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Windscreen washers on Northbourne are local legends

By Alexandra Craig 19 May 2015 43


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.

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43 Responses to
Windscreen washers on Northbourne are local legends
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oh_ 8:51 pm 21 May 15

Alex, I agree theyre part of the character of Canberra and good on them for offering a service and being somewhat entrepreneurial in their own way, as opposed to begging or worse (eg crime, in the event they have addictions which appearances suggest a few do). Who cares if theyre on Centrelink as well and pocket a little extra cash, a mans gotta make a living. The only thing that slightly bothers me is when they hold up traffic when the lights go green, and when you say no and they go ahead and wash anyway, expecting law of averages some people will feel guilty/sorry for them and cough up anyway (I notice they do this more to women than men, maybe playing on womens generally greater sympathies and empathy). But thats small bickies in the scheme of things. It was sad when that one died, it is a little moment of humanity in an otherwise uneventful commute.

Kalliste 8:21 pm 21 May 15

After reading the article and the comments I’m still not sure how these guys cost less tax payer dollars by doing this work.. you’re making the assumption they’re not on the dole/pension while making these tax free dollars? Highly unlikely, they’re costing us as much as the beggars in the city except that the beggars in the city don’t hassle you after you say no.

As far as the long work hours without breaks, I can confirm that isn’t true of the guy on the corner of Antill and Northbourne, I have seen him many a time having a break, sitting out the front of the TAB with a smoke so his income isn’t solely to feed himself and provide shelter and I’m sure he drugs would be involved somewhere.

It’s interesting that you find it ok to ‘legally’ make some money (as opposed to stealing/robbing) to feed their illegal habits.

As for if you hit a car as a pedestrian legally crossing the road and if they did the same as ‘businessmen’ the penalty probably would (or should) be different.

I’d have no issue with them being there if they took no for an answer. If I say no, it doesn’t mean I want a freebie, it means I don’t want you to do it. At this point they’re more of a nuisance than legends.

Blen_Carmichael 7:34 pm 21 May 15

Alexandra Craig said :

chewy14 said :

I’ll try this again,

Alexandra, you do realise there are other choices than “doing nothing” and “window washer” right? It isn’t an either or situation. The idea that there is “nothing” else they could do is ridiculous.

As I said in my surprisingly moderated comment, I’ve seen these people abuse motorists many times, including witnessing the many domestic disputes one of these fellows used to have with his female companion near Northbourne and throughout Civic throughout the years.
And you seem to be under the misapprehension that some of these fellows aren’t affected by their drug addictions whilst working on their squeegee? Of course maybe I’m wrong and they just have wild mood swings and exhibit extremely strange and seemingly intoxicated behaviour after visiting their “friends” in nearby flats?

As for calling the cops, LOL. What exactly do you think they’re going to do? Even if the police had the manpower to move them on, they will simply return later or the next day and the ACT government has freely admitted they’re tolerant and allowing of the window washing itself.

If no one will hire someone because they have a criminal history and are on the methadone program, what else do you propose they do?

Like anything reported to the police, if the same problem is reported regularly and consistently by enough people, the police will do something about it. They can’t go to every single call every day, it’s impossible. But if it’s a continuing problem with enough people reporting it they’ll sort it out. Next time you see this abuse happening give the police station a call.

I’m interested to hear more about your assurance that the police will “sort it out”. Could you please elaborate, and perhaps refer to the specific legislative powers police have to deal with windscreen washers.

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