Vendor Profile: James

29 January 2015 Peter Ascot

Vendor Profile: James

Photograph by Sean Davey

I’m from the Yamatji people, and I lived up the central west of Western Australia. Dad worked for the government railways. He retired and I moved on.

I did an apprenticeship as a baker but I hated it. So I became a commercial fisherman, which I enjoyed. I was living up near Karratha, small towns called Point Samson and Wickham, around that area.

I started doing it when I was about 20, in great big trawlers. We’d go up to the Gulf of Carpentaria, so they had to hold a lot of catch. I worked up at Torres Strait as well, down to Cairns.

We’d prawn fish, cart them down to Exmouth, drop them off, go all the way back to Darwin, Groote Island, get another load.

I was 35 when my back started playing up, and that was it. I went to work for Simms Metals for a while then. I was mainly steel cutting, but I spent a lot of time all through the Pilbara, cutting up rail cars when the trains had derailments.

It was quite interesting, spent a lot of time travelling with it, and we got looked after.

I went cleaning because it was a bit easier. Started in the cleaning industry in South Karratha, worked for a bloke doing the Woolies shops, it was always unusual hours. Came over here after my mum died, she had been in Melbourne. I first come across to Bombala, lived with my brother, but I had a few hassles with Social Security, so I moved up to Canberra and found work cleaning. That was about five years ago.

I started falling over all the time when I was cleaning and I went to a chiro, he said I had more than a back problem, go and get an MRI scan. There was something serious happening, my nerves were shutting down. So they put me on medication, which wasn’t good. It had too many side effects: waking up with nightmares…punching walls, so I stopped taking it.

I am getting better. As I explain to customers, I used to be quite a fit sort of person, but all of a sudden I end up with this disease called spastic paraparesis. It’s something like Ross River virus, spread by mozzies, from when I lived in the tropics.

I couldn’t get a job – when you’ve got a back problem, or are on a disability pension, no one will give you a job, they are worried about compensation. It’s the hardest part about it. About 12 months ago I was short of money and I saw The Big Issue on the streets. I went to the office, they got me out on the street in an hour or two and I sold a few. I want to thank Ron and David at the office for all their help.

I’m at Tuggeranong, at the Service One credit union entrance. I try and get there at 9 in the morning and go through to about 2. It’s good, the extra money you make.

James sells The Big Issue in Tuggeranong, ACT

» Interview by Peter Ascot, The Big Issue's Vendor Profile Editor.

This article first appeared in Ed#475 of The Big Issue magazine.