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12 April 2013

Bill

From Ed#348, February 2010

As one of The Big Issue’s longest-serving vendors, Bill has built up a strong network of regular customers, and considers many of them to be personal friends.

One of the few sellers present on the Town Hall steps when The Big Issue was launched into Sydney in 1997, Bill started selling the magazine when it was little known to the public. Back then, he says, many people didn’t take The Big Issue seriously because they considered it – erroneously – to be a suspicious religious or political magazine. A lot has changed since, and Bill has enjoyed being there every step of the way.

“When it started, nobody would believe that The Big Issue was independent,” he recalls. “People were convinced it had to be owned by Fairfax or Murdoch. Of course, that attitude has changed now. There is a lot more respect for the magazine and the vendors these days.” 

Over the years, one of the reasons why Bill has established a very close bond with his readers is his warm, friendly and open personality. In particular, he prides himself on being a good listener and is genuinely interested in the lives of his customers.

In fact, he even hangs out with some of them socially, and was recently invited to the wedding of one of his customers. “Because I work next to the university sometimes, I get to meet a lot of students,” he says.“I got to know one of the girls really well who was at university for four years. After a while, I didn’t see her for ages, until I bumped into her in the city after she got a job. 

“One day she passed by, showed me her (engagement) ring and invited me to her wedding. Later, she even invited me to her child’s christening. I still see her every fortnight. So some of the connections I’ve made have become friends for life.” 

Bill was a very active man before he started selling The Big Issue. But then he fractured a bone in his back when attaching his boat to his car. This incident left him incapacitated and unable to work, and he spent six months only being able to sit or lie down. To make matters worse, Centrelink refused to pay him, leaving him unable to pay his rent. Homeless, he moved from one hostel to another. 

That was until he signed up to The Big Issue, which turned his life around. “It gave me a lot more stability in my life. Other than being able to buy food and drink, it’s also allowed me to purchase good things like a television, DVDs, a computer and a few other luxury items.”

Bill is happy with the routine in his life now and is grateful for the experiences he has every day, thanks to his community of friends, whom he calls family.

 

Interview by Rodney Appleyard/photograph by Arunas Klupsas
Bill sold The Big Issue at Central Station and Sydney Uni before stepping back from his work in early 2013.