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When a retiree and a school principal met, it changed lives young and old

I can come to her with any problem and get advice. I have a lot of trouble with stupid drivers at the street crossing. People are in too much of a rush. I was called into the council 18 months ago because I was being abusive to drivers trying to run me over. I thought I was going to get the sack [he instead received a warning from the council]. Sue came over as a delegate to say, “Look, he is doing a great job, he’s keeping our children safe.” She gave me moral support. She’s kept me sane. Now I try to stay calm and placid. I try to be a role model.

The atmosphere at the school is great. Everybody sticks together and helps each other. Sue gives that feeling of wanting to belong to a community in the way she expresses herself, even her flamboyant clothing. You can always hear her booming voice halfway across the school. Whenever she goes outside, she has a crowd of kids around her. It’s a shame she never got married and had kids but these are all her children, all her family, and I feel very much part of that. She is looking out for me and I am looking out for her, too. I’m at ease now. This is me.

It makes me feel really good, how the children treat me. It’s embarrassing sometimes.
I might be down the street and I hear someone yell, “Hi Steve!” Sometimes it’s from a tram, a car going past or the supermarket. Everywhere I go there is someone who knows me, even at the fish and chip shop on Friday nights!

It’s given me a new lease of life. I was bored doing nothing at home. I needed a challenge. My wife says I’m much more easy to get along with. She says, “I’m glad I found you that job.” It makes me feel I am wanted.

SUE: When Steve was a crossing supervisor, he started coming into the schoolyard and picking up rubbish. Then he started doing a bit of weeding, then he started bringing in tools to fix stuff. He just sort of appeared. I’d be here on the weekend and he wouldn’t even know I could see him. I thought, “I cannot continue to let him work like this.” I spoke to him and he said it gave him purpose. He loved the life around him, loved the joy that the children brought him and that he felt like he belonged. I said, “Well, we need to put you on a salary, Steve.”

He’s a really lovely, decent bloke. No matter what you ask of him, he’ll do it. He has many roles in the school, from handyman to the goal umpire for our annual parent-student football match. He assembles furniture, he paints and he lugs school equipment. He likes to collect rubbish and dispose of it – although it’s not always rubbish, with the occasional teacher resource and a bit of furniture ending up in the skip because of Steve’s endless enthusiasm. He does a lot of “weeding”, but they’re not always weeds. He empties all the recycling bins.

By the time he’s done that, it’s quite late. He’ll come into my office quite tuckered out and have a natter with me. Steve is a very private person; it took years for him to start talking more about himself and his family [he has a daughter and grandson]. Now we talk regularly about that.

His crossing on Chapel Street is like trying to tame a wild beast. I’ve done duty out there – worn the lollipop gear – and it’s frightening. The abuse and the driver behaviour are shocking, downright dangerous! Steve has actually put himself between children and cars. There is nobody who would replace Steve out there. He’s the only one who can jolly well do the job and he has protected our children from real harm.

He cares so much for the children. He genuinely loves these kids and they love him. We have families who walk the long way around to school, just so they can cross with Steve. He talks to them and knows them all by name. He knows their family situations. He brings a
caring aspect, and laughter. I’ve seen him make a real difference, seen him spend time comforting children, giving advice.

One time we were doing Shave for a Cure, where people cut their hair to raise money for cancer research. Steve does like his hair but when he saw what we were doing, he came onto the podium, undid his ponytail and said, “Cut it off!” The kids all went wild. That’s the only haircut I’ve known him to have.

We have a beautiful community, incredibly dynamic and diverse, with a lot of hardship and a lot of happiness. We have every nationality, children in care, children with disabilities, and they all bring their own sparkle to our very colourful rainbow. Steve is one of those people who have crossed our path and become part of our family. It’s a mixing pot of absolute love. Everybody is important, everybody is unique, everybody is valued, and Steve is right there in the thick of it – a core part of our community.

To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times.

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