When he was 19, one of Wayne Starling's best mates bet him he wouldn't last a week as a police officer - he was too soft.
On Australia Day, after 34 years in the police force he loves, Superintendent Starling was awarded the Australian Police Medal. He thinks it's about time he collected on the wager.
With characteristic humility, the Lake Illawarra Local Area Commander has dedicated the honour to his family and fellow officers.
"I have only ever wanted to be a policeman - for as long as I can remember, so I am humbled and appreciative of the recognition," Supt Starling said.
"More importantly however, it recognises the sacrifices that my wife and family have made and it also acknowledges the support of my colleagues."
When pressed on the award being recognition of a difficult job well done, Supt Starling disputed policing as difficult.
'I have a good day if I go home safe and my people go home safe - both physically and psychologically.'
"I don't think of it as a hard job," he said.
"There's only about 5 per cent of the community that you worry about. Ninety-five per cent of the community are just like me and all they want is the support of the police."
In part, Supt Starling was awarded the medal for his grassroots policing and work with indigenous communities.
Among his career highlights he also counted working on Strikeforce Snowy, which primarily targeted notorious killer Neddy Smith, and locking away child sex offenders.
"While you can't save those children, you can put people away and save other children," he said.
While his role as commander has taken him away from frontline policing, Supt Starling said he was now responsible for the welfare of those on that frontline - a new generation he described as sensitive, articulate, intelligent and committed.
"My role has changed over the years," he said.
"These days it's just about keeping my people safe. I have a good day if I go home safe and my people go home safe - both physically and psychologically. As police we see things that people just shouldn't see. I remain grounded, thanks to the support of my family, but my role is to look after police who haven't seen that before - to teach them to be resilient."
Supt Starling said as well as professional satisfaction, the police force had given him a second family and introduced him to his wife, Kylie, a fellow police officer.
Inspired by his brother-in-law police officer, Supt Starling joined as a trainee in 1979 at the NSW Police Academy, Redfern, and was confirmed as a constable in 1980 at Darlinghurst.
"I wanted to be a policeman because I realised through my brother-in-law that police do make a difference. The job satisfaction is remarkable," he said.
He served in the special gaming squad and performed general duties at Mount Druitt, before entering the criminal investigation field serving at Mount Druitt, Parramatta, internal affairs, Penrith and the North West Major Crime Squad.
In detailing Supt Starling's citation, the Australia Day Honours list notes state he had "demonstrated a genuine and compassionate commitment to improving the quality of life for disadvantaged indigenous communities".
"Grassroots engagement has been a consistent approach and Det Supt Starling has been a trailblazer in many of his initiatives and he has been a strong advocate for his staff and has worked tirelessly for the whole community."