The day was in its infancy when the toddler arrived at Sandybeach Child Care and Early learning Centre Day in a dress-up costume, sure this would be the most special occasion of her young and happy life.
“I’m going to marry Wayne,” she announced, unperturbed the object of her affection was her grandparents’ age.
Wayne Roberts chuckles when he recounts the story, one of countless funny episodes to unfold while volunteering at child care. About to leave on holidays, children will invite Wayne to join their families too, he is such a central playground figure.
Children from different cultures he has met include the Japanese littlies attending while their mothers learned English at Sandybeach adult language classes.
“They had no English. I had no Japanese, yet we still were able to communicate. When their mothers would bring them to the door they would be looking around for me. I don’t know what it is, maybe it is my deep voice,’’ he says.
Now retired, Wayne began his working life with the then Post Master General’s (PMG) department which later became Telecom, a forerunner to Telstra. He travelled throughout regional Victoria and to cities. At the time of his retirement he was a Telstra designer, drawing up plans and cost estimates for running cable and fibre optic cable for new residential estates, or connecting remote homes to the network.
In 2005 he became Sandybeach Centre’s full-time facilities person, covering a multitude of tasks ranging from cleaning, rushing around between classes to organising things to after-hour alarm call outs. Injuring his back at work he resigned in 2012 to get back into shape for a planned overseas holiday. He returned two months late as a volunteer, determined to stay active.
“I just like being a part of Sandybeach, you feel like you are giving something back,” Wayne says. “This is probably all part of my upbringing. I was in Apex in the days when they kicked you out at age 40. It was all good fun, raising money, mowing old ladies’ lawns. I still donate at the blood bank, all this becomes a part of your life,” he says.
He and his wife Diana have three grown up children and five grandchildren.
He has met only one other man volunteering in child care when he was repairing toys. People sometimes give him a quizzical look when they discover what he does at Sandybeach.
He and Diana moved from Sale to Melbourne as the office closed in Sale. He was successful in gaining a position in Melbourne where their adult children were living. They were looking around for a place to settle down, saw the water views at Hampton and decided they had found their future home. It was great to help with grandchildren as they arrived.
At child care he gets a picture of the children’s family life. “They come up with stuff they pick up from mum and dad at home. They are so much more advanced these days. When my phone rings they will grab it, and know their way around the screen. I don’t know where it will all end,” he says.
He sits with the children at lunch time, helping to prise open difficult packets of food, crack open tubs of yoghurt, peels bananas and makes sure children don’t dive into another child’s lunch box. “They could be on a special diet,” he says.
He reads the universally popular “Where is the Green Sheep” at least three times a day. “By the time I get to the end of the last one it is hard to make all the right inflections,” he says. “I like to slow it down and point out what the sheep are going on various pages. I can’t slip over one page too many, they will be alert to that.’’
With short attention spans children quickly tire of one activity and move on to the next one. Occasionally he has to intervene, especially if a boy is throwing sand about in the sandpit.
“Most of the time they are ok on their own, when a favourite playmate arrives they can become a bit boisterous,’’ he says.
He begins about 8.30am. The morning and his shift finishes in seemingly no time at 1.30pm.
“It’s great when the weather is good, the kids get cabin fever when they are inside all day,” Wayne says. “They will spend all their time outside when the weather is good.’’