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31 October 2019

Andrew Sp

I’m born and bred in Newcastle, a stick in the mud. I was educated here at the University of Newcastle with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Mathematics, and a Masters of Engineering. As well as TAFE with an IT Cert II, Business Cert III, Small Business Management Cert IV. The fact that I had the blindness and the mental health, the schizophrenia, which is behaving itself under medicine (thank goodness), it meant I didn’t have anywhere where I could find flexible work. That’s why The Big Issue is really handy.

I’ve been on board since early February this year. It’s been pretty good. I wrote a tour guide of Newcastle in the Spice Girls edition [Ed#588], and a Street Sheet piece in Ed#591.

Since I’m a bit of a social butterfly it means I have odd hours, so the flexibility is great. Before starting I was in a rut as to what I could possibly do in terms of a career or earning money. It was so nice to find somewhere I could actually earn a quid. On my first day I sold eight magazines; I was hooked. It’s nice to have the flexibility and be my own boss. I don’t earn enough that it covers the rent yet.

My schizophrenia got diagnosed after the two major episodes that I had in 2002 and 2005, but the blindness was an adolescent onset macular degeneration. I lost the central vision region right when I wanted to look at the girls. It was equal in both eyes so I couldn’t really tell the difference until I was with people who could read things on the other side of the quadrangle. I was legally blind soon after it was diagnosed. It’s a bit of a pain in the butt to happen, but I haven’t known much of a difference.

The schizophrenia was interesting, and that’s led me to writing my memoirs. It will be a personal history. I need to get these memoirs out there so people can see where the heck I’m coming from.

As I mentioned, I am a social butterfly, and I’ve got a regular coffee group, and twice a month I’m involved in a writing group for people with disabilities called Write Up! I’m one of the leaders. I also have a blog that is set in a parallel universe where I am the dictator of Australia. The prime minister had fled by boat without his papers, so won’t be allowed back in the country – so I become dictator of Australia. The idea was that I was going to write regular updates on how things were going and comment on current laws – but I’ve been a bit distracted.

My goal for the future is to make lots of mistakes but recover quickly and cheaply. It’s been good to have The Big Issue as another thing that I can do.

Photo by Peter Holcroft

Interview by Sam Clark
Andrew sells The Big Issue on Beaumont St, Newcastle, NSW.