It’s Mother’s Day, when children the world over remember all the hard work their parents put into bringing them into the world, all while trying not to burn the bacon or squash the flowers. But not for Lesa Gale. She’ll be in Queensland, far away from Canberra and her doting family, hopeful only of a phone call.
Lesa Gale is the Assistant Commissioner for the Australian Federal Police (AFP), with a passion for maintaining community safety and combatting all forms of human exploitation.
This year marks 33 years of policing, but that isn’t all she has been doing. She is also proud mother to two children, and has always strived to make time for them, as difficult as that could be at times.
It all started “a very long time” ago in 1987. Like so many others in her shoes, Lesa found herself fresh out of school and unsure of where to turn next.
“But there was a family friend working in the AFP at the time who recommended it as a good place to start.”
Lesa had previously volunteered for Meals on Wheels and other charities, but while policing promised the rewarding knowledge she was “making a difference”, there was a dark side.
“It was a bit of shock, finding out what actually happens in the Canberra community, things you never really get exposed to otherwise,” she says.
“It was challenging, and rewarding as well.”
While often the toughest, she says most of her job satisfaction comes from areas where the focus is on supporting victims of crime.
“I’ve been really fortunate throughout my career that I’ve been able to do that at a local level, at a national level, and also an international level. I find helping people very rewarding.”
But dealing with crime on a daily basis did impact the equally important and rewarding role she soon found herself in, as a mother.
“Working in victim-based crime, particularly with sexual assault and child abuse, does have an impact on how you are with your children,” she says.
“You are more cautious and over-protective, particularly as you see the progress of technology and the internet. You worry about your kids because you’ve seen the very worst of what society can do, and you don’t want to bring that into your house and have your children fall victim.”
The long hours were another issue.
“Particularly when you’re working on the long crime cases, you can’t just knock off – you have to keep going,” Lesa says.
“Sometimes that meant I would be working during their birthday parties, or on other special occasions such as family Christmas. Certainly as a mum, I found that hard.”
From her children’s perspective, she says both saw the reward that comes from helping people while also those times “when things hadn’t gone well”.
“They saw both the good and the bad.”
Clearly, however, the good outweighed the bad because her son Nicholas Austin-Gale is now a protective services officer in the AFP. He says growing up with a mother in the force was “difficult at times but, for the most part, rewarding” and the biggest reason he decided to sign up.
“I learnt pretty quickly that being a police officer took a lot of commitment, and seeing my mum work as tirelessly as she did to keep her community safe made it clear she never took her role for granted.”
Now working shifts himself, Nicholas says it can “definitely be difficult at times” but, although there are no immediate plans to start a family, he will encourage any future children to consider a role in the force.
Meanwhile, Nicholas’s older sister Ashley is a primary school teacher in Canberra. Lesa says she is “incredibly proud” of both of them and, in her position of influence today, wants to remove the barriers so that more mums can enjoy pursuing a career and being a mother with ease.
“The force has come a long way from when I joined. The diversity it affords is absolutely incredible. It’s okay, you don’t have to work full time and be there 24/7. There are other things we can do to support our workforce and our mums.”