Su­per­heroes

PART-TIME MEET THE WIN­DOW CLEAN­ERS WHO DROP BY TO BRIGHTEN THE DAYS OF PA­TIENTS AT A CHIL­DREN’S HOSPI­TAL

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Q&A - By AN­DREW MCMILLEN

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?”

HOLD­ING OUT FOR A HERO

SU­PER­HERO SAVIOURS (from left) Aure­lien Bret, Sean Kent, Ge­of­frey Seeto and Craig Hol­land with six-year-old Malakai Mavren­ski (cen­tre).

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