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1 May 2019


Vendor Joe

I’ve been with The Big Issue for 20 years and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever had in my life. I’m enjoying my life today and I’ve met a lot of nice people and friends. I’ve enjoyed every minute.

Where I’ve been working in Bondi, the people around there make me feel part of the family, part of the scenery. Those sort of things make me realise that I’m a human being. When I first started I was doing it real tough. I wasn’t working, I was on the disability pension and about four years out of jail. When I got out of jail I said to myself, what chance do I have of getting a job? So I was down and out.

The Big Issue in Sydney wasn’t quite one year old when I started. On my first day I thought I would only last three months, because that’s as long as the magazine would last, but here we are after 20 years.

I used to sell at Wynyard Station every morning, Broadway in the day, then back to Wynyard where I’d work to midnight. Then I’d go to Central and get on the Lithgow train. Three hours sleep up there and three hours back. I’d be back at six o’clock in the morning and start again.

I spent two years selling in Melbourne; things changed when I was down there. I started looking at life differently. I met Gemma and Kirstie who ran vendor support. Kirstie put me in my place a few times and I admire her for that. At the time I didn’t give a rat’s about anybody else. I got what I wanted and I’d get it any way I could.

But today if I can’t get it, I’ll work a bit harder to get the money and buy what I need to buy. I found my principles; if I look after people, they’ll look after me.

When I came back to Sydney I didn’t want to go sleeping around the streets anymore or sleeping on the trains, I didn’t want to put anybody out. So, the only thing I could do was find a boarding house. I couldn’t have done that if it wasn’t for The Big Issue. I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent. Or if I paid my rent I wouldn’t have nothing left over.

I’ve seen a lot of changes with The Big Issue; when we started there was only about four or five of us working full-time in Sydney, now there are many more. We’ve lost a lot of people too. One-Legged Pete to cancer, Old Bill at Central Station, Elsa as well.

I didn’t have a beard when I started. Over the years it’s come to this. When I got it going people would comment that they liked the beard. So it’s part of me, it’s part of my signature.

The price has changed too. People complain that $9 is a bit steep for a magazine. I say, “Excuse me, I started selling The Big Issue when it was $3, 20 years later it’s $9. That’s not a bad inflation rate.” If everything went up that slow we’d be laughing.

I will continue selling for as long as I can stand up. It’s where I meet people, it’s where I socialise. It’s my life, it revolves around The Big Issue. But if I win the lotto I might retire.

Photo by Peter Holcroft

Interview by Sam Clark
Joe sells The Big Issue at Bondi, Sydney