A career change ‘leap of faith’ for Mr Graeme Simpfendorfer (pictured) taught him the most important outcome from saying ‘yes’ to unexpected career opportunities is what you can learn.
The mature age student celebrated his graduation with a Graduate Certificate in Fire Investigation in the Charles Sturt Australian Graduate School of Policing and Security at a ceremony in Sydney on Tuesday 12 September.
He now lives in Wodonga, Victoria, but grew up in rural NSW towns Dubbo, Cootamundra and Wagga Wagga where his childhood with brothers Gerard and Steven was one of ‘sport, friends and more sport!’.
His father was in the NSW public service for 44 years, and also volunteered with the NSW Rural Fire Service (for 22 years) in every town they lived in.
“Us boys have great memories of hanging out at fire stations and playing snooker as Dad went off to fight fires,” Graeme said.
“I’m not sure if this is where my sense of community service came from, or my interest in fire investigations, but either way your upbringing clearly impacts your development and personality.
“My mother was like many in the 1970s and ’80s, running a home, raising three very busy boys and working part-time to help with the household finances ─ she is the one that deserves all the medals and recognition.”
In his career with Victoria Police Graeme has been awarded the National Emergency Medal (Black Saturday bushfires, 2009), National Medal, National Police Service Medal, and a Victoria Police Ethical Service Medal.
Both Graeme’s older brothers also studied at Charles Sturt in Wagga Wagga. His brother Gerard graduated in 1991 with a Diploma of Health Service Nursing and later became a highly awarded police officer in Queensland. His brother Steven graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Science (Honours) (1993) and a Doctor of Philosophy (1999) and works as a cereal plant pathologist with the NSW Department of Primary Industries based at Tamworth in northern NSW since 2001.
Graeme joined Victoria Police as a 20-year-old who had never been to Melbourne before, but it afforded him the opportunity to create his own ‘new story’ away from Wagga Wagga and away from the paths already navigated by his eldest brother who joined Queensland Police and a very close cousin who was in NSW Police.
“I thrived and knew from the police academy graduation that the choices I made were the right ones,” he said.
“I wanted to learn more and more about policing and in particular investigations.
“Over the next few years I enrolled in and completed the Bachelor of Policing (Investigations) with Charles Sturt University as a mature age and distance education student, trying to manage full-time employment, life and studies, and eventually being promoted to detective in 2004.”
Graeme said this was at a time when studying at that level was not really looked upon favourably in the environment he was in, and it was these decisions that shaped his university journey and led him years later to again study for the fire investigations certificate.
“I had previously developed a passion for the complex world of homicide investigations and its intricacies but found fire investigations so very different and was drawn to the ‘fire forensic science merging with the world of investigations’,” Graeme said.
“This desire to study re-emerged for me years later after I was drawn to the science and field of fire investigations following the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria and I wanted to expand my knowledge, skills and networks in this specialist field of fire investigations.”
Graeme found that Charles Sturt University offered the Graduate Certificate in Fire Investigation and was very excited to continue his professional development.
“I completed the certificate in 2022 with great support from the University, particularly my course coordinator Ms Belinda Jones and Associate Professor Valerie Ingham in the Charles Sturt Australian Graduate School of Policing and Security,” he said.
“I cannot thank them enough as there were challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic and my own well-being as I exited Victoria Police during this time.
“My experience with the University was so positive, caring and understanding of me as a mature age student re-entering the world of studying; I graduated with fond memories and the highest sense of self achievement.”
Graeme said when he realised that for his own well-being his time in policing had come to an end, he had no idea what he was going to do and was yet to complete the graduate certificate in fire investigations.
He said that persisting with completing the certificate has now proved beneficial as he has started his own investigations and consultancy business with a specialist area of fire investigations, focussing on area of origin and cause, and working with amazing and skilful people in this field.
“It has been a challenging time leaving such a family like policing and I am sure many can agree that the loss of networks, friendships and even identity can be difficult,” he said.
Eventually through friends he was offered an opportunity to audition for the Channel TEN TV series Hunted Australia as the Lead Investigator.
“I wasn’t too keen to start with, but some close friends and my kids convinced me to take a chance and say ‘Yes!’, and I was fortunate enough to obtain the role and what an experience it has been,” he said.
“An amazing new ‘family’ has emerged in this professional space, and I am learning so much about the industry and it is opening a few doors for me to achieve more and set new goals.
“After this experience, which has been a ‘leap of faith’, I encourage more people to take a chance, say ‘yes’ to some things they normally would not and if it doesn’t work out, that’s okay; it is what you can learn from it that is most important.”
Graeme said everyone’s educational journey is different, and we can all have the desire to learn at any stage of our lives.
“Follow your own path; it may be different to ‘mainstream’ and that’s okay,” he said. “Chase what you are passionate about, have empathy and understanding for others and learn from your experiences and those of others.
“Do not let others influence your dreams, desires and especially your education. Never stop learning; I have heard many times that ‘We can’t afford to train our people’, whereas I believe you cannot afford not to!”
Graeme said his journey has had its highs and lows, to say the least, but what he can say now is that backing yourself and taking a chance by saying ‘Yes’ can open doors and opportunities.
“I have found resetting goals is a refreshing and exciting process, but while I have had to work hard at embracing it and believing in it, I can attest to staying on course as the results can be something you never expected. Go for it!”