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1 August 2014

Greg

Photograph by James Braund

My family background is Irish, but I was born in Melbourne in 1969. I lost my mum when I was five; she died of cancer. I got taken off my dad when I was 11 because he was an alcoholic. I went to a children’s home from 11 to 14 and then, from 14 to 28, I lived with my grandparents.

My grandma was good. She acted as my mum and my grandpa was like my dad. I still have my brother and my uncle, but my grandparents have died now. My grandma died just a few years ago. She was 96.

School was okay. We learned lots of stuff – like how to deal with money to make sure people don’t rip you off! We did travel training – they show you how to get to the city and back again. I did woodwork, art, mathematics, cooking, swimming lessons, all that stuff.

The flat I’m in now I’ve had since the late 1990s. My grandma got it for me through the Housing Commission. It was hard for me when I first moved out of her home. But you know what? It’s good to get a flat for yourself, to be independent. It’s not easy out there in the world; sometimes it’s hard. But at the end of the day, if my grandma didn’t get me that flat, where would I be now? I’d be out on the street somewhere. I do miss her.

I started at The Big Issue in 2008. I was walking around the city one day and I saw a lot of vendors selling. I went up to one of them and I asked him about it. He gave me the number so I made an appointment, came in to the office and I started selling close to straightaway. It’s good work. I like the fresh air, talking to people, making new friends.

When I’m not at work, I like fishing, going to see live bands... Lately I’ve been talking to people on my CB [citizen band] radio, too. You get an aerial on your roof and you get a mic and you talk into the mic and listen and then you talk back again. I talk to all sorts of different people; about anything at all! The police and taxis are digital now, but I talk to truckies sometimes – they’re still analogue. I give them radio checks; they give me radio checks.

I lived by myself for a long time, but for the last two years I’ve had a flatmate, Vesna. And now I have a cat, too. A beautiful black cat called Simba. He used to be so skinny because all [the previous owners] fed him was dry biscuits. Me and Vesna saw where he was living before we got him. I looked at Vesna and she looked at me and I said, ‘We can’t leave him here, we have to take him.’ So we paid them and took him away. That was about three months ago. And you know what? He’s running around so nicely now; sleeps on my bed. He’s so happy.

Interview by Sophie Quick
Greg sells The Big Issue in Kensington and Melbourne CBD