Thanks to ABC Radio Melbourne for broadcasting this story on The Friday Revue, as part of its Melbourne Postcard series, on 30 August, 2019.
How’s your school-crossing treating you these days? Kids and cars all okay?
The cold weather broke the ice at my new spot. For a few weeks I exchanged greetings with the children and the parents. A ‘Hello’ here. A ‘Good Morning’ there. And many a ‘Thank you’.
Then the rain came. And the wind. I had to blow the whistle harder. Hold the lollipop tighter.
“That wind’s blowing off the Antarctic!” said one mum.
“Good job you’ve got!” joked one dad.
“Can I get you an umbrella?” asked another mum.
Now I’m sensing a rapport, a connection. And not just with the families.
Many drivers stop before I’ve stepped onto the road, before I’ve held up the lollipop, before I’ve brought the whistle to my lips. Imagine that, Andrea! I nod a Thank You or give a small wave with my free hand.
Through their tinted windows I look for a response.
Some raise a few fingers from the steering wheel.
Some, I’m sure, mutter under their breaths.
And some – of course- are gazing down at their phone instead of looking up at the crossing. Or they’re talking to somebody, somewhere.
But most are fine in mild-mannered Williamstown.
Before this permanent gig I was a fill-in, a reliever, a traveller.
There was a week in 35 degree heat in Laverton, with just a skerrick of shade.
Then a fortnight on a four-lane arterial in Altona North with more trucks than cars.
A few days on noisy roads in Newport, and a very enjoyable stint in a quiet side street in Spotswood, where I blew my whistle at the risk of being arrested for disturbing the peace.
You know the rhythm, Andrea. At 8.15 the road is fairly quiet. Just my thoughts to keep me company. 8.20: A Grade 3 girl on a scooter, alone. A few minutes later four Grade 5 boys on their bikes. Then a father with a toddler on his shoulders. The best view in the world. And the two Grade Six girls who always say, in lovely harmony, smiling, turning to me halfway across the crossing: ‘Have a nice day.’
The traffic builds. A steady stream of cars and families. You’ve got to be looking in four directions at once. Left and right for the vehicles. Behind you and in front of you for the families. Most know to stand behind the yellow line, to wait for the whistle, but there’ll always be someone who’s too busy talking or texting to pay attention.
8.45. The first bell goes. The theme from Toy Story, or Moana, starts on the school PA. Often some Abba. And one morning , Werewolves of London featuring a children’s choir.
8.55. The second bell. The latecomers now. Never in a hurry.
In the afternoon there is no music, save for the sweet sound of the 3.30 bell. The morning’s steady stream turns into a rush, a cavalcade of kids and bikes and mums and dads and prams. By 3.40 I’m on my own. Twenty minutes to go. Just the dawdlers now.
Twenty minutes to appreciate a job that requires no log-in, no password, no username, no lanyard.
Twenty minutes to appreciate being witness to daily moments of tenderness. Parents kissing their children goodbye. A child looking back over his shoulder. Children calling out to their classmates, excited, always, to see their friends, their soulmates. An infant gazing around at the world from her mother’s hips. Parents in cars waving to their offspring through tinted windows. An older sister and a younger brother holding hands.
Thanks for listening, Andrea. May the sun keep shining, the cars continue to stop and the children always smile.