23 July 2013
Photograph by Amelia Shaw
Ed#359, July 2010
Brisbane’s King George Square has recently undergone a dramatic facelift, but one popular feature hasn’t changed – the man with The Big Issue in his hand. Raph has been selling the magazine beside the square since 1997, when it first came to Brisbane. Way back in Ed#190 (November 2003) Raph told us he loved The Big Issue, and would “keep selling the mag until I’m too old to work anymore”.
He’s been as good as his word. And, while he’s scaled back his seven-day work week, he’s still going strong. “I have been working every week since 1997, [lately] Monday to Friday – the only thing that stops me is bad weather,” he says, his Cuban accent still apparent after nearly 40 years in Australia.
Raph wears a black felt cap today as a concession to the colder weather. Growing up in sunny Cuba had accustomed him to the heat; he still doesn’t like the cold. “I worked on the family farm in Cuba until the revolution. We had to leave Cuba. They took our farms and gave us ration books. No one paid any rent and it became very hard to live. Most of my family went to Miami.”
In 1971, Raph made his way to Australia and worked his way around the country on farms, construction sites and in hotel kitchens. He likes to be independent, which is why The Big Issue suits him. “I like to be my own boss,” he says. He also likes to be outside on the streets and around people. “I have many, many friends who buy from me regularly. I sell them the calendars, too.”
Next year Raph hopes to visit his family in America. He has five sisters and four brothers in Miami whom he talks to sometimes on the telephone. “Everyone is getting old now,” Raph says. “My family are strong people. My father was 101 years old when he died, with all his hair and not sick at all. My mother was the same, and was 95 when she died.”
So, at a mere 70, Raph looks pretty good, and still stands up working from 6.30 each morning till the afternoon rush tails off at 5.30. Although, these days, he will sit down for a coffee at the quiet times. Then back on the bus in his well-worn routine. He lives on his own in a flat in Chermside. Raph doesn’t have a TV but likes “to listen to musica on the radio”. He always looks smart and gives a little salute when he arrives or leaves.
Raph likes his King George Square pitch and sees no reason to change. And even though it was once a cooler oasis with grassed lawns and water fountains, the newly concreted square is still the focal point of the city and Raph is a distinguished part of that landscape. And, with his genes, he most likely will be for years to come!
Interview by by Judy Johnson/photograph by Amelia Shaw
Raph sold The Big Issue at King George Square, Brisbane.