27 September 2013
Photograph by Joshua Thies
In his housing commission unit in Nambour, on the Sunshine Coast, Stephen keeps three moneyboxes: an old Commonwealth Bank box, a red telephone box and a dinosaur-shaped box. When he gets home from a day out selling The Big Issue, he drops his tips into them, and when the moneyboxes start to feel heavy, he donates some of his earnings to organisations that support local homeless people.
Stephen knows what it’s like to be homeless. He slept rough in Brisbane for a year, usually choosing to bed down close to Police Beat shopfronts as these were the safest places. “You have to be careful, some people have no respect for life,” says Stephen. “People lack compassion for the homeless. They just turn a blind eye and don’t want to recognise the problem.”
Stephen is one of life’s wanderers. He’s spent most of his life travelling with sideshows from one country town to the next across New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and up to Darwin. “It’s good work if you get the right boss,” Stephen says. And he has great memories of some of the families he worked with in the sideshow business. “The Browns, the Millers and the Youngs were like family to me. The Browns are still out there working the circuit. When I was with them, they had dodgem cars, bungee jumps, kids’ rides, games, canteens. I always drop them a line at Christmas… One of the Sydney Big Issue guys worked with me on the show circuit, too. He’s like a brother to me. Hi, Dave!”
Prior to travelling with sideshows, Stephen worked on and off in brickyards in Sydney. “I started at the brickworks after school. It was easy to get work in those days... [But later] the industry shut down and I started selling papers at the showgrounds. Got offered a job there putting the sticks in the dagwood dogs and that led me to life as a ‘carnie’.”
Health issues now keep Stephen off the show circuit, but he is still loyal to his sideshow family. When the Queensland Government announced last year that it was closing the community’s mobile school, the Queensland School for Travelling Show Children, Stephen wrote a letter to the Premier telling him to stop picking on the kids.
Stephen’s been selling The Big Issue for about four years now. “It gives me an interest in life,” he says. “When I get itchy feet, I hop on the train or the bus and go up to Tewantin or the Eumundi markets and sell a few mags. That was the best thing about working the show circuit, you got to pack up and move on and see what was around the next corner.”
But now Stephen has put down roots in Nambour. “There’s a lot going on,” he says. “It’s pretty social.” When he’s not selling the magazine, Stephen likes to head off to local Community Action Group barbecues or chat with volunteers and patrons at Caboolture-based crisis centre Friends of the Street or at mobile outreach service Rosie’s Van. “I wear two watches [one on each wrist] so I have plenty of time during the day,” he says. “I just like to get out there and enjoy life.”
Interview by Judy Johnson/photograph by Joshua Thies
Stephen sells The Big Issue on The Sunshine Coast, from Nambour to Noosa