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31 March 2014

Rob

Photograph by Ross Swanborough

"Mum and Dad split up when I was three, but it was when I was four that my life really changed.

I was at home in my bedroom. Like many kids, I liked playing with matches and I struck one while sitting on my bed. It burned my finger and I threw it over my shoulder. Almost instantly my sheets started to burn and, before I knew it, a really big fire was taking over my bedroom.

I was trapped, unable to escape. A neighbour noticed smoke and called the fire brigade, but by then my whole room was alight. The [fire fighters] got me out, but they had to burst through security screens first. By then I was burned really badly and in a coma for eight months with burns to 95 per cent of my body.

I got out of hospital covered in bandages from head to toe. Mum wanted to look after me, but she could not cope and I was given to a foster family. My foster mum and dad were nice people and they looked after me for years. I did get back with Mum for a while. We lived in Manjimup in the south of Western Australia, but it did not work out. She and my two sisters are in Queensland now. I don’t see much of them, but I call Mum now and then.

I had a good time at school and got on well with everyone, but I had to adapt to schoolwork as I lost all my fingers in the fire. I got a few jobs after leaving school. Worked at Harvey Norman for a while, calling people who had left their computers for repair. Also worked as a trolley boy for supermarkets and I sold the West Australian newspaper at nights.

I am still getting treatment for the burns, and I go to hospital three times a week to get the dressings changed.  I have had heaps of operations. Every year I am in hospital for something. My specialist doctor is Dr Fiona Wood, who was Australian of the Year in 2005. She has been great for me and is always encouraging.

I have been asked to speak to schools as part of the Jack Dunn Foundation, which raises funds for burns research. I am looking forward to speaking to kids about the danger of fire.

I follow Essendon in the AFL – I’m not sure why, I just like the Bombers and have been supporting them for ages. PlayStation is great fun, too, and I really like to play that with my mates. I also do a bit of fishing sometimes.

My Uncle Ron told me about The Big Issue about two years ago and as soon as I started I knew this was a good thing to do. I get to meet new customers and I have lots of regulars who buy from me and stop for a chat most days. It is good to get out and about; better than just staying at home.

I want to go to Bali one day for a holiday. I have never been there, but I think I would like it."

 

Interview by by Jim Petrie/ photograph by Ross Swanborough
Rob sells The Big Issue at Esplanade Railway Station and The cloisters, Perth