Frances community praises border police officers

THANK YOU: The Frances community have thanked Senior Sergeant First Class Neil Hodgson and Sergeant Andrew Skein for their work over the past five months. Pic: GEORGIA SHEPHERD
THANK YOU: The Frances community have thanked Senior Sergeant First Class Neil Hodgson and Sergeant Andrew Skein for their work over the past five months. Pic: GEORGIA SHEPHERD

The Frances community have bid a heartfelt farewell to two very special border police officers who became part of the community over the past five months.

Local resident Zoe-Anna Hoctor has praised police officers Senior Sergeant First Class Neil Hodgson and Sergeant Andrew Skein and said they will be greatly missed as they left Frances this week to return home.

The two officers left their families in July to come and work at the Frances checkpoint on the border, and have become part of the community thanks to their kindness and compassion.

Ms Hoctor said the community, especially the children, quickly warmed to the pair, who would do what they could to make the children laugh, including blowing up their gloves to wave to the school bus and wearing fake spiders on their shirts on Halloween so they could be 'scared' when the children pointed them out.

"They were funny and patient and calm and kept themselves up to date with knowledge, which is really important," she said.

"My daughter, who is nearly five, always says 'remember how Andy waved the balloon Mum?' and 'remember when Neil blew up his glove?'

"There have been times where we have had picnics down on the oval and the kids walked up there and Neil and Andy have given them stickers and little stamps.

"They would always stop to ask every child individually 'how are you, how was your day?' and give them a high five.

"They have gone above and beyond to create a positive friendship, and relationship with the kids and the community at large."

Sergeant Andrew Skein has left a lasting impression on the children of Frances.. Pic: GEORGIA SHEPHERD

Sergeant Andrew Skein has left a lasting impression on the children of Frances.. Pic: GEORGIA SHEPHERD

She said Sgt Hodgson and Sgt Skein took time out of their day to introduce themselves to the children at the school, and Sgt Hodgson even joined in on a game of dodgeball.

"They came up to the school to meet the kids to normalise the fact that a school bus full of primary school children, including some three year olds, was being stopped by police while someone asks the bus driver for all their details," she said.

"That can be a very intimidating and scary experience for kids, especially so young, but they got on with their balloons and stickers, and then went down to play dodgeball with them, so the kids knew who they would be seeing everyday.

"As a parent, that kindness will never be forgotten."

However, she said it wasn't just the children who benefited from the officers compassion.

"They would check in regularly, they knew the ins and outs of our week - they knew that on Saturdays I drove my daughter to work, at the strawberry farm, so they would catch me on the afternoon shift for a chat rather than the morning when i had to get her there," Ms Hoctor said.

Frances residents will miss Senior Sergeant First Class Neil Hodgson and Sergeant Andrew Skein, who became part of the community Pic: GEORGIA SHEPHERD

Frances residents will miss Senior Sergeant First Class Neil Hodgson and Sergeant Andrew Skein, who became part of the community Pic: GEORGIA SHEPHERD

"The familiarity they had with all of us is just amazing, they weren't just visitors who came in and left.

"It made it a lot easier being in this situation, knowing that we could go to these guys and say 'this is awful' or 'I'm angry, what does this mean' and they always softened those blows just by being informed and telling us to hang in there and being part of that with us.

"Especially when they introduced the mandatory testing - that was so hard for so many people and these people were at the forefront of all of those concerns with the testing and they were so sympathetic..

"They knew what we were going through and they had such genuine empathy which made it easier to go through with it. It really made life easier.

"For them to integrate themselves into our community, and to have such a vital role into easing us through all of this cross border life that we have, because it is very weird when you are in a cross border community, they were a very warm and welcome presence.

"When people complain about the police on the borders, they forget that they haven't seen their families for hundreds of days and you don't know if the car that went through before you may have upset their day.

"They have been at the forefront of every emotional breakdown, every question, every teary outburst and they have taken it all in their stride and those two, above all else, have just known the right things to say to make us feel better."

Sergeant Andrew Skein will be missed by the locals

Sergeant Andrew Skein will be missed by the locals

The pair were gifted with cards, treats and gifts last week, as the community stopped to thank them for all their efforts over the past five months.

"We were all very sad, we all value all of the police on the border, but as soon as we found out Neil and Andy were finishing, they have been inundated with cards and cooked food and thank you's," Ms Hoctor said.

"We are all hoping once this all dies down, they can come back and visit us in a social capacity, come and watch a game of footy, come to the Frances pub and have dinner and bring their families."

Ms Hoctor said she hoped Sgt Hodgson and Sgt Skein have left an impression on the children.

"I think what is important for all of the police at all of the border stops to know is that they have an opportunity to have a positive and lasting impression for our young children.

"In a farming community, we don't get to see police very often - The only time we come in contact with police are with something that has a negative connotation with it.

"To see them in a positive and friendly light, as friends and people of our community, is a wonderful thing for our children."

This story Frances community praises border police officers first appeared on Naracoorte Herald.