FROM the VAULT – CoP Noel Newnham

Noel Ronald Newnham came to Queensland from the Victorian Police Service and took the Oath to become our 16th Police Commissioner at a ceremony on November 1, 1989.  He was ‘selected from dozens of Australian and overseas applicants, [and] will oversee massive reforms of the Queensland Police Force in the wake of the Fitzgerald Report’ (Vedette, October 1989, cover).  Contracted for three years to implement recommendations made by Mr Tony Fitzgerald, QC, Mr Newnham proved to be a no-nonsense choice for the role.  At the commencement of his tenure Commissioner Newnham said, ‘It’s the most rewarding and challenging job that could possibly be imagined by anyone.  It is a time to look forward with enthusiasm and optimism, to a revitalised Police Service’.

Commissioner Noel Newnham was appointed as Queensland’s Police Commissioner for a 3 year term between 1989 and 1992.
Image No. PM1179 courtesy of the Queensland Police Museum.

Commissioner Newnham set about improving morale within the Service.  Several initiatives encouraged community policing, including Crime Stoppers and Neighbourhood Watch.  The employment of Regional Commanders, decentralised administration and shifting duties to civilian employees when police powers were not required all helped to redirect policing skills where they were needed most.  Merit based selection was refined, and new performance assessment procedures trialled.

A year on, November 26, 1990, a time capsule was placed inside the newly built Police Headquarters building which included a letter written by Commissioner Newnham addressed to his successor.  He wrote of the symbolism of new beginnings in a new building, and partisan efforts to recover public confidence in the Queensland Police Service; ‘We are striving to bring about change, modernisation, rejuvenation and a full commitment to the ideals of integrity, dedication and service’.

Plaque placed by Commissioner Newnham to denote the location of the time capsule within Queensland Police Headquarters. Only 73 more years to wait before it’s opened!
Image No. PM2784 courtesy of the Queensland Police Museum.

One anecdote from a previous member of the Queensland Police Pipes and Drums describes the enthusiasm for, and leadership style of Mr Newnham towards his staff: Pipe bands from around the country had attended the biannual Australian Pipe Band Championships, held in Brisbane in 1990.  They were competing for several titles; Grades 1 to 4, Champion Drum Major, and best Juvenile Band.  Commissioner Newnham attended the finals to witness the success by the Victoria Police Band who came 1st in Grade 1 division, and his new band, the Queensland Police Pipes and Drums who came 1st in Grade 3 division.  The event was held in October’s warm spring temperatures, and preparations to celebrate their win included arranging a large esky packed with ice and beverages, to be stored under a marquee for Victorian and Queensland police band members to share after the competition.

With all bag pipping and drumming events completed at the end of two exhausting days, the esky was calling, however Mr Newnham conveniently used it as a seat.  Thirsty band members waited patiently and made polite conversation with the Commissioner as afternoon temperatures soared.  Finally, Mr Newnham said his goodbyes and departed, allowing the musicians access to their esky and stock of well-earned cold beers.


This article was written by Museum Assistant Georgia Grier from the best resources available within the Queensland Police Museum.  The Police Museum is open 9am to 4pm Monday to Thursday and 10am to 3pm on the last Sunday of the month (Feb-Nov) and is located on the Ground Floor of Police Headquarters at 200 Roma Street, Brisbane. Contact: E: [email protected]

“FROM the VAULT- CoP Noel Newnham” by the Queensland Police Service is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (BY) 2.5 Australia Licence. Permissions may be available beyond the scope of this licence.

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