Best of 2014 Heartwarmers

26 December 2014 Katherine Smyrk

Best of 2014 Heartwarmers

Kat and Jock

This year – as last year – readers sent emails, tweets, snail mail and Facebook messages sharing moving stories about Big Issue vendors who’ve meant something to them. We’d like to share some of our favourites.



The first issue I bought from Jock in Leederville was the one with Robin Williams on the cover, which spoke about mental illness (Ed#468). Never have I read something that seemed to understand the inner workings of my mind almost more than I do. It made me feel not so alone with my mental illness. There are times when I feel that everyone in the world is in it for themselves. But I realise when I meet people like Jock that this is all part of my anxiety. I walk to work from the train station each day and Jock makes the walk worth it. He leaves me with a smile on my face, complimenting me and telling me: “Don’t work too hard, darling!” My anxiety often makes me feel sick and makes work a huge struggle. But even on the days I have no cash on me, Jock will lend me a magazine, give me an orange and, recently, a Christmas card addressed “To a Valued Customer”. He unknowingly restores my faith in humanity, and so does The Big Issue. Thank you for allowing me to help people who help me. The magazine itself is written beautifully and is a great way to get away from hard realities.

Kathryne Eaton, Perth, WA



We were particularly delighted to read vendor Peter B’s piece ‘The Long Dry’ in the 450th edition. We have wondered about him, worried about him, hoped he was still okay since his disappearance from the Southgate/Flinders Street Station area. It’s marvellous news to hear that he’s recognised his problem, is doing something about it and hopes to be back selling before too long. To say that we look forward to that is an understatement – Peter was the highlight of any trip over the bridge! Keep it up, Pete. We want you around to light up our day – and, don’t worry, your awful jokes are no worse if you’re sober! Let’s see you back on the beat soon, and keep up the great work talking to schoolkids through The Big Issue’s Classroom program. You’re good at it because the kids can see that you’re smart, funny and could have had a totally different life if it wasn’t for the demons. I’ll bet you’ve made quite a few think about the options.
Mel and Max Sutherland, via email
Response from Peter: “Thanks very much for caring; and I look forward to seeing you guys in the future.” See page 23 of Ed#474



I decided to have a treat at the end of a bicycle ride – coffee and cake at Brunetti, the wonderful coffee shop in Carlton, Melbourne. When I arrived, I suddenly realised that I didn’t have a bike lock, and wondered what I could do. The man selling The Big Issue outside saw my dilemma and offered to look after the bicycle. So I bought him a coffee and cake (“Not too hard, I haven’t got any teeth. See!” – and he opened his mouth). He enjoyed the coffee, but broke the cake in half and took one half to another Big Issue seller across the road. I was moved that he shared what little he had.
Coralie, via email
Sounds like you’re talking about Craig. He’s famous for his Big Issue spruiks as well as his generosity. – Ed



I was recently in Melbourne on business and on my way to a client near Bourke and William streets. I passed a Big Issue vendor, waved briefly and indicated a ‘thanks, anyway’. I heard him say, “That’s fine and have a good day.” And then as I moved further on I heard a faint, “By the way, I like your dress.”
A little way on, I turned back to purchase a copy. He thanked me and then said: “I really meant what I said. It’s like an Aboriginal print, isn’t it? It’s deadly. That means great.” It was one of the most gentlemanly compliments I’ve ever received. I was still smiling when I arrived at my meeting. He made my day, and I enjoyed my read on the way home.
Rhonda Virtue, Lane Cove, NSW



A note from Big Issue’s editorial staff: The response to the ‘Vendor Profile’ on Rob from Perth (Ed#454) has been incredible. In Rob’s interview, he mentioned that he’d love to travel to Bali one day. Since then, we’ve had a lot of people contacting The Big Issue – and Rob, directly – to offer their assistance in making the holiday happen. His supporters have come from all walks of life, including people from local businesses, government departments, multinationals and individuals. Two of Rob’s regular customers, Don and Gerald, facilitated a group fundraising effort to purchase plane tickets and accommodation. This generous gift was presented to Rob on 2 May at a reception at Abacus Rent-it in Victoria Park, Perth. Rob travelled to Bali in December.



Recently, I was rushing to a business meeting and saw one of your vendors selling The Big Issue on the corner of Exhibition and La Trobe streets in Melbourne. I didn’t have time to stop but promised myself that if he were still there on the way back, I would buy a copy. When I returned, he was still there. We struck up a conversation and talked about all manner of things including his hope that his AFL team, Melbourne, would win that weekend. I was in a ‘look important’ business suit; he in jeans and a T-shirt, with a red Big Issue vest. To an onlooker it would have looked strange indeed: a businessman having a matey matey chat with an underprivileged person. What your vendor didn’t know, and what I didn’t tell him, was that 20 years ago I was one step away from living in the gutter. My life had crashed down around me in all areas and I had reset my scoreboard to zero. Fortunately, I was able to turn my life around. That conversation with your vendor was the highlight of my day – and I really wish him all the best. I have nothing but admiration for your vendors who are out there and having a go.

Alan Brown, Melbourne, Vic

The vendor in question is Gary G, who works on the corner of Kent and Market streets, Sydney. – Ed



A Big Issue vendor came through the train carriage as I was heading home from the city today. Noticing me checking in my wallet for change, he came over. We had a great chat about the fabulous breakfast he had just enjoyed at The Big Issue office to celebrate the new edition. I didn’t have any change, so he offered to jump off and get change at Flinders Street Station. Leaving his very nice Crumpler bag with me, he went flying off to the kiosk just outside our carriage. I tried to stop him but he was very dedicated. Unfortunately, he wasn’t quite fast enough. Despite my efforts to stop the doors closing, he was left stranded on the station with my change and I was left holding all his things. “I’ll meet you at Richmond!” he shouted as the train pulled out. Arriving at Richmond a few minutes after me, he came running over with abundant apologies and a fistful of correct change. Big Issue vendors really do go the extra mile!

Andrea Travers, Belgrave Heights, Vic



Today I met Graham on my walk to work along Boundary Street in Spring Hill, Brisbane. Since moving just out of the CBD for work I don’t see vendors as often. So it was a welcome surprise when Graham popped up selling The Big Issue. He was a bit of a hustler, had an impressive mane of red hair and we chatted about Kevin Spacey, my upcoming move to London and the importance of getting out of the house for a walk each day. Just another example of how brief interactions between two strangers can leave you with a spring in your step and feeling more connected to those around you. Keep up the good work Graham and The Big Issue

Anna Berry, Spring Hill, Qld



I recently bought The Big Issue outside Flinders Street Station [in Melbourne] from a lady with severe motor-skill impairment. She couldn’t really speak or open her bag so (with permission) I put my money in there for her. A different gentleman saw me giving her money and, quite persistently, kept asking me for change. I can’t judge this man, because I don’t know him, but all I can say is a massive bravo to this lovely vendor! Despite a physical disability she was still out there, actively trying to improve her livelihood. I like your work ethic, girl! Good stuff.

Mandy Barbour, Brunswick, Vic

We believe you’re referring to Kyra. There is, indeed, much to admire about her. – Ed



The other morning I stopped to purchase the latest copy of The Big Issue to read as I sat in the local cafe for my daily intake of caffeine. The vendor, a large and ‘fearsome’ man with a big bushy beard, near Subiaco station, apologised for not having change for the $20 note that I proffered, insisting that I take the magazine anyway and pay on my return. As a result of this thoughtful gesture I did not have to resort to the local tabloid press while sipping my coffee, which would definitely have ruined my day. On my return, I was greeted with a large grin and a: “Hope the coffee was good?” I went on my way, relieved that the world still has such trusting souls.

Charles Lancaster, Wembley, WA

Sounds like you’re talking about Stewart W! – Ed



The Big Issue Christmas new year edition and The Big Issue 2014 calendar are on sale now. You can get both for just $15. Help out our vendors and buy a magazine or a calendar this holiday period.You can also subscribe to The Big Issue and help marginalised women through our Women’s Subscription Enterprise.


*letters have been edited for length