20 September 2018

John, Sandgate


John sells The Big Issue in Sandgate, Brisbane.

I came to Australia from the UK when I was about two years old. I have three brothers – all of us ended up in a boys’ home for about six years. My father decided to work as a policeman in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), so he came and collected us and we all joined him over there. It was a hard time.

One of my brothers and I eventually came back to Australia, via New Zealand, but lost contact with the rest of our family along the way. Losing that connection hasn’t been easy.

I didn’t have much information about my early life, but the staff at The Big Issue helped me contact the Australian archives. I found out which ship I came to Australia on, and have been slowly piecing together details about my family. I’ve discovered I have all of these relatives throughout the world, I’ve started making connections, and slowly getting into contact again. I only learned I had a granddaughter about seven months ago! My son who lives overseas has a little girl who’s just learning to talk – we speak to each other on the phone. It was important for me to reconnect with my family. I needed to, you know? I just wanted to be able to say hello again, to have that relationship.

All of these connections have been thanks to The Big Issue. Not just the staff, but all of the people who have supported me and bought the magazine from me, you’ve all helped me tremendously. I wouldn’t have been able to reconnect with my family without you. It’s definitely been one hell of a trip!

I first started selling The Big Issue a few years ago, after a friend of mine at a homeless shelter talked me into it. I was a bit skeptical at first, but selling the magazine gives me some space, some time to think.

Aside from selling The Big Issue, I’ve had some interesting jobs over the years: I’ve worked with wood, I was in the merchant navy, I worked as a fisherman. I was a manager in a fishery at one point; that was the time in life that was looking the most optimistic, it was all going really well…but then I had my accident. It was in the fishery that I got knocked over, and hit my head on the concrete floor. It knocked my lights out, and everything changed after I woke up.

Since the accident I’ve had trouble with my memory. I struggle to remember little things every day. I can’t even go to the shops without a list, but over the years I’ve forgotten a lot more than just my groceries.

Being a Big Issue vendor has definitely been interesting, and I’ve met some really good people who are willing to support me whether it’s sunny or rainy, whatever the weather. I think some people just need to find their purpose in life, and The Big Issue helps give them that purpose. For me, that’s what it’s all about.

To all of my customers, I only have one last thing to say – have a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and know that you’re bloody great! That’s all there is to say, because it’s the truth.

Photo by Jacob Pedersen

Interview by Kurt Maroske