Vendor Profile: Brian

13 March 2015 Judy Johnson

Vendor Profile: Brian

Photograph by Josh Thies

Judy Johnson, Ed#478, February 2015

"A lot of people say I’m a happy-go-lucky guy. Since I started selling The Big Issue six months ago, I’ve been meeting lots of people. It’s made a big difference to my life. People stop for a chat, ask how I’m doing. Some of them ask very politely how I ended up in the wheelchair. I’m happy to tell them: I was in rehab for a drinking problem and going well, so I started doing some odd jobs around the place. Fell from a ladder onto a fence and snapped my spine.

It was very hard emotionally to be told I was a paraplegic. That was 15 years ago. I reckon I was lucky in a way. I could have broken my neck and been a quadriplegic. I can get around and do things for myself. I built a house from the settlement, no stairs and wider rooms. It’s home and these days I share it with a mate who was homeless. He sells The Big Issue, too, so we’re good company for each other.

When I was growing up, home wasn’t a very nice place to be. Both my parents were alcoholics. There were always arguments, violent arguments. When I was about 10 years old, my parents took me to the Children’s Court. They said I was uncontrollable.
I didn’t like school and wagged a lot. I was put in a home for kids. I was sexually abused there, and after I told the staff about it they moved me to another boy’s home for truants. It was tough at first, getting up early to milk cows and working on the farm. We didn’t get educated, so it was lucky I’d picked up reading and writing when I was younger.

When I got out I worked as a storeman, also as a driver. I was even the last conductor on the last tram in Brisbane. That’s going back a long time now! I was married then, and had four children. I only see the youngest these days. It’s nice to be ‘Pop’ to her four kids.

After the trams I couldn’t hold down a job. The alcoholism got passed through the family. All six brothers were big drinkers. I’d go to the hotel every day and wait outside till it opened at 10 o’clock. I’d drink all day with my mates. It caused problems. I class myself as an alcoholic and my ex-wife was as bad as me. It ran through both families, you see.

I feel much better these days for not drinking. I’ve got problems with pressure ulcers that need daily nursing care, but otherwise I’m good. I like to get out as much as possible. I work six days a week and stay home on Sundays to do the housework, maybe catch a Western on TV. I just love meeting people when I’m out selling. I hope life keeps going the way it is at the moment."

Brian sells The Big Issue at Queens Plaza, GPO and Adelaide St Medibank in Brisbane.

» Interview by Judy Johnson

This article appeared in Ed#478 of The Big Issue magazine.