11 January 2013
"I’ve been blind since the age of 16 – I knew it would happen, as it’s hereditary. My dad went blind later in life, and I’ve got two sisters who are blind. It was a thrombosis of the iris, and a weak optic nerve.
I had good sight when I was young, and could read a telephone book, but it gradually deteriorated over four years, then disappeared in a three-week period in 1973, between Easter and Mother’s Day. I can still picture things from back then – like the natural arch at the falls in Springbrook National Park [inland from Queensland’s Gold Coast], where the water flows down the mountain. Mum and my stepfather took me there a number of times and I still remember it many decades on.
My mother and father divorced in 1970, but I was happy with my stepfather, a very good man. My mother passed away the month before I turned 21. I still communicate with my father, but there was a bit of alcoholism in his life – as there is in mine.
I used to be known at work as ‘Party Artie’. That was back when I was doing brake shoes for cars, trucks and bikes. I did that as a blind person; I’ve never seen brakes.
I used to teach the guys the shoe numbers, lining thicknesses, diameters and all that. I went into it blind, and I built it all into my memory. I still remember it, like the 1174 for the HR Holden – you can feel the shape of the shoe. I was in the braking industry from 1974 until 1993, when I was made redundant. [Because of] the ‘micro-economic reform’, the factory moved to Victoria. I was the shop steward as well.
I’ve been a Big Issue vendor in Brisbane, but now I’m selling in [Brisbane satellite city] Logan because I live down that way. The pitch only opened in October – I was there with the local mayor at the launch. I work at the Logan Sunday market, and am trying out other spots.
I have a seeing-eye
dog, Keeley, with a harness. Most people know better than to pat her, but it’s frustrating when people do pat her, because she’s my eyes. She does silly things if she’s distracted – even if she’s just lying there, she’s working.
I did an advanced diploma with a lot of counselling subjects, and became a Lifeline telephone counsellor for a while, but I didn’t get any paid work in that field. At that time I started drinking heavily to resolve issues, which was not a good counselling move!
In 2009 my wife and I divorced. We got married in 1981, and had separated a few times. I can’t deny that I had a bad drinking problem – I shouldn’t drink; I’ve got a heart condition and am on anti-blood-clotting medication. I have a new wife now. We met at TAFE college, so I married my college sweetheart! I’m also the vice-president of a charity for which I’ve been fundraising for 43 years, Aid for the Blind.
I want to sell a lot more; become a good salesperson as well as a fundraiser. People get to know me and what I do, and are generous. It’s been good selling the Big Issue calendars, too. I appreciate people supporting me, and wish them all the best in this New Year."
Interview by Peter Ascot / Photograph by Joshua Thies
Arthur and Keeley sell The Big Issue in Logan, Queensland.