Outside Sunbury Police Station stands a small, 160-year-old gaol, built to house criminals from the area during the Victorian gold rush.
The historic bluestone building was originally located in Aitkens Gap, a tiny township that has long since been swallowed up by the growth of Sunbury.
While the gaol serves as a reminder of how much policing in the area has changed over the years, the many new housing estates cropping up around Sunbury serve as a predictor of the big changes still to come.
Thirty years ago, Sunbury was a country town on the very outskirts of Melbourne with a population about 15,000, but now it has a population of more than 40,000 – expected to double in 20 years – and is considered a suburb of metropolitan Melbourne.
Much of the population growth has occurred in the past 10 years, which Acting Senior Sergeant Len Pickles and Acting Sergeant Justin Kaminski have experienced both as police officers and residents.
A/Sen Sgt Len Pickles (pictured above) says close connections with the community are an everyday part of the job.
As far as policing goes, they still see elements of both the city and the country at play.
“We get a real variety of jobs out here,” A/Sen Sgt Pickles said.
“There are the family violence and road trauma incidents like anywhere else, but then we also get the kangaroos on the side of the road, sheep that have escaped their paddocks and cows walking through people’s front yards.
the pair noticed work had become much busier as the population has grown in recent years.
“When I first started here, you could have one person staff the front counter of the station, now you’re struggling with two,” A/Sgt Kaminski said.
Although now a fast-growing suburb, Sunbury is still home to residents who are more than capable when it comes to farm skills.
A/Sgt Kaminski was thankful for this fact a few years ago when responding to reports of a wild snake scaring people in Sunbury’s busy shopping precinct.
“It was laying in the gutter and we were keeping people away from it while waiting for the council to come and collect it,” he said.
“It was a brown snake, so I certainly wasn’t touching it.”
“A couple of locals then came out of the pub, had a look at it and said, ‘Oh, it’s only a little brown’, and they picked it up and put it in a box.”
the growth of the suburb has intesified since Sunbury train station was included as part of Melbourne metropolitan network in 2012
To meet the increased commuter traffic, Protective Service Officers (PSO’s) were asdded to the train station in 2013 to suppliment the work of the police.
A/Sen Sgt Pickles said the PSOs have made an “immense impact” on anti-social behaviour around the station.
Police at Sunbury in the heat of summer are always on alert with Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV, formerly the Country Fire Authority) for grass fires that can quickly rip through the hills and plains surrounding the suburb.
“We get some very nasty grass fires in the summer,” A/Sgt Kaminski said.
“Sunbury plays a key role in state-wide summer fire operations, with intelligence collection, specific tasking and management of high-risk individuals playing a part in keeping the community safe.
“One of the worst fires was deliberately-lit on Christmas Day in 2015.
“It was a hot and windy day, so it spread rapidly. FRV did well to control it and save all the houses.”
A/Sen Sgt Pickles said it is the responsibility of police during fire events to support FRV by managing traffic, evacuations and ensuring the community is kept at a safe distance.
“Once the fire is made safe, we establish a crime scene and call our fire investigators out,” A/Sen Sgt Pickles said.
Sunbury is also one of three police service areas that cover Melbourne Airport, which brings another variety of jobs, such as hazmat incidents and even people who have died during their flight.
“When someone passes away on an aeroplane, it’s the investigative responsibility of wherever the plane lands, so local police commence the investigation on behalf of the coroner,” A/Sen Sgt Pickles said.
We also get the odd call in advance that a plane is coming in transmitting a distress signal.
“It might be an issue of something like smoke in the cargo holds but, 99 times out of 100, it thankfully doesn’t eventuate into anything.
“We’re always ready, though.”