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21 November 2018

Michael N

Vendor Michael

Michael sells The Big Issue in Brisbane.

I was born in Germany, and came to Australia with my family when I was a baby. I was taken away from my parents at a very young age, at five years old. I was placed into care, and it wasn’t very good.
I didn’t see my parents again – until an aunty of mine gave me a photo when I was about 40, when I went searching for family. I’ve got two brothers and one sister – we were all split up. I don’t know where they are. I met my sister once, just briefly, but she’s turned to a different life, so… I had 35 years of not knowing who I am, not having an identity. I think if I’d known who I was, I could’ve actually built on that. Not knowing, not really having an education, impacted my life a lot.

When I was 16 I sort of ran away from government care for the last time. I went up to the Northern Territory and became a drover, droving cattle, which educated me more than anywhere else I could’ve been. I joined the military around 20 years old, and I was there for about nine years. It didn’t really offer me much more than just a job, that’s all it was. So I left there and came back to Brisbane. I couldn’t find much around the place, and lived on the street and tried to get my life together.

Living on the street, well, it’s no life for nobody, and everybody knows that. To get a cup of coffee in the morning, I used to go about collecting aluminium cans as a way to get some money. Then I began to realise I’m getting older and it’s not good to stay out on the street – I was there for 12 years.

I chose The Big Issue because it’s something I can work for myself and it gives me a reason to get up in the morning. When people realise that you’re helping yourself, they are more likely to want to help you than if you’re begging on the street. I’d like to thank all of my customers at Newfarm and over at Bulimba.

I’ve always made my own way, not relying on the government. I think it’s because I was brought up in a government institution, and I decided to get on with my life, independently. Main thing in life is keep your head up. You take one step forward, one foot in front of the other.

The Big Issue has changed my life, because I’ve got a lot of goals to go for and I’ve achieved a few of them. Everybody wants to own their own house, well, to be stable in a place is just as important as owning a house, and I’ve got money to pay rent now. And I got married, about 15 years ago. I met Maria about the third day after I started at The Big Issue. She was one of these business-class people. We just got talking, and she started buying the paper off me. In less than eight months we were husband and wife. I have four children and two grandchildren. I’ve got my family back, and you could say I’ve got my life back.

Photo by Barry Street.

Interview by Amy Hetherington
Michael sells The Big Issue in Newfarm and Bulimba, Brisbane