PART-TIME MEET THE WINDOW CLEANERS WHO DROP BY TO BRIGHTEN THE DAYS OF PATIENTS AT A CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL
A10-year-old boy named Griffith Comrie is waiting by a window on the sixth floor of the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in inner-city Brisbane. He’s been doing a lot of waiting lately since having a stroke in his hometown of Gladstone nine weeks earlier, after which he was airlifted 520 kilometres south for treatment, rest and rehabilitation. He’s missed a lot of school and has had to learn how to walk and talk again. His short-term memory has suffered; he jokes to his grandmother, Dorn, that there’s not much point in watching movies lately, as by the time he gets to the end, he can’t remember what happened at the beginning. Sometimes, he thinks he’s on an extended holiday from his usual life back home.
As he sits beside seven-year-old girls Thea Rendle and Millie Allen, an unexpected visitor drops into his line of sight. On the other side of the glass, Superman descends with a thick rope and harness around his waist, white sneakers on his feet and a yellow hard hat on his head. The bright blue outfit, complete with “S” chest insignia and red cape, are unmistakable, even for a memory-affected boy like Griffith. The youngsters are mesmerised. Why, they wonder, is Superman visiting them?
Suddenly, another rope drops down. “It’s Batman!” yells Thea, before Millie – who’s wearing her school uniform, having had a morning appointment with her therapist – corrects her: “No, it’s Spider-man!” She’s right: hanging in front of them is the web-slinger himself, wearing black-and-orange sneakers and a dark hard hat, while his shoulders and pectorals bulge with well-sculpted muscles, presumably earned from swinging between tall buildings such as this one.
Spider-man delights his young audience by turning somersaults and showing off his aerial dexterity, yet his facial expression remains impassive behind the dark red mask. Superman, however, can’t stop grinning, and the pair of them ham it up together while dangling from the ropes that hold them in place, dozens of metres above the busy street below. For any pedestrians who happen to look up, the sight of the two superheroes together must be as disorienting as it is grin-inducing.
What the kids don’t know is that underneath the superheroes’ outfits, they wear bright yellow high-visibility shirts bearing the name of their employer, QLD Water Blasting. Nor are the youngsters aware that, rather than stopping criminals and saving the city from imminent destruction, their purpose here – when they’re not engaged in midair gymnastic trickery – is to wash the hospital’s hundreds of external windows. It’s a big job, requiring them to be on-site every weekday for about three weeks, doing their best to avoid sunburn by following the building’s shade as the earth turns.
Superman is 25-year-old Frenchman Aurelien Bret. He’s only been with the company for a few weeks, but previously worked as an abseiling window cleaner in France and Melbourne, clocking up
more than 2000 hours on the ropes. When he learnt of the special outfit required for this job, Bret jumped at the chance to become a man who’s able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. His arachnoid-bitten colleague is Geoffrey Seeto, a Papua New Guinea-born team supervisor, whose acrobatic confidence makes Spider-man a perfect fit for him. Up on the roof is Captain America, aka Sean Kent, a 43-year-old New Zealander who is a spotter for his colleagues as he doesn’t have his ropes qualifications.
Jeff and Jacqui Walder have been in Brisbane for three days, momentarily uprooted from their lives in Hervey Bay, 290 kilometres north. The Walders are staying at a nearby hotel that’s visible from the fifth-floor waiting room where their two young sons, Ben, seven, and Morgan, three, are out on the balcony, trading high-fives through the glass with Superman and Spider-man as a rain shower passes overhead. “We’ve got a little one in here [their one-yearold daughter, Bianca], who just had an operation,” says Jeff, a panelbeater whose inner forearms bear the names of his two boys in a thick, black font.
The father of three is yet to add his daughter’s name to his tattoos, but he’s thinking of new ink when the family returns home. The couple watches as Ben and Morgan beam at the surprise guests. The scene is a ray of sunlight in an otherwise cloudy, challenging day for the family. “That’ll keep them happy for a while,” says Jeff, smiling at Jacqui. By coincidence, Morgan is wearing Batman sandals, while Ben sports Spider-man shoes which bear the face of the superhero he’s just high-fived.
LATER, THE THREE heroes become four when QLD Water Blasting owner and manager Craig Holland suits up as Thor, minus the long blond hair and heavy hammer. As they parade around the ground-floor reception for Stellar’s photographer, they are soon joined by a confident six-year-old named Malakai Mavrenski. The young boy proudly struts with the men, his head barely reaching their hips, while his mother Gypsie looks on, thoroughly amused.
Then, with perfect timing, a small boy in a green Hulk costume enters the hall. He sees the four heroes and begins bawling. No matter how hard they try to calm the boy down and convince him to join them for a once-in-a-lifetime photo, the shy, scared mini-hulk won’t loosen his grip on his mother’s legs. Thor takes it in his stride.
It’s an unlikely scene that grew from an idea by Chris Knight, cleaning and portering manager at Medirest, which oversees the hospital’s support and maintenance contractors. During the tendering process for the Lady Cilento job, Knight thought the costumes might be a creative offering to set them apart from competitors. The costumes cost up to $180 a pop for the likes of Batman, The Flash, Thor, Superman and Spider-man. Yet, it’s a small price to pay for the mileage the workers get out of such a simple gesture.
While passersby don’t look twice at a window cleaner abseiling down a building in highvisibility work gear, seeing Superman is a whole different story. And these normal blokes doing a fairly normal job for about $35 an hour can create magic for the kids in hospital.
“This is the first job I’ve ever had where I’m actually a superhero,” says Seeto. “What I do is very small, but I’m doing a big thing for them; I can change their outlook from what’s happening inside the hospital. Even if it’s just for a couple of minutes, they don’t think about anything but the superhero outside, saying hello. How great is that? As long as I put a smile on their dial, that’s the best thing I can do.”
“EVEN IF IT’S JUST FOR A COUPLE OF MINUTES, THEY DON’T THINK ABOUT ANYTHING BUT THE SUPERHERO OUTSIDE, SAYING HELLO. HOW GREAT IS THAT?”