Street Ink

14 June 2016 Big Issue Vendors

Street Ink

Illustration by Rhiannon Mowat


Back in the mid-90s a support worker in Queensland gave me an angel made from terracotta. It has had a few falls over the years and has been glued back together more than once.

In my time I, too, have been broken and scarred as a person. I’ve overcome depression and been in and out of hospital and had several nervous breakdowns. Just like the terracotta angel, I also have been broken and put back together… Now, when I look at that angel sitting at home with all its scars, it reminds me of the support worker and all the others who have helped guide me and put me back together.

Clarissa sells The Big Issue in Bendigo. This piece originally ran in Ed#332 and was nominated for an INSP award.




8.30pm; Outside Young & Jackson Hotel

The row of smiling policemen patrolling Swanston Street remind me of the cartoon character Fred from The Flintstones. They look too good-natured to arrest some kid for nicking a shirt from Arthur Daley’s discount store. Across the road, Flinders Street Station squats reassuringly. Many other city landmarks appear jittery and impermanent in comparison. Swanston Street is menacing and benign in turn; it savages the vulnerable and throws love at the strong.

Pigeons with fluffed-out feathers circle each other. Cocky males whose spiky hair stands up strut around giggling females, offering nothing but self-assurance. Next to McDonald’s, a girl reaches out to a young man and achieves an instant rapport, as only the very young can. An old man watches her with distaste, taking in her silver nose ring and arms disfigured by purple and green tattoos.

“I’d rather the blondes I’ve known,” he mutters to himself.

A makeshift surgery in the form of a caravan is parked next to St Paul’s Cathedral, for homeless people who are intimidated by regular clinics. Someone’s arm reaches out and pulls an injured man up the steps; he leaves a pool of blood where he had been standing. Like many of the others, he is deaf to kind words, thinking the good doctor must be talking to someone else. He will be patched up but not healed. He has no money for medication, and the street can’t wait to maul him again.


7pm; Corner of Elizabeth Street and Flinders Lane.

Wholesome cupcakes in a shop window topped with pastel pink, yellow and white butter-cream transmit vanilla-scented messages to my empty stomach. The strip joint next door attracts wide-eyed country lads who emerge as fully fledged sleazeballs.

Flinders Street Station follows me with its red brick and yellow belly, visible at the end of Elizabeth Street. I will get no more customers tonight, just stragglers. Furtively reading from magazines they can’t afford at Mag Nation or soothing their disappointments with chocolate sauce at San Churro.


2pm; Bourke Street Mall

Last-minute panic before the shops close for Christmas. People scramble to buy a gift, any gift. To them, the quaint figures posing in the middle of the road are just things in the way. To me, they are mute street poets.

Take the group of cement-like stockmen in raincoats and slouch hats huddling close together. They appear to be united on a mission and I find myself rooting for them, warmed by their esprit de corps. Then reality hits. My emotions have been aroused merely by the way they are positioned. Magic!

And what is one to make of the bedraggled, sorry-looking Santa apparently patched together from soggy, grey papier-mache? He looks desolate about not having any gifts to spare.


5.15pm; Melbourne Central Station, Elizabeth Street

Hundreds of brumbies with human faces gallop towards the down escalator. They rush past me, lanyards swinging, wage slaves reclaiming their freedom until tomorrow morning. Some yank their lanyards over their heads and stuff the plastic IDs in their pockets. Unlike the “draft packs” in the novel Trainspotting, they are not resigned to their fate, but look either prickly or pugnacious.

The Argus building, on the other side of the road, is oblivious to the dreams splattered over its locked front door. Unlike its namesake in mythology, this Argus is virtually blind, for many of its eyes have been boarded up. My homeless buddies could sleep there, since the building is clearly empty. I conjure them bedding down for the night in neat rows, each using a stack of newspapers as a pillow, unaware of the printer’s ink that would rub off on their skin. They’d wake up with letters over their cheeks, as befitting residents living at the former home of one of Australia’s first newspapers.

Music, music everywhere. On my left, a trio of male singers. On my right, a Salvation Army band. ‘Love for Sale’ versus ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’. The saints are winning, judging by the ping of coins in their direction.


Around Midnight

The city breathes with multiple lungs; thousands of old air conditioners wheeze and splutter. Deserted office buildings exhale, pining for human company once again. Then one final, dreamy sigh as the city makes peace with the day just gone.

I board the Nightrider bus and head towards home, wherever that is.


Mariann B sells The Big Issue in Melbourne. This piece originally ran in Ed#421 and was nominated for an International Network of Street Papers (INSP) award.




With frazzled unwashed hair,

Stuffed in a knit hat,

Cold wind slaps her face,

Wound pounds on swollen leg,

Tied with rags, she’s three sheets to the wind,

Bagged up clothes that are cheaply branded,

In hand, she settles by warm grates,

Drinking booze to feel safe.

Judgement fades as you read her streetwise eyes,

And acknowledge brokenness,

Chasing cures to smooth the pain.

She thrills to the surge of the pain, seeks fame

With scratchies hoping for a win,

A life changer.

She drinks a case of beer to cure the pain of being alone.


Teagan sells The Big Issue in Perth. This piece originally ran in Streetsheet Ed#501.




Helpless black feathers on the dust. Alone, no creature to aid.

No watcher in the tree, no soliloquy.

His cage had been the sky. The field his panoply.

The tree the refuge when not in flight.

Stars the jewels of the night.

Why did the major lie struck on the ground?

Tenderly I held beauty to my eye.

In the scheme of things not very much.

Such a little life to feel and touch.

Yet there was a trust. I saw and felt a spark.

I ventured inside his red-crowned head.

Maybe he entered mine instead.

There was no wound to be found.

No loose feathers in the dust or on the ground.

Was it just a time to die,

For this once proud major of the sky?

What had he seen, what crops did he steal?

How far did he fly? What did he feel?

What could he tell? Was he older than me?

No fear did he show or squawk make.

Gently dusting feathers I wished him well.

With friends aloft and bird bliss enjoy.

Perhaps to him minute of life had been a toy.

Instead slowly light of eye just ebbed away.

Amid green and grass, lake, tree and sky.

Stoically, with trust and dignity. Major just slipped away.

Wayne sells The Big Issue in Victoria. This piece originally ran in Streetsheet Ed#380.


This selection of stories comes from our very special 20th Anniversary Edition! Get a copy from your vendor today.