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8 February 2013


Eileen is no different from many other 31-year-old women: she loves shopping for clothes (especially shoes and handbags), loves a party, music and films, and having a good old chat with friends and family. What makes Eileen very special is that she leads an active and inclusive life even though she was born with a brain dysfunction and autism.
“I was born in Kalgoorlie and came to Perth in 1990 with my mum, dad, sister Claire and brother Andrew,” she says. “I went to Melville Senior High School and really enjoyed it there. I have done a few jobs but I really like selling The Big Issue.”
Eileen’s selling experience prior to The Big Issue was at a flower stall at the Fremantle art markets. Selling The Big Issue has proved much more successful, as it can be organised around the availability of paid carers who can help her with the monetary transactions. Eileen loves interactions with people, and thrives on conversations with customers and supporters. So, when people stop and buy, she always enjoys it if they take the time to listen and talk.
Some days are much more successful than others. Eileen has realised that despite her cheery disposition not all folks will react favourably, but she has learned to absorb the good with the bad and her appreciation of the general public is expanding every week. “I really like selling the magazine and meeting people, especially mums with little children,” she says. “I just love babies.”
Eileen sells for three hours on two mornings a week and is accompanied by Liz, her support worker from the Autism Association of WA. One of her pitches is at the offices of the WA Disability Services Commission, where staff are eager to help. Eileen also sells outside the Fresh Provisions gourmet deli in Bicton, near Fremantle.
Eileen’s mum, Patricia, says, “The money is a significant benefit and she can now afford a few of life’s extras. It is a positive in Eileen’s life and she is proud to be a Big Issue salesperson.”
With her mum’s help, Eileen has acquired a taste for travel and, like other motivated vendors, is saving part of her earnings for something special. “Mum took me on a trip last year,” she says. “We went to Disneyland and Scotland. It was great and I am now saving up to go on another trip, maybe next year. The money I make selling The Big Issue will go towards the trip.”
Soon enough, with any luck, we’ll be bidding a temporary farewell and bon voyage to enterprising Eileen – she is destined to go places!

Interview by Jim Petrie/photograph by Ross Swanborough
Eileen sells The Big Issue in Bicton, Perth.