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Windscreen washers on Northbourne are local legends

By Alexandra Craig - 19 May 2015 43

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Most of the intersections along Northbourne Avenue have a resident windscreen washer.

Northbourne’s windscreen washers are all men, and it’s often difficult to tell their ages as their faces are obscured by sunglasses, facial hair and sometimes a baseball cap. These men are at their post almost all day, every day. I’ve often said they’re the hardest working people in Canberra.

I don’t mind them. I often say no to a windscreen wash because my windscreen hardly ever needs a clean, and I also rarely have cash on me. Sometimes they do it for me anyway, for free, and they throw in a smile and a wave. Sadly, on the odd occasion I’ve seen motorists motion ‘yes’, and then make no attempt to pay, speeding off the second the lights go green. I’ve heard stories of the windscreen washers being abused, told to get a ‘real job’, or being called junkies, druggos, alcoholics etc.

Many readers will remember Lindsay the windscreen washer at the intersection of Northbourne Avenue and Barry Drive. Lindsay sadly passed away in 2013, and there was a huge public outpouring of grief. I was really cynical about this. Plenty of my friends on Facebook had written status updates paying tribute to Lindsay which annoyed me because I knew they had previously groaned about ‘annoying windscreen washers’ or made comments about them being criminals or ‘crackheads’.

I used to always have a giggle every time I pulled up to Linsday’s intersection because it was the same thing every time. I would say ‘No, I’m okay. Thank you though!’ And Lindsay would say ‘Nah, you’re right mate,’ and do my windscreen anyway. We’d both laugh and he’d move on to the next car. We had this same interaction about two or three times a week from the time I moved to Canberra in 2011, to just before he died in 2013.

There’s a great little short film on Lindsay (you can find it here) where he said he found it difficult to get a job because he had a criminal past and was on the methadone program, so he found his own type of work. I love that these guys are self-starters. I know some people would whinge that they don’t pay tax, but if they didn’t work and sat around all day they’d cost the taxpayer a lot more in the long term.

I have no idea how much money the average windscreen washer makes each week. I hope it’s enough to stay well-fed and clothed, however if there’s a few rainy days in a week I bet it would greatly affect their income.

While some motorists haven’t had the best experience with the windscreen washers in the past, I think the majority of people have had positive encounters. These guys are part of the social fabric that makes Canberra such a great place. If they weren’t there tomorrow, I’d miss them and I think many others would too.

What’s Your opinion?


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43 Responses to
Windscreen washers on Northbourne are local legends
vintage123 4:04 pm 19 May 15

I always give some cash to the young kids who wash the windscreens of the cars at the local shops on the weekends. I think it takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there and do this kind of stuff.

rosscoact 3:51 pm 19 May 15

It’s funny that this, like most things in life fall into two camps.

On one side it ranges from the live-and-let-live camp where well, they don’t bother me and I don’t bother them through to the they-add-life-and-colour camp.

On the other side it’s I-don’t-like-them-because-they-don’t-conform-to-my-defined-norm through to the they-are-a-blight-on-humanity-and-need-to-be-rounded-up.

And almost without exception we each fall into our predictable roles. Like the Big Mac Index there’s probably a Window Washer Corollary that defines where we are as a society dependant on our attitude to such people.

Rollersk8r 2:54 pm 19 May 15

Ok I’ll bite.

Window washers are just one step up from beggars. In fact they are beggars – with a pressure sales approach. I completely disagree that they are either hard working or providing a valuable service. It’s not exactly work ethic or love of the job keeping them out there, is it? No, it’s defending their patch in the game of forcing and guilting money out of people. It’s the lowest possible form of work – right up there with forcing $100 out of old ladies to paint their house number on the gutter. How it is even hard work? Pretty much any tradesman works harder physically.

Solidarity 1:57 pm 19 May 15

Washing windows and being a vagrant with no fixed abode/drug problems are now mutually exclusive?

I can’t think of anybody who hasn’t witnessed the tirades of abuse spew forth from these people… well, until now.

Evilomlap 1:41 pm 19 May 15

To answer your curiosity Alexandra, I knew one of these guys a few years back. Sadly he has also passed away, but he told me on a really good day, he could pull in $40 an hour ($2 coins add up fast).

Alexandra Craig 1:15 pm 19 May 15

Mysteryman said :

chewy14 said :

Ah yes,
the lovely windscreen wipers, they’re real community assets.

Well except for the abuse and harrassment they often give to motorists, their drug addictions, their dangerous road behaviour and the fact that they often leave the windows of their “customers” far dirtier than they started. They’re real stand up businessmen and i’m sure they all declare their full income to the taxman.

True community heroes all.

I can’t comment on any drug abuse – since that would be pure speculation – but everything else you said rings true. Their “service” is generally poor and I don’t want them smearing my windscreen and making it worse, even if they’re giving me a freebie. When I say no, I mean it – don’t touch my car.

I’m happy to pay for services that I need/want, I’m also happy to give to people in need of money. But I really don’t like when Canberrans act like these guys are heroes or doing something admirable.

I love that these guys are self-starters. I know some people would whinge that they don’t pay tax, but if they didn’t work and sat around all day they’d cost the taxpayer a lot more in the long term

Self-starters? Please. I think you’ll find they are still receiving the exact same benefits as someone who isn’t working. They are just supplementing their government assistance with undeclared income, and as such still cost the taxpayer the same.

Well, no. They wouldn’t cost the taxpayer the same. If they have drug and alcohol problems, or no stable means of shelter, or sitting around on the streets bored all day etc, they’re more likely to go and break into a few houses, hold up a few service stations to get some cash. Their health problems will cost you tax dollars in hospital and ambulance fees, and their crimes will cost you tax dollars in court costs and prison time.

Btw – not saying they’re heroes. The word hero is so overused these days. I heard it being tossed around in regards to the Bali 9 ringleaders. From my experiences, these guys are local legends. They are always polite and friendly to me, they smile, they’re doing something with their days and they work hard. More that could be said for a lot of other people in Canberra.

Alexandra Craig 1:05 pm 19 May 15

chewy14 said :

Ah yes,
the lovely windscreen wipers, they’re real community assets.

Well except for the abuse and harrassment they often give to motorists, their drug addictions, their dangerous road behaviour and the fact that they often leave the windows of their “customers” far dirtier than they started. They’re real stand up businessmen and i’m sure they all declare their full income to the taxman.

True community heroes all.

Did you read the article or just the headline?

If they weren’t working and were just living on the streets doing nothing all day, they’d be costing you a lot more in tax dollars than what they’d be declaring. I know what I’d prefer.

Like I said in an earlier comment, I drive Northbourne Ave every single day at various times of day and haven’t seen any abuse so I suspect it’s not as common as people like to make out. If it was such a huge problem why hasn’t anyone reported it to the police and had them moved on? Lindsay worked his intersection for over 10 years, and all the other guys I see have been the same as long as I’ve been in Canberra. I don’t think they’d get away with abusing motorists every day of the week for 10 years.

As for the drug addictions – please don’t paint them all with the same brush.

Mysteryman 1:01 pm 19 May 15

chewy14 said :

Ah yes,
the lovely windscreen wipers, they’re real community assets.

Well except for the abuse and harrassment they often give to motorists, their drug addictions, their dangerous road behaviour and the fact that they often leave the windows of their “customers” far dirtier than they started. They’re real stand up businessmen and i’m sure they all declare their full income to the taxman.

True community heroes all.

I can’t comment on any drug abuse – since that would be pure speculation – but everything else you said rings true. Their “service” is generally poor and I don’t want them smearing my windscreen and making it worse, even if they’re giving me a freebie. When I say no, I mean it – don’t touch my car.

I’m happy to pay for services that I need/want, I’m also happy to give to people in need of money. But I really don’t like when Canberrans act like these guys are heroes or doing something admirable.

I love that these guys are self-starters. I know some people would whinge that they don’t pay tax, but if they didn’t work and sat around all day they’d cost the taxpayer a lot more in the long term

Self-starters? Please. I think you’ll find they are still receiving the exact same benefits as someone who isn’t working. They are just supplementing their government assistance with undeclared income, and as such still cost the taxpayer the same.

chewy14 12:45 pm 19 May 15

Ah yes,
the lovely windscreen wipers, they’re real community assets.

Well except for the abuse and harrassment they often give to motorists, their drug addictions, their dangerous road behaviour and the fact that they often leave the windows of their “customers” far dirtier than they started. They’re real stand up businessmen and i’m sure they all declare their full income to the taxman.

True community heroes all.

Milly Withers 11:22 am 19 May 15

When my windscreen is dirty and I’m out of windshield washer fluid, which happens more often than I would like, I don’t mind using the services of a window washer. Most are really friendly, seem to be hard working (you wouldn’t catch me out in the freezing cold during Canberra winter!) and do a good job.

That said, I avoid driving down Northbourne when possible because I really hate it when they wash your windscreen without being asked. It only ever happens when I’m driving alone, and I feel guilted into giving them money – even if they’ve left soap scum all over the windscreen and can only talk about how foreign workers are ruining the world, as happened to me over the weekend. This was the first unpleasant experience I’ve had in many, many years though, and I’d like to think it is far from a typical encounter. Part of the social fabric, as Alexandra says.

Alexandra Craig 11:06 am 19 May 15

Solidarity said :

bryansworld said :

Good on them for providing a service that some people value. Not as happy about the time we stopped at the Northbourne Avenue/London Circuit lights, were offered a clean, politely declined, and then got the guy yelling “how am I going to f—ing feed my f—ing children” through the open window. My kids (primary school and younger) were all in the car. Not so nice. I guess we all have bad days. Generally the guys are pretty polite.

Then sitting in traffic so many times they’ll target the lone woman as it’s an easy sale… they deny “F— you you stupid s—“

Local legends? More like local losers. No sympathy from me.

This has never happened to me. I’ve driven on Northbourne Avenue pretty much every single day for 4 and a half years, sometimes several times a day. I don’t think the abuse happens as often as you’re implying it does.

Solidarity 10:50 am 19 May 15

bryansworld said :

Good on them for providing a service that some people value. Not as happy about the time we stopped at the Northbourne Avenue/London Circuit lights, were offered a clean, politely declined, and then got the guy yelling “how am I going to f—ing feed my f—ing children” through the open window. My kids (primary school and younger) were all in the car. Not so nice. I guess we all have bad days. Generally the guys are pretty polite.

I witnessed one of them giving “life advice”… “Just be normal mate just be normal why don’t you just be normal you stupid c—“… The dude was wearing a turban, that was all.

Then sitting in traffic so many times they’ll target the lone woman as it’s an easy sale… they deny “F— you you stupid s—“

Local legends? More like local losers. No sympathy from me.

bryansworld 10:26 am 19 May 15

Good on them for providing a service that some people value. Not as happy about the time we stopped at the Northbourne Avenue/London Circuit lights, were offered a clean, politely declined, and then got the guy yelling “how am I going to f—ing feed my f—ing children” through the open window. My kids (primary school and younger) were all in the car. Not so nice. I guess we all have bad days. Generally the guys are pretty polite.

astrojax 10:18 am 19 May 15

i’ve no real feelings for them either way – if they weren’t there i’d not likely miss them and would continue to use the excellent and convenient facility built in to my car to wash my windscreen.

Holden Caulfield 9:52 am 19 May 15

Would not miss.

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