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4 May 2012

Kayleen

I was born in Brisbane Hospital and had a happy childhood in northern Queensland, but my mother drank a lot and I was often left to look after my younger brothers. I left home at 17 when it became too much. I miss my father – he died in 2000. I’m still in regular contact with my mother and we have a good relationship now. She still lives in Townsville.

I have been deaf since birth due to my mum having chicken pox. I can lip-read a little, but mainly communicate by signing or writing things down. I learned signing from a very young age, and attended schools for the deaf, which I enjoyed.

I moved to Sydney with my then-husband around 1995. I was married to him for 10 years, from the age of 18, but he was very abusive and we broke up while he was in jail. I have lots of bad memories as a result of that relationship.

We had a son in 1999. His name is Aaron and he lives with foster-carers. I love him very much and see him now and again. I also hope to see a lot more of him as he gets older.

Working was very difficult because of the hearing impairment. I haven’t had any other jobs apart from The Big Issue, which I found out about in 2007 from a friend who was a vendor. It was hard at first when there were no sales, but persistence paid off. My deafness doesn’t affect it.

I sell at the GPO in Sydney, usually around four days a week for a few hours at a time. I haven’t been well recently, so have not been able to work as much.

But I still have a smile for my customers – I have lots of regular customers who come and talk to me. Some even buy me drinks and lunch. Or I get tips, which help to buy food on my lunch break.

The magazine is interesting and the Big Issue staff are good. I go to the office now and again – I like to help out at our vendor barbecues, when a new edition is launched.

I look forward to getting married, having some more children and a happy family. I am engaged to Leonard, and we’ve been together for three years.

I am able to save a little bit, but it’s hard – and the money doesn’t matter. I’m happy. The Big Issue has helped me get out and about instead of just sitting at home. I have a new life, new friends. I love cycling and I’m healthier.

At home I like to read, or to chat online. Leonard and I are renting privately, but have received a notice to move out because the property is being sold. We are hoping to get some help from the housing department.

To my customers, I’d like to say thanks for the respect you give me and for appreciating the work I do. I’ll go on selling, maybe forever.

interview by Peter Ascot with Emma Harkins

photograph by Peter Holcroft

Interview by Peter Ascot with Emma Harkins
Brisbane