Almanac Life: ‘The Hunting of the Snark’ (or ‘Lessons for, and from, a life in policing’).




“But oh, beamish nephew, beware of the day,
If your Snark be a Boojum! For then
You will softly and suddenly vanish away,
And never be met with again!”*


*from ‘The Hunting of the Snark’, by Lewis Carroll



Most police officers entering into retirement have found their Snark to be a Boojum. This is not necessarily a bad thing. There is something to be said for softly and suddenly vanishing away. Organisations evolve relentlessly and leave all contributors, even the most significant of them, in their wake. If cricket can move past Don Bradman, then policing – well, you get the analogy…



The trick to softly and suddenly vanishing away is, however, a pathway laden with hazards as fearful as Lewis Carroll’s Bandersnatch; even more perilous than the JubJub. It is a journey requiring; in fact, demanding, significant forethought and planning.  Of course, almost all retiring professionals will arrive at this realisation; but many of them do so too late.



The Bellman looked uffish, and wrinkled his brow.
If only you’d spoken before!
It’s excessively awkward to mention it now,
With the Snark, so to speak, at the door!*



Our profession, the profession of policing, is an immersive one. We take it home with us; and to parties. It comes in phone calls and emails when we are not at work. It gets between us and those we love. It comes in insomnia. It comes on our holidays with us.  It appears suddenly in the places we thought we went to escape it.  If we are not careful, it consumes us. We need to be careful because, if we allow ourselves to be consumed by it – if policing becomes our identity – then, when we are no longer police, what remains?



The loss of his clothes hardly mattered, because
He had seven coats on when he came,
With three pair of boots—but the worst of it was,
He had wholly forgotten his name.*



Of course, at the beginning of our careers, when we are young and strong and can leap tall buildings in a single bound, none of this matters. Except it does. We are the frogs in the heated pot, and we need to be conscious of the water temperature rising around us. There are two alternative certainties: we will learn to cope, or we will fall over. Coping, therefore, is good. However, it is a learned skill, and all of us learn in differing degrees, at different speeds, and by different methods. But teaching ourselves how to cope is an important and necessary thing, and it is is beyond dispute that having some deliberate strategies to guide us is much preferred to a reliance on good luck and a fair breeze.



He had bought a large map representing the sea,
Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
A map they could all understand…
…This was charming, no doubt; but they shortly found out
That the Captain they trusted so well
Had only one notion for crossing the ocean,
And that was to tingle his bell.*



Don’t be that Captain.



Have a sensible map; a realistic plan. Some reference points are handy.



Many of us commence our vocational journey without that plan (or, if you like, possessed of a map with no markings). We have no conception of the shape or direction of our career other than, perhaps, a careless awareness of the absence of any such direction. And often there is comfort in drifting with the current and breeze. But all of us, even those who enter the profession with clear and unambiguous plans for their journey, can discover that a life in policing will take us in unexpected and, on occasions, inexplicable directions?



But the principal failing occurred in the sailing,
And the Bellman, perplexed and distressed,
Said he had hoped, at least, when the wind blew due East,
That the ship would not travel due West!*



Trust me; in 40 years of policing, I have seen examples of such navigational absurdity. So a plan is great, but not foolproof.  Plans don’t always go according to – well, you know. What does one do when the plan fails? When we are being tossed about in the tempest, how is control regained?



You might begin by discovering – and it is a journey of discovery – who you are.  Not name, rank and payroll ID number, but what is at the core of your being.



Who are you?  Where do you belong? What makes you happy?  Are you the winger with no left foot but a liking for tall stories in the bar after the game? Are you the only member of the choir with the vocal range required for the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’?  Are you a favourite uncle/aunt?  Ratbag cousin?  Are you the most predictable non-winner in the tipping competition?



Where do you belong? And, most importantly: who is there for you when work is not?



When you make that discovery, never let it go. To do your job well, you do not have to neglect that aspect of yourself.  In fact, to continue to do your job well is almost impossible without that aspect of yourself.  Nurture and develop your self as if it is your most precious possession. Because it is.



You may seek it with thimbles, and seek it with care;
You may hunt it with forks and hope;
You may threaten its life with a railway-share;
You may charm it with smiles and soap.*



Having found your self, and having discovered your place, you always have safe harbour to which to return.  Which provides confidence, and great comfort, for a person who subjects themselves to the tumultuous forces of a career in policing.  This job will offer you a profusion of possibilities, and for every single one of them, there are further multitudes of uncertainties.



If all goes according to plan, my own journey in this profession will end on my 58th birthday, having spent 40 and one half of those years as a police officer.  Can anyone doubt that the 58 year old me would be a very different person if the 17 year old me had made a different career decision? This profession has shaped me into the person I will be when I leave it and go out into the world.  Whether that is a positive or negative result is a judgement for time and for others, but here is the crucial point: if a career in policing is going to alter the person you are, then should you not do everything in your power to observe and control that process?



‘Tis a pitiful tale,” said the Bellman, whose face
Had grown longer at every word:
But, now that you’ve stated the whole of your case,
More debate would be simply absurd.*



I’m pleased to be retiring. Not because I dislike this career, nor because I have tired of my colleagues. I’m just ready to embrace the opportunity to live a hundred percent of my life as the person I now know myself to be. Like any veteran police officer, I have seen my share of stuff, and not all of it has been disheartening. In dealing with situations that bring the worst to people, we often see them at their best: spirited; stoic; generous; strong; determined. And of course, in dealing with those situations we, as police, form our own bonds of fellowship with each other. I’ve been supported, nurtured and reinforced in that fellowship.  Of the countless people I have worked alongside over four decades, I could count on the times of a cocktail fork the ones I found it hard to like. And even they taught me things!



So, thank you Tasmania Police, for taking the teenage me and shaping him into something which I hope is not a complete bastard.  Thanks for teaching me about life. Thanks also for equipping me, at least in part, to bring the three finest young adults I know into this world.



Thanks to this island. If you are going to be police, this place is a good place to do it.



Thanks to the villains, victims, bystanders, collaborators and magistrates who played their role in my pageant. Thanks to my mentors; and to those who at least pretended to heed my (too often not) occasional advice.



Above all else, thanks to those who love me (others might doubt their existence, but I know who they are!) for giving me a retreat, and a mirror. And here, primarily, I mean my wife, Michelle. A now retired mentor of mine reminded me recently of the toll this job takes on personal relationships; of the countless hours of not being present for Christmases, New Years, school holidays, weekends, presentation nights, public holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. My mentor asks, “What bastard would do that to his family?“. Well, I was one of the many to do so. Through all those absences, including the ones where I was physically present but otherwise absent, Michelle carried on stoically, and often alone. I wrote above about the importance of knowing where you belong. She is where I belong.



I’m stepping out the door with a smile on my face and a sack full of plans. Four decades after accidentally starting an unplanned journey, I can sense that the Snark is nearby – so close, in fact, that I think I can distinguish its features …



In the midst of the word he was trying to say,
In the midst of his laughter and glee,
He had softly and suddenly vanished away–
For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.*








About Danny Russell

Danny Russell, feet planted firmly in the island state, is easily led. "Scratcher" Neal led him to the Cats where his loyalty has remained (despite being sorely tested). The weekly magazine "The Story of Pop" led him to music beyond the focus of Tasmanian AM radio of the 70s.


  1. Outstanding read Danny, thanks. I’m very pleased to see the word policeman written and not “member”. I have the utmost respect for the police on the street (not so much for those in head office) but find it harder to identify with someone who calls him or herself a “member”. Its modern-speak clap trap.

    I can’t think of too many occupations harder than yours.

    Enjoy retirement.

  2. A beautiful, thoughtful piece. Good luck in the next phase of your life, Danny!

  3. I’m with Dips and Matty here Danny. Terrific piece about your admirable profession, and your involvement a in it and commitment to it. Congrats on 40 years of service. And all the best with whatever it is that comes next. I hope writing is part of it and that your words find their place on the Almanac site.

  4. Frank Taylor says

    A truly great piece Danny, well done.
    Considered, very considered. The policing profession – it certainly takes a special type. I’m not one of those however I have a deep respect for those who are because I couldn’t do it that’s for sure.
    Love your reflections about the journey and finding the core and essence of yourself. I have had similar thoughts about my life journey and I have found that when life and situations are beyond control – that is when you find that essence. As you say “…as the person I now know myself to be.”
    And your wife, Michelle, I am lucky to have a wife like yours. We are both blessed.
    Thanks for your 40 years and your piece, much appreciated.

  5. Hayden Kelly says

    A fine read Danny perhaps they should provide a copy to all cadets when they graduate .No doubt you have seen lots of changes in your time in I reckon the toughest job going . Well done and i wish you a long ,healthy and happy retirement .

  6. roger lowrey says

    Terrific read Danny. I have no idea how you and your colleagues do it.


  7. Colin Ritchie says

    Congratulations Danny, what a magnificent read! I admire your inspiration and positive attitude in what must have been a difficult career at times. Good luck with your retirement and may it bring all you wish for. Looking forward to reading your next piece in the Almanac.

  8. Danny,

    That was a terrific read. More please. as you embark on your second career.

  9. Danny Russell says

    Thank you all for your kind words and good wishes. When I think about the shape and rhythm of the days ahead, I intend for them to include time dedicated to putting sentences together. If that process generates anything of apparent interest, the Almanac will be the first place I turn to.

Leave a Comment