19 December 2014
I guess I was three or four when my grandparents died and I was sent to Tufnell Home [an orphanage in Brisbane]. It was run by nuns and they made you stand in the corner facing a wall when you got in trouble. We went to school, but got moved around a lot.
I couldn’t find any friends and became a truant. Ironically, when I was 12 my punishment for being a truant was to be sent to a training farm for boys where we got no education. I used to collect bottles, buy cigarettes and lollies with the refunds and watch TV.
I was alone during this time. It was violent and I got abused. I had injuries from being constantly bashed and boils that never got treated. The food had weevils in it. I used to think I was the only one doing it hard in there. All these years I’ve kept it close to my chest because you don’t know what people are going to think.
In my twenties I decided to take a look around. Worked on the Marina Mirage at Port Douglas, all palm trees and Italian marble. Cotton-chipping and rock-picking out west. Camped in the bush outside Cooktown for three years, living the simple life. The police would come by every couple of weeks to check I was alive. Plenty of snakes around, taipans, king browns. It wasn’t until I got back to Cairns that I became homeless. Sleeping on the jetty and fishing. I met a German fellow and we would share a bottle of rum and play chess through the night. I learned how to be patient and wait for a move.
I couldn’t get back into work or housing so I came back to Brisbane. I got my first permanent home seven years ago. It’s the longest I’ve lived in one spot and The Big Issue is the longest job I’ve held down in my life [10 years]. I guess I found something I’m good at. I don’t pressure people when I sell. I don’t just take their money, I recognise them the next day in the street. Everyone likes to have their existence acknowledged. I do my best to be respectful.
I look forward to working. You spend the whole day smiling at people. Smiling is circular and you find you get the same back. We are all social creatures, even though we have our reasons for not wanting to be together. Where would we be without people?
I still don’t have any plans for the future, but I’m content doing what I’m doing. The people that come down George Street accept me.
Interview by Judy Johnson
Greg sells The Big Issue at the corner of George and Charlotte Streets, Brisbane