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SAPOL’s top brass honour fallen police officer at Tailem Bend
SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens and other dignitaries have come to Tailem Bend for the unveiling of a memorial to a police officer killed in Tailem Bend in 1885.
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Police officers, government dignitaries, schoolchildren, invited guests and the public have gathered to see a police monument unveiled at Tailem Bend.
The metal figure near the railway station recognises the bravery of one of Tailem Bend’s first police officers, Mounted Constable Charles McCullagh, who was killed on duty in 1885.
SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens unveiled the monument in a colourful ceremony involving mounted police officers and their horses, Police Horse Chief and Police Horse Yass.
There were also historical recreations of uniformed SA police from 1885, the laying of wreaths by Commissioner Stevens and Coorong Mayor Paul Simmons, a police band and a performance by the Australian Girls Choir.
“Just like Mounted Constable McCullagh and the 60 other police officers who have died while serving across the state, their courage, bravery, commitment in answering the call to duty and preparedness to sacrifice their own lives in carrying out their duties as police officer must never be forgotten,” Commissioner Stevens said.
Another speaker at the event was SA Police Museum curator John White, who told Constable McCullagh’s tragic story.
Constable McCullagh and Mounted Constable John Dunne, from Murray Bridge Police Station, were the first police officers to be stationed in Tailem Bend.
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Both constables were born in Ireland, and Constable McCullagh was in his early 20s when he was posted to Tailem Bend on August 21, 1884.
The police station, as such, consisted of a tent, which doubled as the living quarters for the constables.
Although the location of the tent isn’t certain, Mr White estimated that it was probably on Railway Terrace, either on or near the site of the current Tailem Bend Police Station.
Constable McCullagh was killed on duty on July 26, 1885, near where Thursday’s memorial event took place.
The young constable became aware of a horse galloping out of control along Railway Terrace and pulling a heavy wagon.
Constable McCullagh left the police tent and attempted to stop the horse by reaching for its reins, but slipped.
The horse panicked and knocked him to the ground, and the wheel of the heavy wagon passed over the constable’s body, killing him instantly.
Constable McCullagh’s funeral was held at the East Wellington Cemetery and was attended by police from surrounding districts and Adelaide.
However, the only formal acknowledgement at the time was a brief notice published in the South Australian Police Gazette on August 12, 1885, stating “deceased – C.B. McCullagh, 26th ultimo”.
The memorial to Constable McCullagh and his bravery was created by father and daughter team John and Katie Wicker from Tailem Bend company Regional Profile Cutters.
“Katie did the designing, and I’ve got the trade skills to weld it together,” Mr Wicker said.
Both he and his daughter were happy with the final statue.
“In 100 years time, I’ll be disappointed if it’s not still there,” he said.
“It’ll be bare steel, unpainted and rusty – if it does get graffiti-ed, they can just wash it off with acetone and clean the paint off, and the rust will still be there, but it won’t spoil the actual statue.
“As a steel fabricator, I don’t think I’ve ever had a band, police and all the other dignitaries in attendance recognise something we’ve made – it was pretty special.”
To get the design for the statue tickety-boo, Ms Wicker worked closely with members of the Tailem Bend Historians Association.
“There are not many photos of that uniform, let along Constable McCullagh himself, so that’s why I tried to get a design that didn’t look weird and that didn’t show his face, because we had no reference for his face,” she said.
“I’m really chuffed that something I’ve designed has meant so much to so many people.”
Historian Elizabeth Nicholls said it meant a lot to honour a policeman who had lived and died before the town was even established.
“I just think it’s great, as the town needs to look at their history other than railway history,” she said.
“And it’s just great to keep the police presence in people’s minds to keep us all safe.”
The next major project for the Tailem Bend Historians will be an upgrade of the cemetery at Wellington East.
More information about Tailem Bend Historians: Call Angie Tomkinson on 0437 329 454.