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7 February 2014

Steve B

Photograph by James Braund

"I was born in Whyalla; a South Aussie. I never got to meet my old man, but I think he worked for BHP. Him and my mum didn’t get along too well, so we came over [to Melbourne] for the fresh water and TV. It was the weekend that JFK got shot.

Grew up in the western suburbs, Footscray, Yarraville. I still remember vividly the [Westgate] bridge falling down. You could climb up and look over the edge – good view from up there!

I left Footscray Tech and went straight to the meatworks, like most of the kids round there. Did a year or two, then got an apprenticeship as a chippie. Didn’t work out – the work was just fitting partitions around the city; it didn’t demand much skill. Then I was driving cabs, making coffins, a long, chequered list.

I’ve got a son who’s 23 now and doing well. As well as a source of happiness, it’s scary how much they remind you of yourself. My brother passed away in 2001. I lost my mum a few years later and didn’t have the skills to deal with it. I guess it was undiagnosed depression. Losing people who are close to you changes your outlook. You grow up a bit. You can understand how people end up the way they

do. You’re sitting around feeling sorry for yourself and you forget things like paying the rent. You end up out on the street and you don’t know how to deal with that because you’ve never done it before, and you start couch surfing. My sister helped me out for a while, but we don’t really speak much any more.

By 45 you’re used to having a place to call home, then suddenly it’s scattered all over the place. It was a rocky time going from couch to couch, not knowing where your next feed would come from, people helping themselves to your belongings, broken trust.

Things improved when I got housing from a western suburbs agency, which found me a place at Williamstown. I found The Big Issue in March 2011, at a point in my life where I was looking for something.

The people I work with, other vendors, they help me out a lot, show me the ropes. If you’re feeling down, the [vendor support] girls in the office are good for a laugh, very supportive.

I do Elizabeth St, mainly, at Melbourne Central. People come up and are friendly. There are interesting people in the city, whether they buy the magazine or not. Sometimes lonely people just want someone to talk to. The money is like a perk – it’s nice being able to pick when you want to work, not like in a factory where it’s a long day and is mind-numbingly monotonous. But a writing job would be good! Even a book or music shop would be down my alley.

Lately I’ve started the writing course through The Big Issue, and it has helped. Writing is hard work if you want it to turn out well. If you find something like that it can give you a direction."

Interview by by Peter Ascot/ photograph by James Braund
Steve sells The Big Issue at Melbourne Central, Melbourne.