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.
I think the abuse these guys cop is totally unwarranted. I have no doubt they work much harder and longer than most people I know (who actually work very, very long hours at demanding jobs). While some would say their job as a windscreen washer funds their drug and alcohol habits, I don’t think this is entirely true. Sure, some of them might use the cash for these habits, but not all of them would. And for those that do, they’re going to fuel their addiction somehow – I’d definitely prefer them working and earning their own money rather than having to take part in illegal activities to get some cash.
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.