'I’m a Detective Superintendent in the AFP. It’s not what you think.'

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Detective Superintendent Grace Calma’s illustrious professional bio reads more like the synopsis to a hit crime-busting TV drama series. 

In the 23 years since she joined the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Calma has worked in everything from INTERPOL, investigations relating to money laundering, narcotics and human trafficking; to fraud, counter terrorism, kidnap for ransom and corruption to her current role in cybercrime. 

Her postings have spanned Pakistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Laos.

But for Calma, a moment that "really etched itself into my brain and heart" was a little closer to home; during the devastating 2009 Black Saturday bushfires that tragically claimed the lives of 173 Victorians. 

"It was during one of the first shifts that I did," Calma tells Mamamia, explaining the AFP's role in supporting Victoria Police during the state of emergency. Her team was assisting by restricting access to really devastated areas.

"The sun was setting. Around us was charred earth everywhere. Trees were still glowing; a lot of trees kept burning for days, weeks, after the fires had been through. It really felt like we were in a dystopian world," she recalls. 

"Then a family came up to us. They bought us some pizza and cold soft drinks, and just came out to say thank you for being here and for supporting us. 

"For me, that was really…" Calma’s voice trails away. "Confronting is not the right word. But these are people who have just had their lives shattered, and they were going out of their way to support us. 


"That was probably the first time I really deeply felt how much of an impact we can have in people's lives through doing our job."

Calma also felt that impact first-hand during her involvement in the 2018 Thai cave rescue. 

For 18 days, 12 children and their 25-year-old coach from a Thai football team were trapped inside the Tham Luang cave after unexpected heavy rainfall. 

At the time, Calma was based in Pakistan as the International Liaison Officer.

"When it happened, we [AFP Liason Officers] asked, 'How can we help?' and I was flown to Thailand to support them."

Detective Superintendent Grace Calma. Image: AFP.


Working with the Thai government and numerous other international teams, the AFP deployed a small team of around 20 to support the rescue recovery, including specialist divers and medical assistance.

Calma was part of the Police Forward Command team at the cave site (supporting the senior officer in command), responsible for overseeing the safety protocols and diplomatic protections necessary for Australia’s contribution to the rescue. 

Ensuring the day-to-day welfare of AFP members, Calma reflects, her days were "really long – around 15 hours each day – and hot, and the conditions were isolated."

"And there was a humongous international media presence, who were really invested in this really human story. I’ve never seen anything like it — how their incredible village came together to help. Day-to-day, we had to get in and get out through hundreds of media outlets to get in to do the job, which was something that I'd never experienced."

But finally there was success: the boys and their coach were saved.


"The whole outcome was phenomenal," says Calma. 

"I’ll be honest, it was almost hard to feel relief immediately because it had been such an intense period of time, but looking back on it now, what a huge opportunity and such a phenomenal thing to be able to say you were a part of.

"It was a massive career highlight."

Recalling some advice she received early in her career, Calma says, "The best part about working for the AFP is that you can have 30 different careers and stay on the same payroll."

"It’s about seizing the opportunities when they show up… Sometimes these little leaps of faith turn out to be the best things you've ever done."

"I’ve certainly benefitted from the diversity of the work that we have available to us," Calma shares speaking to what she believes is one of the greatest misconceptions about a career in the AFP. 

"It is not a homogenous entity. There's so many parts of the AFP, so many different roles we play, and so much diversity in scope of what we do and how we do it."

Another misconception Calma encounters is the belief the AFP is just for police officers.

"We have a large number of professional members… specialists or financial intelligence or various forensic disciplines through to media experts or project management experts. It's not all just cops."


Looking back over the two decades since joining the AFP, Calma says there has been a "huge surge" of women in senior management positions. 

As at June 2023, 40 per cent of the 7,800+ AFP workforce comprised of women, with the AFP having ambitions to continue to grow this number.

"At the moment, the team in which I work is probably mostly women or at least 50/50… There's a genuine commitment to get the right person for the job."

And with generous conditions, it’s clear to see why more women are joining the force; with 6 weeks of paid annual leave per year, 18 days of annual paid personal leave, 16 weeks of paid maternity leave after 12 months of service for each pregnancy, and an extra 36 weeks of maternity leave without pay, flexible working arrangements, study support and leave, and continued professional development amongst the benefits offered. 

"In my experience, women are really great at bringing people together, considering different perspectives, and problem-solving skills are a great strength."

Calma encourages all women to explore the AFP as a career option — "rather than presume you may not fit the mould, because there's so much diversity and opportunity."

"You never know what your niche skill set might bring."

Find your pathway to a rewarding career with the Australian Federal Police.

Feature Image: AFP.

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