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9 May 2013

David

"I grew up around Adelaide. My parents separated when I was one or two, and I lived with Mum. I’m still close with my mum, but my father died of a brain tumour in 2007.

I got a hard time at school for my weight, and left at Year 10. I often got suspended – I got teased and had some temper issues when I was younger. So I left pretty early and worked in all sorts of places – in supermarkets, service stations, call centres, telemarketing, as a parcel delivery courier.

After leaving home at 15 I lived in young people’s accommodation, which was aimed at family reconciliation, with going back to live with your parents. I ended up moving in with my dad, which was good, and stayed there till I was 18.

Then I did the whole live in a caravan, bit of street time, boarding houses to shelters, to private rental, a granny flat, live with a friend, couch surfing, and eventually moved back in with Dad when he was unwell – we looked after each other.

I was 206kg, and I had a big operation in March last year, a gastric sleeve – a lot of staples. I’ve lost nearly 30kg since. I’ve got another 80kg to lose and I’m having another operation later in the year. My mobility is a lot better – I can walk more, exercise more, I’m much better than I was.

I experienced unkindness when I was a kid, but you get it when you’re an adult as well. Selling The Big Issue, you tend to be out there in the public a bit more and people see you, say things, you hear things you don’t want to hear.

I saw vendors on the street selling, and because I’m pretty keen with computers, I emailed the office in January 2009 and had a bit of an email discussion. I started about a week later.

I’m at Semaphore down near the beach, outside the IGA on Semaphore Road. I don’t do too badly on a Saturday night, there’s still lots of people about and all the restaurants are open so I usually sell a few.

I also do Stirling, in town a little bit, and I’ve been up to the Mount Barker Farmers Market [in the Adelaide Hills] a couple of times lately. It’s hard to get there, takes about two hours, but it’s certainly better than being at home.

I’ve had depression, anxiety, which is controlled with medication of course. It’s a challenge selling The Big Issue when you’re anxious, because you’ve got a lot of people around that you don’t know. But it keeps me busy and active, and it’s better than being in an office all day.

I like the places where I go [selling]; I go to the same sort of places at the same times, and people look out for me, which is nice. It’s good to see the people who look out for you and wonder where you are if you’re not there. When I was unwell I had lots of people wondering where I was; there are some long friendships happening there.

I volunteer all over the place – a St John first aid volunteer, I do online content and administration tasks for Life FM, and I volunteer with a couple of hospitals in patient support and fundraising. I like it, and nursing is something I’d like to do.

My plan is to train as a registered nurse next year, at uni. It’s a three-year degree, then a year of paid placement in different types of nursing. There’s an entrance exam I’ll have to do later this year, and I’ll give it a good go. My mum was a nurse and my grandfather was a doctor, so I’ve got a bit of medical heritage.

I met Isabella on Facebook, randomly – we had mutual Facebook friends. We had a really good understanding of our own issues, and we both understood the challenges we’ve been through. She has survived some nasty stuff, abuse.

We got married in August 2011, but the public housing system is a bit difficult and we both had our own separate houses. Until we got a place together almost a year ago, we were married but couldn’t even live together! Now we share the rent, all the bills, everything that comes with it.

I play a bit with a camera here and there, and I’m saving up to buy a better one. Honestly, I could spend thousands on a camera if I had it, but I’m aiming to scrape together $700 for one.

Things are looking up in my future – the operation, weight loss, study next year hopefully, my relationship with my wife. Every day has its ups and downs, and I need to keep busy. You can see the amount of bits and pieces I do is what keeps me moving, and keeping busy is my way of coping."

Interview by Peter Ascot/photograph by Andy Rasheed
David sells The Big Issue in Sempahore, Adelaide