"My family had a farm in Bridgewater, Tasmania. Nine kids, I was the third girl out of five. My father was a plasterer, worked outside the farm, so we only had 10 sheep, a couple of cows, grew our own vegetables.
We moved to Glenelg North [Adelaide] when I was 15, because of the weather. Mum wasn’t well and it was getting too cold in Tasmania. I had already left school – back then you’d leave when you were 13, 14, get a job. I was working in a cafe at 13, then here in Adelaide my sisters and I all worked in the Clarks Shoes factory.
I worked up till about a month before I had every one of my kids – my first when I was 17, four kids by the time I was 23. It was a struggle; you can imagine what that was like.
I got divorced after 20 years, and had to keep working, three times harder on my own. The next 20 years was nothing but work, work, work, work, work. I had a job at another big South Australian company, the pie place Balfours, sometimes 12 hours a day.
The last 10 years? My two daughters here had children that I looked after in between working, but my daughter in Sydney was pregnant with her first at 37. She is smart, works with computers. She wanted me [to move to Sydney] to help for the first year, and I was there nearly five years, also ended up getting a pie bakery job there.
The worst thing ever brought me back to Adelaide: when one daughter here passed away. When I came back I had nowhere to live, and that’s when I found it hard to find a job, because I was 63 by then. And who will employ you at 63?
I’d never been on any benefit, but I had to go on Newstart, had no choice. I couldn’t rent privately, had to go and live in a boarding house, where I stayed for two years of living hell. Then, just out of sheer luck, I got a place through the Housing Trust.
I bumped into this lady one day, Mandy, selling The Big Issue, and we got to be friends. She said, ‘Why don’t you sell it?’ I didn’t think I’d be allowed to because I was on Newstart, but I was allowed.
I’ve been selling since September 2014, usually in Rundle Mall, and if it’s not too hot I like to take [my dog] Fifi with me. Everybody loves her, and she does everything you tell her to. She has lots of clothes – Santa, ballerina – all the kids were tearing around, going, ‘A Santa dog, a Santa dog!’
Normally I sell in the afternoon from 2pm. It’s better than being home, and you meet people. People stop and chat to you – if I stay home, there’s no one to talk to. And of course the money’s handy!
I’m happy – I’ve got this house, and I’ve got my dog, but I don’t look to the future. You stress yourself out too much if you’re going to worry about tomorrow. We’ve all got enough to cope with today!"
Ruth sells The Big Issue in Rundle Mall, Adelaide
interview by Peter Ascot photograph by Nat Rogers
This article first appeared in Ed#502 of The Big Issue