorcycle ride I had ever been on where the police were facilitating the actual pack rather than harassing stray riders and providing reasons why people must not ride in such packs. I could not help but think of the difference between this ride and any other non-police mass ride, where under no circumstances is anyone to ride anywhere in a pack.
So yes, it is one rule for them, and another for everyone who is not them.
Anyway, we wended our way out of Sydney and onto the Hume Highway at or rather below the speed limit, and I really felt there would be little chance of me being inadvertently slain by a poorly controlled motorcycle, so that was good.
Overhead a helicopter filmed us and police outriders zipped along the pack at furious speeds blocking off access ramps. Highway Patrol cars were parked at intervals along the Hume, their drivers standing in a line in front of them as a gesture of respect as we passed.
It was altogether surreal for me. Especially once the speed crept up to about 130km/h. I’m sure the blokes at the front were doing the limit, but big packs tend to get strung out over a distance and the stragglers do play catch-up.
Once at the police academy, where the run had pulled in for a bite to eat, I felt even more conspicuous. No-one spoke to me, but there was more whispering and staring. I didn’t feel intimidated – I just felt out of place.
I found and chatted with a bunch of firemen who had come along for the ride and looking around, wondered quietly why police organisations such as the Blue Knights would ape outlaw motorcycle colours on their vests. Did they not grasp what that was all about? I wanted to ask, but then thought better of it.
I finished my steak sanga and rode off alone. I wanted to get ahead of the run to photograph it as it made its way along the shores of Lake George. I grabbed a few shots as the pack roared past me, then rejoined it for the last 40-odd kms into Canberra as it rendezvoused with smaller police contingents from WA, Victoria and Queensland.
The scene outside the Eagle Hawk servo just outside Canberra was astonishing. I have never seen more cops in one spot than I did that afternoon. In fact, the organisers themselves looked a little overwhelmed at the number assembled. There were easily more than 1000 bikes that rumbled into the nation’s capital as the sun started to set.
The sizeable attendance meant it was an unmitigated success as far as the police were concerned.
But as an outsider looking in, I was left feeling rather ambivalent. I don’t know what I expected or how I was meant to feel, but at the end of the day, as I pulled over after looping around Canberra’s Parliament House with the pack and let them all go on to the final memorial service without me, the divide between the police and the society it polices seemed as wide as the sky and just as unbridgeable.
I have heard them describe themselves as zookeepers. Which makes us the beasts they must keep. And I can understand why they have that mindset. I would be amazed if they didn’t. So it’s little wonder I felt as awkward as I did on that day.
It is right that the police honour their dead.
But it’s a closed shop.
And that’s the way it should be.
By Boris Mihailovic