Former cop Peter Gillett shares his story of farm life after police force and PTSD

LIVING THE GOOD LIFE: Former police officer Peter Gillett with his dogs on King Island. Picture: Dee Kramer
LIVING THE GOOD LIFE: Former police officer Peter Gillett with his dogs on King Island. Picture: Dee Kramer

Peter Gillett left the NSW Police Force on medical grounds after and extended battle with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but found his self sufficient life on King Island has been one of the biggest treatments he could give himself.

A late-starter to the force, joining at age 48 after working as a "garbo" in Wellington, NSW, Mr Gillett was inspired to apply to become an officer by his first wife's brother.

His application was successful and his first duty was to complete six months of training in Goulburn before being posted to Dubbo.

The Dubbo posting lasted six years and eight months.

"Dubbo had a very busy workload, the third highest in NSW, but I had no reference point," Mr Gillett said.

"It was a very dramatic place to work."

Peter Gillett while he worked for NSW Police. Picture: Supplied

Peter Gillett while he worked for NSW Police. Picture: Supplied

Although he did not know it at the time, one of the many arrests Mr Gillett made in Dubbo caused him a pyschological injury.

It came out of nowhere. This great menace came out of nowhere.

Peter Gillett

By then he had been posted to Greenethorpe in the NSW central west.

One night Mr Gillett and his wife Janet were sitting quietly in the Greenethorpe police station residence, in what he calls "a scene of domestic bliss" with her knitting and him reading, when he had a panic attack.

"It came out of nowhere. This great menace came out of nowhere," he said.

"I thought I was going to die."

Through his fear and anxiety, Mr Gillett knew he needed to distract himself to stop focusing on the thoughts running through his mind, so he lay on the floor and played with their Jack Russell terrier.

"[My wife] starting talking and I said 'don't ask questions'," Mr Gillett said.

He had another two or three panic attacks over the following weeks and saw his doctor, who then referred him to a psychologist in Cowra.

Pegarah Homestead. Picture: Dee Kramer

Pegarah Homestead. Picture: Dee Kramer

"He diagnosed PTSD and told me I'd never return to operational duties.

"That is a big thing for police officers. It means they can't carry a gun and carry out normal duties. If you're not operational you sit in an office," he said.

Not willing to give up on his career in the force, Mr Gillett worked hard to get himself back into an operational position and when he returned to work he was transferred to another one-man station in Manildra, between Orange and Parkes.

"There were two things that happened that caused me to remember the incident in Dubbo. The symptoms returned after I attended a fatal vehicle accident, where a young girl was crushed."

"That was the end of it; I couldn't do it anymore."

Knowing he could not return to the police force, Mr Gillett and his wife decided to move to King Island, a place both had thought about independently.

"We booked flights and flew [to King Island] in winter and it was wet, windy and cold, but it felt like I was coming home," he said.

That was seven years ago.

Pegarah Homestead chickens. Picture: Dee Kramer

Pegarah Homestead chickens. Picture: Dee Kramer

The couple bought Pegarah Homestead, an 18-hectare property in the middle of the island.

They lease most of the land to a cattle farmer, but have kept 4 hectares for their own use, on which they keep a house cow, which Mr Gillett milks every afternoon, pigs, chickens, sheep and a community garden.

Janet is a horticulturalist and the couple are planning a commercial crop of feijoas, which grow well on King Island, Mr Gillett said.

My life here is limited. I can't go to Bunnings, but everyone has limitations. One of the secrets to it is to know your limits. I know mine and I'm content.

Peter Gillett

"It's quite expensive to live here so we grow as much of our own food as possible. We are reasonably self sufficient," he said.

"I spend most of my days outside tending the animals and the garden with my Maremma dog, who is like the dog out of Oddball.

"My life here is limited. I can't go to Bunnings, but everyone has limitations. One of the secrets to it is to know your limits. I know mine and I'm content," he said.

Knowing he had an interesting story to tell and remembering his love of creative writing while at school, Mr Gillett started writing a book, which he called A Step Too Far: Life as a Country Cop and self published through Forty South Publishing.

"It took six years to write the book by the fire at night. I wanted it to be informative and funny, not boring," he said.

"I wanted to tell people what it was like to be a cop. It's one of the most important jobs there is."

The book details some of the crimes Mr Gillett solved while in the police force, but also covers his PTSD diagnosis and treatment.

Sleeping sow at Pegarah Homestead. Picture: Dee Kramer

Sleeping sow at Pegarah Homestead. Picture: Dee Kramer

"I share of my adopted life on King Island as a subsistence farmer and how this lifestyle aids my recovery," he said. 

A Step Too Far is for sale via Forty South Publishing, Petrarch's, The Book Cellar, Fullers, King Island post office and in Dubbo.

"I'm particularly satisfied to have it for sale in Dubbo, because that's where most of the stuff happened," Mr Gillett said.

He is now expanded on the 69 stories included in the print book, to add another 50 stories to an ebook and audio book.

Meet Peter Gillett at Petrach's in Brisbane Street, Launceston, on March 30 at 11am.

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