"The first time I was homeless was because I got kicked out of home, basically as soon as I finished the HSC [Year 12]. My mum and stepdad were druggos. He was in and out of jail and she was a mental case, constantly kicking me out and screaming at us. I never told anyone how bad it was at home – I honestly didn’t think anyone would believe me.
I got kicked out randomly three times growing up. When I was only seven I took a little backpack I’d already packed, it was my “running away bag”. Pair of socks, undies and my school uniform, that was it. I took my cocker spaniel and went to the park next to my primary school. I slept there that night, then got changed and went to school. When I went home Mum didn’t even realise I was gone.
I stuck with school because I didn’t want to end up like her, or him. That’s also why I never touched drugs. I didn’t want to be anything like them. And I don’t think I am. That was pretty much what kept me going.
I would go sleep at Bondi Beach or Hyde Park. I was more comfortable sleeping on the beach in the day, because I was scared of night-time and what could happen.
I worked at Maccas from when I was 15 till I was 20. While I was homeless I was still going to work, I just didn’t tell anyone because I was embarrassed and didn’t want pity.
I ended up in a relationship and staying with someone who was very manipulative and controlling. After a while I realised, ‘I can’t keep doing this, I’ve got to get away.’ So I did. I went to a shelter and found my own place.
At the shelter a girl named Tanya told me about The Big Issue and that it was a good way to make some money. I sold nothing on my first shift. I was too shy to say anything to anyone, and realised if I don’t say anything I probably won’t sell anything ever. So I started to call out ‘Big Issue’.
I then found out about the WSE [Women’s Subscription Enterprise] from one of the other vendors, and it has been really good. I get to come in, have a chat with the girls, pack some magazines and earn some money. You know how much you are getting, which is good because I can then budget.
Ever since I can remember, acting is what I’ve wanted to do. Another girl at the shelter took me to an “Improv 101” class and I loved it. There they told me about Milk Crate Theatre, and I saw they had workshops coming up – but I chickened out.
Then one day I had nothing else and there was a workshop. Even when I got there I was sitting outside, unsure if I was even going to go in. I called one of my friends and he encouraged me to just go in. I liked it so much that I went back. The audition for This House Is Mine came up and I got a part.
I’ve built so much confidence in the last few years thanks to The Big Issue and WSE."
Rachael works at the Sydney Women's Subscription Enterprise.
Interview by Samuel Clark photograph by Peter Holcroft
To help provide job opportunities for homeless, marginalised and disadvantaged women, consider subscribing to The Big Issue through the Women’s Subscription Enterprise at thebigissue.org.au/about/.
This article first appeared in Ed#506 of The Big Issue