20 September 2018

Doug, Canberra


Doug sells the big issue at Ainslie, Canberra.

I have been involved with The Big Issue in Ainslie for over four years.

Each morning I buy a coffee from Edgars and I set up outside the IGA. I know everyone at Ainslie whether they buy the magazine or they don’t. I always wish them a good day, a nice night or a good weekend. I have been made to feel very welcome and I have become part of the furniture.

Over four years, you watch people grow up. I’ve not only got to know the families, but I watch the young kids grow into young teenagers. It’s that community spirit you wouldn’t get anywhere else and I love that.

When I got diagnosed with lung cancer, the community cared about me and the situation I was in. Both Manuel from IGA and the chemist said if I needed anything they would drop it out to me. I can’t speak highly enough of the support I got. I had the operation to take out part of my lung and a big chunk of the emphysema five weeks ago. I went into the surgery fearless through prayer and faith and I looked beyond the surgery to recovery.

My faith developed over 22-and-a-half years through not drinking and praying to a higher power. It’s not a religious thing, it’s a spiritual thing. Most people wouldn’t even know I am a recovering alcoholic, let alone having bipolar and chronic anxiety. Yet I live with all three.

In 1987 I got into the Alcoholics Anonymous program. For the first seven years it was very hard and I relapsed repeatedly. At the 10-year mark of being sober I felt I turned the corner. It’s a very personal journey and they are real diseases that one lives with. I don’t kid myself: one drink and that’s the end of the story.

I grew up in a violent, alcoholic home. By the age of five my parents split, welfare had taken me and I lived with my uncles in Ainslie. At age 14 I got expelled from school, which led to my drinking, petty crime, juvenile detention and a couple of stints in Goulburn jail in the 70s.

For 17 years, everything that was ever worth anything to me I drank away, including a marriage and the right to be a father to my children.

I find doing the job I do at Ainslie is more than selling The Big Issue. There’s many people that have approached me about mental illness, or I run into other alcoholics that are in relapse and I try to point them in the right direction.

What I love about The Big Issue is that I can run it as my own business. It’s the only job where I haven’t laid in bed at night thinking, “Oh no I’ve got to go to work in the morning.”

Because of the surgery I’m only doing three days a week, but as long as I am above ground I will keep selling The Big Issue.

Photo by Sean Davey

Interview by Deborah Crowe