Transport workers, hospital staff, firefighters, and air traffic controllers are examples of these quiet achievers who all have something in common: they put in extra effort to make sure we all enjoy our break.
And a common blessing these workers mention is the comradeship they feel from colleagues and fellow union members who are “like family”— a closeness they feel extra gratitude for at this time of year.
Quiet heroes of Christmas: Tom McFarlane, Cheryl Gordon, Susan Barbosa and Marty Dixon
CHERYL Gordon (pictured 2nd left) is not just a bus driver; she’s a friendly face and a caring listener to the families and passengers she ferries around safely during Christmas and the rest of the year.
“I’ve got to know a lot of the people on my route,” she says. “There’s one lovely young mum who recently went through a divorce and I see her worrying about costs and getting toys for the kids, but I told her what kids need is their mum’s love — that’s a lot more important than presents.” Cheryl admits this is the toughest time of year, and says a lot of heartache could be eased with just a little more care and goodwill.
“Everyone on the roads is that extra bit stressed, and in even more of a hurry.” And the advice from this seasoned road user?
“Slow down, please. There’s so many more accidents at this time and a lot of drivers are more irritable.”
Finding drivers parked in bus zones is especially frustrating, as it means elderly and disabled passengers can’t board the bus.
And this TWU union member has a few worries of her own due to the industry’s tenuous Enterprise Agreement arrangements.
”We have no real job security and that makes you anxious.”
Like many drivers, Cheryl, who drives three buses on her route covering Penrith and Katoomba, will spend a few hours decorating her vehicles for her passengers’ enjoyment.
“It takes a while, but it’s one of the joys of the year,” says the mother of three, who has six grandchildren.
Cheryl will be working from 8.30am-5pm on Christmas Day, and she has a message for all of us: “Please be safe, and stay calm on the roads. That way we’ll all have a better holiday.”
And there’s always room for one special person on her bus.
“It’s one of our busiest times, and probably the most emotional,” says Susan Barbosa (pictured 3rd left) a registered nurse at Westmead Hospital in Sydney, who will be enjoying a well-earned sleep on Christmas Day after putting in a 12-hour shift from 7pm on Christmas Eve.
“But we’ll make sure our patients enjoy the day, and we set up a Christmas station for each other so we can pop in and out during the day and not feel too lonely.”
Accidents at this time of year seem especially poignant, says this capable nurse.
“Sadly we usually have at least one bad major trauma around Christmas, and it hits you pretty hard — especially when there’s kids involved, and you think ‘that child won’t get to spend Xmas with family’,” says Ms Barbosa.
It’s a busy time for her hospital, with a higher incidence of psychiatric admissions than usual.
“People are under a lot of stress, and often feel lonely at this time.”
Ms Barbosa, 27, has a range of responsibilities including emergency and triage duties.
“There’s less senior staff on duty during this busy holiday time, so everyone does a bit extra, “says Ms Barbosa, who volunteers to work Christmas Day to let colleagues with kids have the day off.
Marty Dixon (pictured last left) has worked nearly every Christmas Day for the past 10 years.
“I’ve had one Xmas Day off — but that’s OK, it’s part of the job, and it’s pretty much our busiest time,” says the Revesby firefighter, who will be one of around 1500 fire brigade staff rostered on over Christmas.
Mr Dixon says one of his worst professional memories happened at Christmas, when a deadly fire swept through the Blue Mountains.
“It was a horrible night all round,” he says. Car crashes are another haunting aspect of his job.
But there are lighter moments during the holiday season.
“We get to do a bit of community work and deliver lots of Santas and Christmas gifts to community events,” he says. “It’s always a treat to see children smile when we show up.”
He says his fellow fire brigade staff and union members always help him feel a bit of holiday cheer.
“A lot of us are away from our families, so we’re like family for each other.”
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER
TOM McRobert (pictured 1st left) will have a birds-eye view of Santa on Christmas Eve as he’ll be one of the busy Air Traffic Controllers on duty at Melbourne Airport.
Like many, Mr McRobert, from Melbourne, sees working Christmas as “part of the job”, although he admits it’s tough not seeing his mum and dad.
“I’ll be working 10pm to 6am, so I’ll need to have a good sleep in the morning,” he says. “My wife is a shift worker too, so we’ll try to manage a family lunch.”
As thousands make the trip home by air to be reunited with friends and family, Mr McRobert and his colleagues will be watching the skies to make sure they are safe.
“You have to stay very alert, so it’s pretty intense and it’s our busiest time,” he says.
“But it’s nice to know you’ve played a small part in helping a lot of people make it home to have Christmas with friends and family. I won’t see mine, but that’s just part of the job,” says Mr McRobert, 32.
So next time you are flying into an Australian airport, spare a thought for Tom and his colleagues on watch in the tower to see you in safe.