Former ABC film editor and National Seniors member Steve Rhodes finds rewarding later-life employment on a school crossing.
I joined ABC-TV in Brisbane as a film editor in 1966. I discovered there were three levels of employment within the organisation. At the top were the ‘permanents’, mainly administrative and clerical workers who outnumbered the production staff by a rather staggering ratio of eight to one. From the start of their careers, the ‘permanents’ were automatically enrolled in the ABC’s superannuation scheme. Second level ‘auxiliaries’ such as me were denied access to the ABC’s super scheme until 1976. Despite this, it was a great place to work and I remained there, off and on, until 2002 before taking off on a series of adventures in south-east Asia, teaching English and working at an English language cable TV station in Bangkok, as well as marrying and becoming a father for the first time, at the age of 63. On our return to Australia I became a volunteer with the RSPCA, at our daughter’s school tuckshop, and Meals on Wheels. I also started writing my memoirs and made a series of documentaries detailing the life of our daughter, as I’d read somewhere that children have no recollection of their first few years of life. While my superannuation payout from the ABC was adequate for a single person, it was a bit of a stretch for three to survive on. To make matters worse, jobs start to become harder to find as you age. But one morning, at the age of 65, as I was sitting on the front veranda reading the local newspaper, the headline “School crossing supervisors needed” caught my eye. The story told of a shortage of suitable people for the job. As I read the article, I discovered that the lofty title of ‘school crossing supervisor’ was a euphemism for a lollipop person, one of those people who walk out onto the school crossing with a stop sign, stop the traffic, blow a whistle, and see the children safely across the street. Anyone interested in the job was invited to ring and apply. So I did. I’d always thought that they were eager volunteers, such as parents of the children attending the school. But no, they were fully fledged employees of the State Government’s Department of Transport, earning $19.50 an hour with a 23 per cent loading for being a casual employee. A vacancy was available at a school about 10-minutes’ drive from our home. I picked up an application form from the school, filled it in, and sent it back. I was then advised to report to the school for an interview with the principal who gave me the thumbs up. A few days elapsed and I was invited to a training session at the Department of Transport’s headquarters at Mount Gravatt in Brisbane. The two-hour session consisted mainly of filling in forms. Then we were given a rousing pep talk on the importance of our work and the issuing of a blue card, which anyone working with children was required to carry. They cost $40, were valid for one year and had to be paid for by the individual who carried it. So I was out of pocket $40 before I even started working, although we were paid for the two-hour training session. Finally, we were issued with our uniforms and other bits of paraphernalia such as whistles and sunburn cream and set off to guard the lives of our future generations on the school crossings. This was sometimes quite a challenge. I was teamed with my mentor Malcolm – a veteran school crossing supervisor who, I suspect, had a military background. Whistle in mouth, and clutching the stop sign at an angle of precisely 45 degrees, he’d march purposely onto the crossing. Woe betide any motorist who failed to take heed of the sign and attempt what was known in the trade as a ‘drive through’. We were issued with notebooks and a biro to record such transgressions and report them to the police. Ten years have slipped by since I was a school crossing supervisor, but soaring costs have led to me rejoining the Department of Transport, so my life has gone full circle. Wages have increased and blue cards are also now paid for by the department. It’s a fun way of spending an hour and a half a day, as well as performing a necessary service. Why not give it a go? Brisbane readers can phone (07) 3347 7867 for details. This article originally appeared in the June/July/August 2017 edition of 50 something magazine.