THE first aboriginal policeman to be recognised as a commissioned officer said his peers often called him a "boonga" and "blackfella" when he started on the beat in the 1960s.
Rod Gray said these names were not meant to be hurtful but used in a friendly way by those who knew him.
It must have been more confusing for Mr Gray to be called these names because his father refused to admit he was aboriginal until his early 30s.
The moment the Illawong resident was told by a cousin that he came from the Worimi people he told his friends, family and the NSW Police.
His ancestry traces back to an English convict and an aboriginal woman.
"It's pretty exciting to think that's where you've come from," Mr Gray said.
"You can't get more Australian than that as far as I'm concerned."
He embraced his heritage and culture so completely that his work with Aborigines in the community and police resulted in an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for him in the recent Queen's Birthday honours list.
As head of police recruitment in the late 1980s Mr Gray said he saw few aboriginal officers, and those who did join often left the job quickly.
He was responsible for introducing a scheme that allowed Aborigines to enter the Goulburn Police Academy through TAFE.
He also helped implement the NSW Police Koori Network, which now mentors up to 400 indigenous officers.
It allowed aboriginal officers from all over the state to visit police headquarters and attend meetings where they could discuss concerns, and what they enjoyed and disliked about the job.
"We had a phone index where if you were having problems at 2am, you could call up and have a yak. It could be a racist problem, homesickness or something with more depth [which] we would have a further look into."
As a police officer in Miranda local area command, Mr Gray said he had tried to put his aboriginality to good use by making himself known to aboriginal offenders.
He said this relationship allowed him to defuse some tense situations.
"In Miranda we had situations where domestic violence was unbelievable with families. Police would get called down there and next thing you know the guy won't let them in, he's got a gun and then you would have four or five cars there and various squads called in to control the situation.
"But sometimes they [police] would give me a whistle and I would go to the front door and say, 'Hey listen, you are going to end up in big trouble if you keep going this way'."
In some instances his relationship allowed people to surrender, but at other times shots were fired.
"Not all stories are good," Mr Gray said.
When asked why he spent 40 years in the job, he said quickly: "My wife".
He said there had been many times he had been disheartened, but his wife Jennifer and his yearning to make a difference had kept him at work.