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14 October 2019

Brian W

I was born in Townsville, in Queensland, in 1967. It was pretty rough. I got into lots of fights at school, where I was bullied. I was diagnosed with partial deafness and had a speech impediment. There was no real support or help. In  hindsight I should’ve gone to a special school. But I loved maths and English. And I played a lot of sports – soccer, hockey, tennis, basketball – but rugby league was my favourite. I was a really good runner, played on the wing.

Dad left when I was nine and Mum was a taxi driver. I have two brothers, who I don’t really talk to, and two sisters, who I talk to regularly. I had to start work when I was really young, about 10 years old, to make ends meet. I started packing at a grocery store and doing milk runs in the morning.

I began gambling at the age of 17, on greyhounds and horses. I thought it was a good way to make money. Actually, it was a good way to lose money. And everything else.

I started my own landscaping and gardening business when I was about 19. But my health deteriorated after a few years, so I sold it and made a little bit of money, but then lost it all on the horses. And I ended up on the streets in Brisbane. I lost touch with family as well.

I moved to Sydney, where I heard about The Big Issue. I started selling – my first issue was #34 in October 1997. I’m now up to #597! My best memory of that time was speaking at an event and telling everyone about my experiences – it made me realise I had to keep going and not gamble. I was just so happy to be out there doing something.

I moved to Adelaide shortly after – I’ve been in Adelaide for almost 19 years! I had itchy feet and thought moving would help me to escape my problems. I slept rough for a little bit on Hindmarsh Square. When I joined The Big Issue in Adelaide, I tripled their sales! I helped train a few new vendors and get pitches started. I haven’t looked back.

It’s great because in 2004 I got my first Housing Trust unit and have been there ever since – it’s a five‑minute ride to Glenelg, so it’s perfect. I love it in Glenelg; it’s very community-minded and everyone looks out for everyone.

I volunteer a little in the op shop and soup kitchen to give back to the community. I want to thank everyone who has supported me and continues to support me along the way.

Since joining The Big Issue I have saved money to fly back to Townsville a couple of times to see my mum – the first time was to surprise her for her birthday, and she was so shocked. It was really special. I saw my sisters too, and my uncle. I have been on radio and TV for The Big Issue, and I was on the Christmas cover in 2004 and in the 2016 calendar.

I have heaps of friends at The Big Issue; a few of us vendors get together and have a coffee. I’m always thinking of ways to make people laugh and bring joy to their day.

Photo by Nat Rogers

Interview by Matt Stedman
Brian W sells The Big Issue at Glenelg and Palace Nova Cinemas, Adelaide.