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30 April 2013


"I was born in Sri Lanka but I grew up in Canberra. Mum and Dad just wanted a change, and we came here when I was two. Dad was working in the Ceylonese Embassy. I’m very fair-skinned for a Ceylonese! We moved around with my mum and dad, and I went to a few different primary schools here. I wasn’t a bad student, but I do have a disability – I’m a slow learner. 

I left school at 18. Then I worked at [Canberra social enterprise] Koomari, cutting up the rags. We had a machine that did it, and I stayed for a couple of years. After I had my two girls, who are now 30 and 27, I left work to look after them. I was married for eight years to their father, but not any more. 

I’m going for a visit to Melbourne shortly – my parents live there with my younger daughter, and they are moving house soon down to Lara, near Geelong. Dad’s 89, and Mum had a bit of a fall in the house, so hopefully with my sister and my niece and her kids living near there, they can look after Mum a bit. 

I’ve been selling The Big Issue for quite a while. It’s a good job, gives me something to do – just having a good day, getting myself out, earning a bit of money. The money makes a difference; it’s handy to have some extra. 

I sell on a Friday, every pay week; that’s every second Friday, after I get my pension. I use [the pension] money to get magazines and sell them. I sell in Woden, up near the square [next to Mokambo Caffe]. I just have to catch one bus to get there. I start selling at about 9.30am, and stay till about 6 o’clock. I get to know some customers. It’s good; they stop for a chat.

I told my elder daughter, Nicole, about The Big Issue and she sells too, sometimes, when she has money to buy magazines… Selling The Big Issue is handy for her, when she can do it, so she doesn’t have to spend all the pension straight away. 

I like going to bingo, or going out to [community support organisation] Inanna, where we do craft. We made Easter things – bunny rabbits out of foam balls – and we do painting and bead work. 

I like sport, too. In the NRL, I go for the Canberra Raiders. They lost the first few games of the season. We sometimes get free tickets and go along. My partner used to play rugby, as a half-back. Now he does odd jobs for the neighbours down our street as a handyman.

The Big Issue is good, I like the stories, the profiles, all the magazine, and the other vendors are nice. The staff are great, too. Sometimes, on a Friday, we have a BBQ at Woden or we meet for a coffee in the city[at the Fish Shack]. I’ll keep on working, earn some more money."

Interview by Peter Ascot/ Photograph by Dragi Markovic
Pam sells The Big Issue in Woden, canberra