Body Searches, 1950s
Jim Keating joined Customs in 1951 as a searcher and watchman, and ended his service with the Narcotics Bureau and the Coastal-Air-Sea Operation.
His first job was to search people and vehicles as they came through the dock gates. Wharf labourers and Chinese were key targets. Many Chinese were body searched.
The most commonly smuggled items were cigarettes, watches and transistor radios. In later years the prime focus of detection was drugs.
Jim conducted body searches, from pat-downs to the more intrusive cavity searches. Officers made suspects jump off a table to instil fear that suspected contraband would cause them injury, or have suspects squatting on the floor with their pants down and mirrors underneath.
'Body searches were part of the job. Wasn't a problem for me and I don't know of any officer that it did cause a problem. No, we searched - all migrants were physically searched, all Chinese seamen were searched. We made thousands of pat-down searches every year.
'Back in the days of watch smuggling, the late fifties and early sixties, we used to get watches concealed in the rectum, and drugs in the rectum. We had a theory at one stage that to detect smuggling in the rectum, you stood the subject on a table, and he would refuse to jump off fearing this action would drive it further in. We had a situation where we had a Chinaman, put him on the table, he jumped off, did a couple of encores. We were convinced he had nothing there and off he went. Now he was a known smuggler delivering watches to an informant of mine and duly arrived at my informant's place to unload the watches, so that exploded our theory of making them jump off the table.
Perhaps we were less sensitive than the modern day officer, but it didn't worry us in the slightest. No one found it distasteful. It was part of the job.'
- Jim Keating