A portrait of well-known Canberra window-washer, Lindsay, who worked from the intersection of Barry Dr and Northbourne Ave. Photo: Rohan Thomson
A makeshift memorial on the side of Northbourne Avenue signalled the passing of Lindsay the window washer, a Canberra institution.
But left untold was the story of his life: one of fleeting connections and relationships lost.
Lindsay at work on Northbourne Avenue, Civic. Photo: Andrew Sheargold
Wilted flowers and a simple sign remembered the man with the weathered face who had been something of a permanent fixture since 1990.
The day before they farewell the brother they barely knew, Ann Gibson and Billy Mitchell are piecing together what they can of Lindsay’s life.
Born in Melbourne in 1966, they remembered their youngest sibling as skilled at finding trouble and spoilt by his grandmother.
Brother and sister of window washer Lindsay Mitchell, Billy Mitchell and Ann Gibson, from Melbourne. Photo: Rohan Thomson
“Just after his 21st birthday, he disappeared,” Ms Gibson said.
“I heard from him once when he was in accident and ended up in the Alfred Hospital. He stayed with me for a couple of days and then left and that was it.
“I reckon he was 23 and from then until six months ago, I would have actually thought he was dead.”
A sign and flowers at the intersection of Barry Dr and Northbourne Ave for well-known Canberra window-washer, Lindsay. Photo: Rohan Thomson
Like the countless strangers shocked by his death, his family are playing catch up with the missing years.
Details of Lindsay’s life, including his full name and age, had previously been unclear. Lindsay James Mitchell was 47 when he passed away this month.
Despite being known to countless motorists passing a coin or two, some facts remain unknown.
“We knew nothing about the window washing or anything in Canberra,” Ms Gibson said. “Nothing.”
“We tried to find him a couple of times. The police couldn’t find him, the Salvos couldn’t find him so I thought he was either on an island with more money than you can poke a stick at or six feet under.”
A chance meeting with a family friend and a phone call to his brother in Melbourne six months ago promised a family reunion, planned for next month.
“He said he wasn’t good and hadn’t been in a very good place for the past 20 years,” Mr Mitchell said. “He said he was better now.”
Those plans were disrupted by his death on November 7, and a call from a friend to the phone numbers listed in his wallet.
Lindsay Mitchell will be farewelled at the Norwood Park Crematorium on Wednesday at 1.30pm. The service will be followed by a wake at the Canberra City Uniting Church, metres from his familiar post.
“He had no connection to Canberra and it would have been the last place I’d thought he go,” Ms Gibson said. “I would have imagined him out in the middle of nowhere, the outback somewhere with a little shanty and the black fellas.”
“This was obviously the life he wanted to lead and from what his partner Jody told us when we spoke to her yesterday, he died in his sleep so that was probably the best thing too. He didn’t suffer at all.”
Learning about his struggle to make ends meet, Lindsay’s brother and sister said they were not surprised at stories of his caring for others at the city’s margins. Led by ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher, many tributes praised the 47-year-old’s sense of right and wrong and his generosity for others in need. Some, however, remembered him and other window washers as pushy and occasionally unwilling to take no for an answer from the outside the windscreen.
“Even when he was younger, he was the type that if he had something and could give it to someone else, he would,” Ms Gibson said. “We’ve heard here that if he had some money, he would give it to another person. He’d rather go without himself. Listening to that we think we really have missed 20 years.”
Born during his father’s service in Vietnam, Lindsay showed potential in a single season of suburban football, winning a best and fairest in Melbourne’s Ferntree Gully.
Admitting to a “bad crim record”, Lindsay told The Canberra Times in 2008 that he had two children. He told a student filmmaker that he found it hard to get work because he was on the methadone program. His siblings said Lindsay’s son drowned in a pool at age four and that his daughter, thought to be in her early 20s today, was living in Queensland and likely unaware of her father’s death.
Another brother, Gerald, died in 1998.
“He actually delivered his own son,” Mr Mitchell said. “He didn’t have a license and was going to go to hospital for the birth in the taxi but it didn’t show up so he had to deliver the kid on the floor.”
“We really didn’t know him. Even as a kid, we didn’t have a lot to do with him.”
Reluctant to share much of his own story with the media, Lindsay said in 2008 that he had worked for 15 years to maintain his corner, adhering the code of Canberra’s streets.
“We all know where everyone is and we stay put,” he said. “Earn your corner, earn respect, you know?''
Composed but close to tears before meeting with ACT police and the funeral celebrant, Ms Gibson said the planned reunion would have had her brother in his element.
“It should never have taken 20 years for it to happen. Even if he was in a bad place or in jail or whatever, we should have known. To lose that contact and not know was the hard thing.”