Photograph by Peter Holcroft
"My father served as a soldier in Lae, New Guinea, in World War II. After he returned the family moved out to Banksia (in Sydney). While I was still young my mother contracted terminal cancer. In October 1967, when I was 13, I lost my mother. I was very close to her, closer than I was with my father. The loss really affected me.
My father remarried two years later but I didn’t feel comfortable living with my stepmother, so I ended up moving out to a place in Ultimo with my grandmother. I finished school at Drummoyne Boys’ High School and started working for the Australian Taxation Office. I worked at the tax office until April 1995: I was offered a redundancy package when they were implementing [new] technology. I took that payment and decided to purchase a property in Guildford (western Sydney).
While I was out of work I was introduced to a company in the US that had some kind of marketing scheme, which promised you’d virtually double your money in one month. I mortgaged my place to invest, but after a month nothing seemed to be progressing. After a year I found out that this company was actually not going to pay out funds at all. The police indicated that they had no power to act on it and all the subscribers found out that the only way they were likely to get their money back was if they took out a class action.
In danger of having to sell my property to pay off the mortgage, I refinanced with one of those financiers that take on high-risk loans.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t meet their repayments and started to default, and ended up selling the property and then also some of my possessions. I didn’t end up with much at all out of the situation.
I had started work as a casual with a T-shirt printing company, where I was introduced to Lea, a Singaporean lady who I eventually married in July 2001. Then I started working, sorting mail for Westpac, but after five years they didn’t have enough jobs on offer to fit me in. I had large credit card debts and my manager at the time knew this. When I went to sign the resignation forms he offered me a redundancy payout even though I was a casual, because of my performance. He advised me to pay off my credit card debts with the payout. Regrettably, I didn’t take that advice and after a while the banks were on my back. So after seeking financial counsel I declared myself bankrupt.
Eventually my marriage broke down; [my wife] was
really unhappy with the situation and decided to leave me in July 2006.
After that I was unemployed for some time. I thought The Big Issue was a way of starting your own business with little capital, so I signed up in February 2014. Even at my age I still want to re-establish my financial situation. I’m proud to be doing what I am doing, regardless of people purchasing or not."
Gary sells The Big Issue at Market and Kent Streets, Sydney.
interview by Sam Clark, photograph by Peter Holcroft
This article first appeared in Ed#492 of The Big Issue.