Joy Murphy spent 51 years quietly changing the face of the police force. What she proved over a marathon career, is you don’t have to make noise to make moves.
In the early days of her career, Joy Murphy stepped into the Detective Sergeant’s office in the suburban criminal investigations unit she had just been hired for.
“It was my first day,” she recalls, “and he was leaning back in his chair, smoking, feet on the desk.”
“He said, ‘I’ve got a job for you.’ I queried, thinking he had an investigation to give me. He said, ‘The tea towels need to be washed every week. That’s your job now.’”
Joy says, without complaining, she “just got on with it”, because she knew things would one day change.
After a marathon 51 years in the police force, a stint recognised by the International Association of Women in Policing as the longest in the world, Joy this week finally hung up the Victoria Police uniform.
What she leaves behind is a legacy as a staunch advocate for the advancement of women in policing, having been the first woman in Victoria Police to be appointed as officer-in-charge of a crime squad when given the top position in the Sexual Offences Squad in 1987.
“I never intended to stay this long,” she says, “but I always seemed to be on a mission, one after another.
There was always something to do, someone to help.”
One of four women in a squad of 25 as a cadet, and later one of only 200 women in Victoria Police, Joy entered into a force that only allowed her the select number of tasks a policewoman was allocated to.
Joy wasn’t deterred, but determined.
“I was always prepared to do exactly the same as the men and never used my gender to avoid anything,” she says.
She recalls the Equal Opportunities Act “opened the floodgates” for policewomen to transfer to a range of areas within Victoria Police that “had only ever had men”.
Joy was quick to put in an application to her first criminal investigations unit.
“Out of respect I rang the Det S/Sgt at the unit I intended to apply for,” she says.
“His first question was, ‘do you have a sharp pair of nail scissors?’ When I queried why, he said, ‘your job will be cutting the grass outside my office window’.
“It became apparent then, to get anywhere as a woman, you had to cop that kind of behaviour on the chin and get on with it.
While ground-breaking for women in the organisation, the appointment to the top of the Sexual Offences Squad wasn’t a surprising career move for Joy, who fiercely advocated for a specialist response to sexual assault and family violence.
After having made a name for herself as an expert in the family violence and sexual assault investigation fields, Joy still had more to give; becoming instrumental in forming the Victoria Police Gay and Lesbian Police Employee’s Network.
“I had no hesitation in becoming involved and encouraged my partner and a few friends to become involved,” she says.
“But, unfortunately, it came with a lot of grief, and we hit a number of obstacles early on.
Many of us were targeted for various things. I got removed from my unit. Anyone that supported me or others of the group were also targeted for special attention.”
After only six months after returning to work, Murphy was diagnosed with leukaemia, which she believes was triggered by years of stress.
Now in remission, she remains upbeat and confident that it was all worth it, noting the battle with the disease was not as draining as her battle with discrimination.
She knows what she helped create has paved the way for Victoria Police’s queer community.
“We started the momentum and I believe Victoria Police is now a safer place for LGBTQIA+ members and the community we serve, she says.
“It’s not perfect yet. The job still has some way to go, but the momentum is moving forward to achieve true equality.”
As she reflects on over five decades devoted to the force, Joy holds great hope for the future of policing.
“The doors are open now,” she says, “and you can really diversify. Get as much experience as possible. Maintain your integrity at all costs.
Don’t listen to people who will put you down, and stay strong in the face of adversity. Be prepared to stand up and advocate for what is right.
And, above all, believe in yourself. I’m as sure of that as I am of anything.”