16 August 2013
Photograph by Ross Swanborough
"I am from Subiaco in Western Australia. Went to Subiaco Primary School but left Australia to travel with my parents, who were missionaries. We went to India, Pakistan, USA and eventually spent three years in New Zealand. When we came back to Australia we lived on the Gold Coast, but my parents were always fighting. My dad was a compulsive gambler and left my mum to live in the Northern Territory.
Mum met a new man. He did not like me and I was kicked out of home when I was 15. This is when things started going wrong. I lived on the streets and got in with the surfie crowd. I went to Nimbin [northern NSW] and was introduced to heroin. Two addict friends just stuck a needle in me and that was the start of my addiction.
I started selling dope to tourists to support my habit, and by 17 I was a full-on junkie. I moved to Darlinghurst [Sydney] and stayed in squats. I broke into houses to get money for drugs, and was in and out of prison all the time. I took so many drugs and had an overdose and became very ill. After that I went on the methadone program, but it was very hard. During one prison term I met a lovely lady who came to visit me. Natalia was the love of my life, and when I got out of prison we lived together and were very happy.
One day I met a person who was in prison with me.
He was selling printer cartridges and suggested I give it a go, too. Before long I went out on my own selling old cartridges to printer companies. I got a suit and went door to door. Everything was good but one night the police came to say that Natalia had committed suicide, jumped off a cliff at Bondi.
After Natalia died I tried to commit suicide many times. I had tried it before in prison but always failed. I needed a fresh start so I came back to Western Australia. I was off the drugs and sticking to the methadone program, but I was just hanging around and not going anywhere with my life. About a year ago, Clint, a good friend of mine, suggested that I give selling The Big Issue a go.
I was extremely down when I attended the office that first time. I had outstanding court matters and I felt I could not reach out to anyone for help. I was suicidal again, alone and broke. Thank the Lord for The Big Issue. The guys in the office gave me a chance to look forward to tomorrow and feel good about today.
I am appreciating life now and the rewards that come with selling The Big Issue. This job has motivated me to want to excel at everything I do. I now have a solid sense of reality, with people that actually respect and inspire me. I have a beautiful place to live, thanks to all the people who buy a magazine from me."
Interview by by Jim Petrie/ photograph by Ross Swanborough
Ashley sells The Big Issue, on the cnr of Hay Street Mall and William St, Perth.