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Beverley Ann (Bev) Lawson (1940–1998)

by Glenn Mitchell

This article was published online in 2024

Bev Lawson, 1990 [detail]

Bev Lawson, 1990 [detail]

Wollongong City Libraries

Beverley Ann Lawson (1940–1998), police officer, was born on 14 October 1940 at Wollongong, New South Wales, younger child of New South Wales-born parents Joseph Lawson, miner, and his wife Vera, née Rowles. Bev attended Tarrawanna Public and Corrimal Junior High schools. A promising athlete, she played tennis and represented New South Wales in hockey and softball. She passed the practical piano examinations of the Australian Music Examinations Board in 1951 and 1952 and at Corrimal Junior High she performed in a one-act play as part of the local drama festival.

Aged fifteen, Lawson left school to work as a typist at the Port Kembla steelworks. Her sport, music, and work grounded her in the community and remained interests for life. Typing and clerical work did not appeal as a career, so she joined the New South Wales Police Force at the Redfern Police Academy, the only woman in a class of 111. Later she would recall that on her first day she ‘walked through the portals of the academy at 23 years of age and wondered what I had done’ (Ferrari 1993, 7). She graduated as a probationary constable on 11 May 1964. It was the beginning of an impressive career distinguished by many firsts.

Throughout her career Lawson was largely stationed at Wollongong. In 1973 she was promoted to senior constable, and in 1986 she became the first female licensing sergeant in the force. The following year she was appointed senior sergeant as its first female patrol commander. In 1988 she was appointed chief inspector, then superintendent in 1990, and chief superintendent in 1993. She became deputy commissioner, field operations, the highest rank reached by a female officer to that point, in February 1997. As part of her commitment to reform the force, she was an active member of the New South Wales Police Association. She was awarded the National Medal in 1981 and the Australian Police Medal in 1993.

Outside her police work Lawson was active in the Wollongong community. She was president of the local branch of the disability support organisation House With No Steps and of the management committee of the Wollongong Police Citizens Youth Club; a founding member of the Master Builders Ladies Golf Club, of which she was captain; and a life member of the Illawarra Softball Association. An associate fellow of the Australian Institute of Management, in 1994 she joined the council of the University of Wollongong; she was appointed a university fellow in 1997. Herself in remission from breast cancer, she developed the Illawarra Police Charity Ball as a fund-raiser for people needing cancer treatment. The first ball in August 1986 raised money for the palliative care ward at Bulli Hospital and the Wollongong Cancer Awareness Support Group.

When she gave evidence to the royal commission into the New South Wales Police Service in 1996 Lawson’s reputation suffered. She conceded lost opportunities in investigating sexual assault allegations against the Christian Brother Michael Evans and the parish priest Father Peter Comensoli. Later she acknowledged, after being shown police intelligence reports dating back more than twenty years, that more should have been done to bring Tony Bevan, a former Wollongong mayor and suspected paedophile, to justice.

Lawson lived with her parents; she had never married. She had a stroke on 21 January 1998 and died the next day at Wollongong. Following a funeral service at the Church of Christ, Figtree, she was buried in the Lakeside Memorial Park cemetery at Dapto. The local paper remembered her as ‘a “true daughter” of Wollongong’ (Ferraz 1998, 1). The Bev Lawson memorial award for women in law enforcement was established in her honour.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Ferrari, Justine. ‘Policewoman Joins an Elite Group of Two.’ Australian, 11–12 December 1993, 7
  • Ferraz, Nalita. ‘Bev’s Death Shocks City.’ Illawarra Mercury, 23 January 1998, 1
  • New South Wales. Legislative Assembly. Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), 31 March 1998, 3477–80
  • Nixon, Christine. ‘Our Highest Ranking Policewoman.’ Australian, 28 January 1998, 15

Additional Resources

Citation details

Glenn Mitchell, 'Lawson, Beverley Ann (Bev) (1940–1998)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lawson-beverley-ann-bev-32909/text40994, published online 2024, accessed online 22 February 2024.

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