21 February 2013
"I started with The Big Issue just over a year ago. My mate Dougie and his wife Sharon sell the mag and they talked me into it. Doug told me, ‘It’s long hours,’ and I said, ‘Mate, I can do long hours.’ I gave it a go and I’ve loved it ever since. Before I started selling, I was on the streets and doing nothing. I’d been on and off the streets since I was a kid.
I was born in Hobart and grew up there. But I couldn’t get on with authority, couldn’t get on with others, I always wanted to travel. I didn’t like it at home, couldn’t stand being behind four walls and I used to sneak out all the time. Mum and Dad would come and get me but I’d keep sneaking away again. I’m not in touch with my family now. My brothers and sister don’t talk to me; I haven’t spoken to them in 30 or 40 years.
I left school at 15 and worked for Drug Houses of Australia for six months, delivering drugs to chemists around town on a pushbike. Then I went to building sites. I worked as a labourer, steel fixer, concreter, brickie’s labourer. I loved it, did it for about 20 years in Hobart and on the mainland, working in Brisbane, Townsville, Cairns, Sydney, Melbourne. In my younger days I never wanted to stay in one place too long. And I had depression and some mental-health issues, too.
I started off selling The Big Issue in Melbourne, for about two months. Then one day I went to a pub, had a couple of beers, then went to the park and fell asleep. When I woke up, all my Big Issues were gone, $70, my bag, my cap, the lot. They took everything. After that I felt depressed and I thought, I’m getting out of here, so I moved to Geelong and started selling here.
I love Geelong, especially the people – they’ll stop and talk to you. I’ve got lots of clients and people give me Christmas cards and everything – I put my own Christmas cards in every issue I sold this year, too.
The Big Issue sells itself, but you have to be presentable to sell it, so I always smile. I’ve even had customers come up to me, because of my smile, and say, ‘You make my day.’ That’s men, too, not just women. I’m out there selling seven days a week. Apart from working, I don’t do much. I have a few beers, watch TV and go back to work again. I’ve sold thousands of magazines since I first started, I must be one of the biggest sellers.
I have a really nice one-bedroom unit in East Geelong now. Damien [vendor coordinator in Geelong] helped me get it. Before, in Melbourne, I just had a squat in one of the laneways. Now I’m saving up for an electric tricycle so I can get down to my pitch at Ocean Grove early.
I’ve had a hard life and most of that I’ve put on myself. But since I’ve been in Geelong, meeting Damien and that, it’s been terrific."
Interview by Sophie Quick/ Photograph by James Braund
Peter sells The Big Issue in Geelong and Ocean Grove, Victoria.