Mildura Police Superintendent Rebecca Olsen was awarded the Australian Police Medal in the Australia Day honours this year, acknowledging her commitment and exceptional contribution to policing and came on the eve of her one year anniversary marking her return to the top job in February last year following a 12-month leave of absence taken to facilitate breast cancer treatment.
Supt. Olsen said just being nominated for the medal had been a great surprise.
“I was thrilled to be initially nominated and thought no more of it with my surprise at even being considered,” she said.
”When notified of the success in receiving the honour, I was completely overwhelmed and quite shocked.
“I did re-read the details over and over to make sure that I understood it correctly.
“Receiving the medal really did validate my decision to return to VicPol and continue to do the job that I have truly loved doing all my life − working with, and in the service of others.
“It is a celebration and culmination of my 32 years in the police, with the majority of time working in Regional Victoria.
“We often refer to the support of the ‘villages’ to help grow our children, but the same applies also to growing leaders, particularly our female leaders.”
“The many ‘villages’ from the coast to the Mallee have encouraged me, pushing me along during times when I couldn’t see my own potential, trusting and sharing hopes and visions.
“I have received so many thoughtful words on the announcement of the APM being awarded it continues to overwhelm.”
In 2019 Supt. Olsen spent a year away from her desk while she fought a battle against breast cancer, having been diagnosed with what she described as “a fairly aggressive breast cancer” for which she underwent a 12-month treatment program which involved chemotherapy, some radiation treatment and a significant amount of surgery.
In a candid discussion, Supt. Olsen revealed to the ‘Weekly her self-doubt and trepidation leading up to her return to the top job.
“Having only returned to work 12 months ago, I had no idea even if I could do the job anymore let alone continue to be healthy,” she said.
“Returning to work was difficult after my treatment and surgery. I felt I had lost confidence in my ability to do my job, both physically and mentally I wasn’t as fit as I had once been and the world emotionally was a very different place for me 12 months ago.
“But I returned to work determined and accepting that it wasn’t going to be easy − that comes with the joy of being alive.”
Supt. Olsen said you don’t make progress without the support of the ‘village’.
“So once again you all pushed me along, and now 12 months on, I find myself in a new, but different sort of normal,” she said.
“My health is improving everyday, and as a get fitter and stronger, I am reminded to be kind to myself also, because I know it could all change in a day.
“I love doing what I do and I might be not as energetic or sharp as I once was but that’s okay.
Supt. Olsen said there are many demanding careers, and unsurprisingly, Policing is certainly one of them, but with demand, comes reward.
“I have seen much that I can’t ‘un-see’ and been pushed well beyond my comfort zone, and yes, there have been many sleepless nights,” she said.
“Everyone has bad days, but in my experience, wow – the great ones well outweigh those by a long shot!”
“This isn’t a career for everyone, but for those that are made of tough stuff, and who really want to make a difference, and are patient in seeing that happen, then there will be no disappointment.”
Supt. Olsen said returning to her job in the year when the coronavirus pandemic struck had added to the challenge.
“Policing has been turned on its head during the past 12 months, and there is still much change ahead − somethings may never return to what we knew previously,” she said.
“Criminal offending trends changed during COVID, offenders thought about their own business models differently in adapting to the restrictions.
“Policing needed to be quick to adapt to the circumstances we found ourselves in and I think we worked well making some real inroads.”
Supt. Olsen said that the Mallee is still over represented in the family violence offending data.
“If people could see (as we do daily) the long term consequences on our youth who are exposed to family violence − they too would be saddened,” she said.
“There is still much work to be done around reducing the harm caused by alcohol and drug addiction for members of our Mallee community particularity our youth.”
Supt. Olsen said Mildura is booming in terms of popularity and recruiting for VicPol has been strong with vacancies filled by those with an interest in working in a remote region.
“We can offer staff and their families a really meaningful Policing career with a lifestyle that is the envy of others − the secret is out!” she said.
“I also have our community to thank. The most recent Vehicle Check Points had metro VicPol members deployed and the question on all their lips was “why are country people always so friendly?”.
“You can never underestimate the impact that being kind considerate and respectful to each other makes. Let’s hope that we sent them back to their workplaces a little wiser to the ‘country ways’.”