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25 March 2018

Kevin

Kevin

I was born in the UK, and we came to Australia when I was about six years old. We came out on the boat from England. My mum and my dad just packed their things one day and said "alright, we're going". It was the four of us: me, my mum, my dad and my brother.

We arrived in Fremantle, and then took the long trip across the Nullarbor to settle in Sydney. I remember everything being so different to the home I knew! The distance, the heat, the flies…even the money was different, as Australia had just changed from pounds and shillings to dollars and cents.

I'm still in touch with my brother, who has two little daughters, who are absolutely lovely girls. Sadly my parents aren't with us anymore. I lost my mother when she was in her sixties - it came as quite a shock. She took her own life and my dad broke down afterwards. He tried to take his own life, too, and it was very difficult for all of us. The thought of it all still plagues me.

I've been in Brisbane roughly 14 years now, and selling The Big Issue for most of that time. I was staying at a men's hostel not long after moving to Queensland, and one of the fellas that was staying there came home one night with a Big Issue vest on. That's how I got introduced to the magazine…and I've been with them ever since.

The magazine pushed me in the right direction to get housing, which I appreciate. I was homeless on the streets and living in hostels for a few years, but now I have a housing commission flat near the Brisbane River. I'm very lucky in that way.

People often wonder how someone becomes homeless, and in my case it was related to my illness. I suffer from schizophrenia. Mental health can be a very difficult thing for some people to talk about in public, and they lock themselves away. I'm not afraid to talk about who I am, though, and the struggles I face with my health. I think now people are starting to wake up and realise what an important subject mental health is.

I quite enjoy selling the magazine; it gives me a broader outlook on life. The Big Issue gives me the will and determination to get up out of bed, and not just lie around. That's what I used to do. With The Big Issue I find it's a lot easier to get through the day.

I enjoy a returned smile and a good morning, and if people stop and talk I'm always happy to open up and have a friendly conversation with them. My customers have taught me so much about life. I've travelled a lot, I've seen a lot in my lifetime, but each day teaches me something and brings a new experience. When you're selling the magazine it's not what you sell that's the most important thing, it's what you gain from meeting people.

My most important goal in life is to manage my illness, and to lead a happy and contented life. Although I'm pretty happy, I'm still plagued with the demons of schizophrenia from time to time. People shouldn't be too judgmental about mental illness. It touches everyone in different ways, people from all walks of life.

This article first appeared in 'Why Books Matter' edition #557 of The Big Issue.

Kevin sells The Big Issue in Anzac Tunnel, in Brisbane's CBD

Photo credit: Barry Street

Interview by Kurt Maroske
Anzac Tunnel, Brisbane