"I was born in 1969, which puts me in the 'oldie' category, but I don’t feel old. I was a houso too, but have no bad memories of that – kids never know they’re poor!
I had a pretty rough relationship with my family and a bad school history. I failed at a lot of things, but managed to get a mature-aged placement at uni in Brisbane. That made me feel like it was all on the up-and-up, but unfortunately I was just as bad at studying at uni as I was at high school, and I flunked out.
I started working in retail, and eventually saved up to buy a very cheap house, but then a few things went wrong. I lost a couple of jobs, had a relationship breakdown, lost my biological family… A lot of people have dramatic stories where suddenly they got sick and lost everything, but mine was very slow.
I found myself earning less and less money, and kind of lost myself in worry. I stayed at home, didn’t engage with people…except through social media, which studies have found makes you even lonelier. I was diagnosed with very bad ADHD, depression, bipolar and anxiety. I’ve stuffed up a lot of jobs and started to believe I was just a collection of disorders.
Eventually I thought, ‘I used to work in a bookshop, I used to buy The Big Issue from another vendor, so why not, you know? I’m about to lose the house anyway.’ I thought it’d be a good way to force myself out of the house, and mingle with people.
Selling The Big Issue didn’t necessarily give me new skills, but it brought my old ones back. It taught me that the skills I do have are valuable – selling the magazine really plays to my strengths. It helped remind me that I have so much resilience and tenacity.
When I’m not selling the magazine I’m involved in volunteer stuff, helping the planet, helping poverty abroad. I always head along to protests and rallies – it’s a great way to show what you believe in and make lots of new friends. I think a lot about the world, not just about me and my problems, particularly climate change, marriage equality, gender equality and feminism. I think people assume that if you’re at the bottom of the ladder all you care about is yourself, and getting back up. But I’m still worried about the climate – if you’re standing outside in the hot sun selling The Big Issue, you know all about global warming!
I always try to exercise my brain, and when I have the money I try to head along to something arty. I always read the mag, and make sure to buy one for myself to read and to do the crossword. I try to look as nice as I can and present myself well, but that doesn’t mean I’m not struggling – I’m a thrifty dresser! I don’t ever want pity for my circumstances. I’m only poor in money.
I’m loving learning and growing through my experiences at The Big Issue, and am looking forward to the challenges ahead. Change is good – except climate change!"
Carolyn sells The Big Issue on George St in Brisbane CBD
interview by Kurt Maroske photograph by Peter Franks
This article first appeared in Ed#500 of The Big Issue