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19 July 2013

Andrew

Photograph by Peter Holcroft

"My parents came out here from England in 1969, when I was three. I grew up in Wollongong and left school at 14; went to work as a bricklayer with my father. By the time I was 18 I had finished my trade, and I worked with him until he passed away in 1998. 

I still get emotional today, talking about my family that I loved very much. I’ve been having a bit of a tough time. My little brother…he passed away two years ago…two years ago one recent Friday. I had three brothers, they’ve all passed away. Apart from one aunt in England, I’m the last one of my whole family.

When Dad died, it seemed everything went to crap for me. I lost confidence. Since then I’ve developed arthritis in my spine, and it’s difficult to do all the bending now. I’ve had a major depressive disorder – it first came on in 2005 after my mum died. I was on antidepressants up until 18 months ago. 

I go to Narcotics Anonymous. When my eldest brother died in 2003 I hit the heroin. I haven’t used since the antidepressants. I struggle with it every day, but every day I choose not to use. Now if I’ve got money in my pocket I go and pay the rent, or buy myself something that I need, because that money can be a temptation in itself. 

I’m considering getting out of public housing because I just can’t handle it any more. But the boarding houses I could afford were pretty horrible places, too. A fair bit of violence and threatening behaviour went on. I don’t drink alcohol, and for some reason people seem threatened by that; they tend to get liquored up and want to fight. I try to avoid it. I used to sleep in a loading dock in Surry Hills. That was around 2005, 2006.

I started selling The Big Issue in September 2007. Then I got some work as a tyre fitter, which is hard yakka as well. I was in a workshop with a lot of younger guys, and being about 50 I struggled to keep up with them. But something in me wouldn’t let me give up. That’s probably why I’m
still going. 

I’m now back selling, at Potts Point outside Woolworths in Macleay St. Generally it’s good – it forces me to get out of myself and to reach out to others. I’m not going to sell if I don’t smile. A local real estate agent has nicknamed me ‘Mr Smiley’ and it always cheers me up to see him. 

I would love to go back to a conventional job, and in late June I’m starting a course in automotive maintenance at TAFE. I hope to get an adult apprenticeship. I like cars, and when my car broke down I was able to diagnose the problem and replace the faulty fuel pump. It’s running like a dream again. 

I’ve been trying to manage my mood with mindfulness therapy – just being mindful of what I’m doing and my thinking. I might not have much money, but I guess I’m rich."

Interview by Peter Ascot/photograph by Peter Holcroft
Andrew sells The Big Issue in Potts Point, Sydney