It doesn't take long to find someone who wants to sing Heather Gingell's praises.
Just one phone call in fact. The Courier contacted the Ballarat North Primary School office to say we were about to feature their school crossing supervisor of many years.
"Oh Heather, she is so, so nice," said the woman at the other end of the line, entirely unprompted.
"She was here when my kids were at the school. My son is 17 now, and he still likes to come back to say hello to her."
It could well be a familiar tale for many Ballarat parents. Heather has been doing the job non-stop for 37 years, making her the longest serving lollipop lady in the city.
People ask me when I am going to retire. I tell them, 'why would you retire when you're doing something you really love.'Heather Gingell, school crossing supervisor
ET the extra-terrestrial was thrilling audiences in the cinema when Heather first began helping children get to school safely.
In 1982, she was a single mother looking for work to fit around her children. She walked into Ballarat Town Hall, talked to a council officer called Sid Ellis - and soon afterwards she first put the lollipop sign to use outside Black Hill Primary School.
After a stint at Macarthur Street Primary School, Heather was transferred by her then boss Bill Parker ("a wonderful man") to Ballarat North Primary School - a short walk from her house. Now aged 77, she has been there ever since.
"I can't remember how long it's been," she said. "It's been many, many years."
So much time has passed, in fact, that sometimes she sees the children of children she used to help cross the road years ago.
"I feel very, very old those days," Heather said.
A few things have changed. Heather thinks drivers are now more respectful, although she admits she wouldn't fancy the gig on busier roads like Sturt Street. And the heat of the summer, the only season she doesn't like, gets to her more these days, despite her floppy, council-supplied hat.
What about the early starts and the cold, The Courier wonders. "Morning is the best part of the day," she replied. "It's all fresh, and the birds are awake and there's a calmness."
And she feels well shielded against the cold with her sheepskin gloves and gumboot socks, which she shows off with a flourish.
However, the main thing that keeps her coming back each day is the schoolchildren she helps across Lydiard Street North.
She loves the kids, you can tell. She's interested in them, and asks how things are going - she's just a really kind, caring person and an important part of our school community.Sue Sawyer, principal Ballarat North Primary School
"The kids are great. They all call me Heather," she said, then segued into an impression of her and the children at work. "Morning Heather, it's my birthday - oh happy birthday to you, I like your new shoes."
Heather has one crucial tip though: "Never say to the boys you like their new haircut. They don't like that."
Her joy at being around the students shines through - and it's an impression the school's principal Sue Sawyer later confirms: "She loves the kids, you can tell. She's interested in them, and asks how things are going - she's just a really kind, caring person and an important part of our school community."
In all her years shepherding students across the road, Heather has had just three near misses personally. And there there was the storm "with rain like you wouldn't believe" when she was scared to put the lollipop sign up in case of a lightning strike.
But she still plans to take that very sign out for years to come, come rain, hail or shine.
"People ask me when I am going to retire. I tell them, 'why would you retire when you're doing something you really love.'"
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