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5 July 2013

Debra

Photograph by James Braund

"I grew up in Melbourne, the oldest of seven, in West Heidelberg in the 1960s. It was a pretty rough place. My parents couldn’t control me; they reckoned I lost my cool, was bad-tempered. I ended up in the children’s home, transferred around when I got too old – Travancore, Allambie, another house for girls. Went in at nine, came out at 18.

Afterwards I went back to Mum, then moved to Shepparton to Dad’s to work in the disability workshops – painting, packing lollies and flowers. I’ve done different cleaning jobs – houses and offices. Then back to Melbourne, and went everywhere, travelling. I had my first child at 21. Mum took her in. The next one ended up with my auntie, and then three went to Welfare – two of those were taken to Queensland. My baby’s still with my sister, Tina; [my baby is] 13 now. I don’t see any of my exes. I’ve given up on guys – completely!

Two of my children have had children – my eldest daughter just had her eighth child in May. We speak by phone all the time, because she’s over in South Australia.

I heard about The Big Issue from my brother, Doug [Vendor Profile along with Sharon, Ed#322, Feb 2009], who is still doing well. He comes and sees me when I’m working, makes sure I’m all right. 

I started selling in Adelaide first, a couple of years at the train station and outside the market. Then I took the train to Sydney; was staying on the streets, homeless. I slept on the steps of a shop in Pitt St and they’d keep an eye on me from the big hotel opposite, made sure I was okay.

I’ve been selling in Melbourne for two years, and am in a boarding house now – it’s pretty cheap and it’s been good for me. It has got a shared kitchen, but we have our own shower. I stay in my room and watch TV, DVDs. 

When I was homeless, I mixed in all right with the streeties, but never touched the drugs. I’ve got the strength to put up with it. A lot of them here now in Melbourne think of me like their mum. The kids hang around me when I’m selling near Flinders Street Station. I’ll have to start putting my foot down. It does interfere with my selling, but I tell them to join up, too. 

I also do Flagstaff Station, got a heap of customers there. And I’ve started at the ‘slow food’ market at the Abbotsford Convent each month – sold out 20 mags before one o’clock the day I started!

The Big Issue has been good – I sell a few and I’ve got to know a lot of my customers. They stop and talk to me, reckon I’m very polite and give good customer service. 

I’ll be doing The Big Issue for ages, till I can get on my feet. Settle down and get my own place, that’s what I want to do. It’s a challenge.

I’m usually happy, and I’ll pick up again. Thank you to all my customers for buying the magazine – it makes a difference."

Interview by Peter Ascot/ photograph by James Braund
Debra sells The Big Issue on the cnr of Flinders and Elizabeth Sts, Melbourne