Curries in a hurry: How one police family’s journey saved lives

Tony and Michelle met in a Melbourne nightclub, which was not unusual for the time. But they did stand out from the usual clientele at that particular establishment.

Casey’s nightclub in Hawthorn specialised in the over-35 market, leaving it with a somewhat cynical nickname from younger clubbers.

“We met at Grab-a-Granny’s,” says Michelle. She was 19 and Tony was 21.

“Our relationship was based on a lie,” she says, warming to the subject. “He said he was a carpenter, but I was a chippy’s daughter and knew more about it than he did.”

Tony Currie, then a promising boxer, had just had a bout at the Braybrook Hotel and stopped for a celebratory drink with mates. He had already applied to join the police force and walked into the Academy a few months later.

The couple have been together ever since and at that same Academy this week received the Citizen Commendation, the highest civilian honour that can be awarded by police, for their work in helping police deal with the stresses of a job where one event can be life-changing.

Tony and Michelle Currie receive their Citizen Commendations from Chief Commissioner Shane Patton at the Police Academy on Thursday.Credit:Eddie Jim

For years they have invested their money, time and passion to present seminars, conferences and small gatherings for cops and their partners designed to turn victims into survivors.

The Critical Incident Forums involve police who have survived dealing with death and who share their battles to recover from trauma.

In the world of policing, talking the talk is never enough. When you have walked the streets, donned the uniform or lived with the consequences at home, then you have the right to speak and be heard.

The stress can come from one or a hundred incidents, from shootings, car accidents, sex crimes or domestic abuse. From dealing with evil to looking for answers where there are none.

The citation, presented to the “proud and humbled” Curries on Thursday by Chief Commissioner Shane Patton, states: “For providing exemplary service through the support of current and former members of Victoria Police and their families where members have been involved in critical and life-changing incidents.”

Those who knew “Kid” Currie when he was in the police force would have bet he was more likely to be rapped on the knuckles by a chief commissioner than presented with an award by one.

Michelle and Tony Currie with her getaway car.

His tendency to test the rules began early. At the strictly live-in Academy he would scale the perimeter fence and race off to Michelle waiting in her car, before returning in the morning. He was convinced he had them fooled, but some instructors chose to turn a blind eye.

An instinctively brave and practical cop, Tony was, he admits, hopeless at paperwork, which is why Michelle, a savvy law clerk, buffed and polished many of his assignments.

Again the instructors knew, and marked him down. This annoyed Michelle more than Tony. “I would think, ‘That introduction was really good, why didn’t it get top marks?’.”

From that night at Casey’s she was attracted by his smile and sense of fun – then watched as it drained from him over nearly 12 years in policing.

“My father said for 10 years he didn’t know Tony could smile,” she says.

There are police who have a career without seeing an offender with a firearm. From the time Currie marched out of the Academy, trouble seemed to be looking for him. Later in his career, “Kid” went looking for trouble.

Within weeks of graduation a man pulled a knife on him. Within months a troubled Vietnam veteran lured police to his house and pulled a gun in a planned ‘suicide by cop’. Currie drew his service revolver. “We were in a Mexican standoff.”

The Special Operations Group (SOG) was called and one shot and wounded the veteran.

At the SOG it was unwise to live in a glass house.

Soon Currie would join the SOG. The welterweight boxer was at that time the lightest and smallest applicant to be accepted, but soon built a reputation as one of the toughest.

Currie spent 10 of his 12 policing years in the SOG, was involved in six shootings, shot one offender dead and badly wounded another.

If policing is seen as a brotherhood, the SOG was almost a cult. “They were so insular they were like the mafia. They worked together, had social trips, went to the movies and even went to have their haircuts together,” says Michelle.

Currie became so obsessed he would sleep in the office to make sure he wouldn’t miss a job.

Hyper-alert and always on guard, he became disengaged and distant at family or non-police gatherings. His job as an assault team member and explosives technician consumed him. When Michelle was asking his opinion on tiles for their new home, he was rehearsing in his mind how to dismantle a bomb.

So, why did Michelle stick with him? “There was always a glimmer [of what he had been] there.”

In November 1988, the SOG went to arrest Jedd Houghton (a suspect in the Walsh Street murders of constables Steven Tynan and Damian Eyre) in a Bendigo caravan park.

When Houghton pointed a handgun at the police, Currie and Paul “Possum” Carr fired, killing him instantly.

Paul “Possum” Carr and Tony Currie.

To have shot dead a suspected double cop killer gave Currie and Carr (who would die 15 years later climbing a mountain in the Himalayas to raise money for the Make a Wish Foundation) celebrity status within policing, but behind closed doors it was different.

The terrible Houghton shooting scene stayed with Currie.

“I couldn’t get it out of my head. There were night sweats and broken sleep. No matter how busy I was during the day, at night the images [inside the Bendigo caravan] would come back.”

Two months later Currie shot and wounded another armed man during a raid on a cannabis plantation. It was made clear to him there couldn’t be a third.

When he tried to talk a man out of shooting himself, the man stuck his gun in the side of Currie’s head. Currie would have been justified in using lethal force but instead he and others wrestled the gun from the man’s hand.

Yet, it wasn’t the workload or the danger that led Currie to think it was time to leave but exactly the opposite. Back in uniform, he hated the mundane and was addicted to the adrenaline surge from the life-and-death raids.

In 1996 he resigned. It is fair to say Michelle and many in the police hierarchy were relieved.

“The week after I left I went for a run and did my best time ever. It was as if the weight of policing had been lifted from my shoulders,” Currie says.

“For me, it was like he had left and then come back,” says Michelle.

The Curries built a successful window glazing business and were bought out for a lucrative sum.

They had a son, who only knew his father as a professional type, not a law enforcement action man.

Tony Currie’s son didn’t believe it, but this was once all in a day’s work for his dad. Credit:Paul Rovere

When a police helicopter appeared on the TV news, Michelle told their young son “dad used to abseil out of that”. The boy responded: “Yeah, in his dreams.”

They retired in 2011. Three years later Tony’s good mate, former armed robbery detective Mark Wylie, took his own life. Wylie had been shot and wounded in 1986 during an arrest raid on a Russell Street bombing suspect.

“I was aware of his struggles but like others, I believed he would battle on through as he had in the past,” says Currie. Then a second police officer killed herself.

Tony and Michelle decided to use their experience to reach out to police and families who were suffering similar pressures after critical incidents. The first forum was in 2015, and they have been holding them ever since.

Tony enlists a group of police involved in previous fatal shootings to reach out to present police involved in similar incidents. They talk of the images, the broken sleep, the mood swings but also of the truth that there is a way back. Usually, the new members of that dreadful club are just relieved to know their feelings are shared.

“Some will say ‘I thought it was just me’. It is about letting them know they are not alone,” he says.

The Curries’ Critical Incident Forums allow cops and their families to share stories that many have locked away for years. Organised outside the formal police structure, they allow many to open up in a way they would not within a departmental program. Rank doesn’t matter and nothing ends up on a personnel file.

“It is an informal approach where no one is judging you,” says Michelle.

“There are people who thought they would never recover who are now helping others. They are moving from being victims to survivors. They are giving themselves permission to be happy again,” she says. “It takes time to heal and everyone recovers at their own pace.”

Tony says: “Policing is one of the greatest and most rewarding jobs. Some of the friendships you make last forever.”

But he has a message to those who are struggling: “There is life after policing.”

The Curries’ registered charity is the Haynes Foundation.

For more information on the Haynes Foundation, contact [email protected]. Lifeline 131 114; MensLine 1300 789 978; Beyond Blue 1300 224 636.

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