NAIDOC Week profile: First Nations Employment Officer Adrian Coolwell 2023
As NAIDOC Week begins in 2023, one of our First Nations members reflects on his career with the Queensland Police Service (QPS). Adrian Coolwell, First Nations Employment Officer with the First Nations and Multicultural Affairs Unit, is well aware of the sweet taste of success. However, he also understands that it is not always straightforward. The accomplished footballer, cricketer, and proud First Nations man did not achieve his initial dream of becoming a police officer. Instead, he chose a different path that led to a diverse and fulfilling career in the QPS. On his father’s side, Mr. Coolwell has Mununjhali heritage, belonging to the First Nations people from the Beaudesert area. His mother, the late Aunty Valda Coolwell, who was well-known and respected, hailed from the Gooreng Gooreng and Gungalu people (both from central Queensland), as well as having a South Sea Islander background. Aunty Valda was one of the first Aboriginal people to conduct traditional Welcome to Country ceremonies in southeast Queensland. Since her passing in January of this year, Mr. Coolwell has taken on some of that responsibility.
He said his initial connection to policing came through the sport of rugby. “I was playing first grade football for Wests and one day we played against the QPS team,” Mr Coolwell said. “Mal Meninga was on the team because he was a police officer at the time. “My mother had a connection to Mal because he also has South Sea Islander background, and she went to school with his father. “I was getting ready to finish high school and wondering what to do with my life. My mother saw that Mal was a police officer and she said, ‘You’d be good at that’.” Mr Coolwell said he applied to join the QPS when he was 18 but was unsuccessful. “It was 1978, and there were height restrictions in those days. They said I was too short and turned me down.
“It was a kick in the guts, but I got on with life and went off and did other things.” Mr Coolwell worked for stationery distributors Gordon and Gotch for the following decade, meanwhile following his passion for both football and cricket. Height restrictions had ended in the QPS by around 1989, and he again applied to be a police officer but was unsuccessful. Once more, he sought other opportunities and completed a hospitality course that opened new doors.
“I worked in hospitality for the next 10 years and ended up being the duty manager at the Breakfast Creek Hotel,” Mr Coolwell said. “We would regularly have police rostered for special duties at the door, and I got to know some of the local officers. “Around 1995, the Police Liaison Officer (PLO) program started in the QPS, and these officers encouraged me to join as a PLO. “They acted as my referees, and I became one of the first PLOs in the state. “It was a different pathway into the QPS, and nearly 30 years later, I have not looked back.” Mr Coolwell worked as a PLO in Brisbane and Fortitude Valley for the next five years until a new opportunity arose.
“In 1999, my inspector at the time, Kerry Smith, encouraged me to apply for the position of Watchhouse Officer. “Watchhouse Officers look after the prisoners in the watchhouse. We feed them, look after any medical needs, make sure they are ready to go to court, and keep them under observation. “Having First Nations people in this position exerts a calming influence on prisoners who are of First Nations background themselves. “It was a new program in 1999, and now there are many around the state, mainly in regional centers.” Despite being closer than ever to fulfilling his dream of becoming a police officer, Mr Coolwell decided to apply for the new role. “When the Watchhouse Officer job came up,
I had actually completed the First Nations Recruit Preparation Course, with a view to applying for the Police Recruit Training program,” Mr Coolwell said. “At that time, however, I had a little family and the Watchhouse Officer offered better money and the ability to stay in one place and not move around the state.” Mr Coolwell worked at the Brisbane Watchhouse for the next 13 years. By 2012, with a wealth of experience working for the QPS, he was successful in applying for another new position, First Nations Employment Officer. “I had some health issues at the time, and the idea of a less stressful job that I still felt passionate about suited me,” Mr Coolwell said. “The boss asked if I was able to travel, and I said yes, and I haven’t looked back. “My first trip was to Thursday Island, and since then I have traveled all over the state.”
Mr. Coolwell stated that he spends approximately 50% of his time traveling, attending recruiting events, and building relationships in communities to encourage more First Nations people to apply to join the QPS. “It’s important to have more First Nations people in the job because that’s how we will start to see real change across the whole country. “We also need to set an example for our young kids because if they see First Nations people as police officers, they will follow in their footsteps. “Some of our applicants struggle in the areas of literacy and numeracy, so the QPS runs preparation courses to help them get up to speed before applying for the Recruit Training Program.”
“Hopefully, approximately 15 people who are currently undertaking the six-week First Nations Recruit Preparation program in Townsville will be on track to apply to become police recruits.” This year, TAFE Queensland introduced a new six-month training program to assist First Nations people interested in applying for government positions such as the QPS, Australian Border Force, or Australian Federal Police. The QPS contributed to the curriculum for this program, which includes visits to the QPS Academy in Townsville. Mr. Coolwell said that although his initial dream of becoming a police officer did not come true, he has enjoyed an incredible career in the QPS. “My pathway into the QPS may not have been straightforward, but I believe that if you want something badly enough, you will find a way.
“I wanted to be a first-grade football player, and I achieved it by playing for Wests. I also wanted to play first-grade cricket, and I accomplished this as well by playing with Valleys. “If you want something, you put your mind to it. “Even if policing is not the right fit for you, there are other jobs such as PLOs, Watchhouse Officers, Protective Security Officers, and administrative roles. “There are opportunities for everyone. “I’m glad I kept my options open. Police officers have to retire at 60, but I am 63 and still working. I enjoy what I’m doing now and want to continue doing it.
” Although his role as First Nations Employment Officer is full-time, Mr. Coolwell maintains a strong connection with sport. He and his family are avid supporters of the State of Origin, and he is the current Manager of the Queensland First Nations Cricket team that competes in the National Indigenous Championships each year. Over the past eight years, several members of the cricket team have transitioned to policing and are now serving throughout the state.
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