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1 September 2014

Paul D

Photograph by Peter Holcroft

Me, my twin brother and my young sister came out from England in 1963 with my father. My mother had died when I was seven and my oldest sister emigrated in the 1950s. I worked in the big meatworks at Riverstone when Dad died – me and my brother started when we were 16, to support ourselves.

But in the 1980s I went back to England with a Scottish mate. He got sick and died and I didn’t have the money to get back to Australia, so by the time I did, I had been away for too long. I should have got an Australian passport instead of the British one, or both. I wasn’t thinking properly. So I was illegal when I got back in 1996, and it’s taken a lot to sort it out.

I’d never been unemployed until I came back, I’d always worked. I tried to get a road sweeping job but they were not taking anyone on any more. I wasn’t getting money from Centrelink or nothing. I couldn’t get on a pension – they said I had to be living here for 10 years – though I’ve been here much longer than that.

I started the Issue in 2001, and I’m still in Hunter Street now, outside the bank. I start at about half past seven, sell till about two o’clock, have a rest and then I might come back out again. I know a lot of customers, they’ll bring me a coffee – that’s very good, especially in winter.

Sometimes it’s slow, especially Mondays after people spend all their money on the weekend! The fruit man there is good, he gives me fruit, and when I was sleeping out he’d look after my bag while I worked. They are good people, been there 30 years.

I’d sleep not far from where I worked, next to a bloke and a girl for safety. It was pretty quiet and I didn’t have many problems there. But as you’re getting old it’s no good sleeping out, you could get bashed, get robbed. Too dangerous, mate.

The good news is I’ve got a house now through the Department of Housing; been in it for eight months. I was surprised I got it. I was on a waiting list, but maybe I got it because of my age – I’m 65 and had been living rough for 10 years.

I’m trying to get a few things I need for the house – mostly I’ve got everything, just will get a couple of more blankets. It’s still cool, even in the house, because I keep a window open to let the fresh air in.

I like soccer and I’ve followed the Rabbitohs since I’ve been here. Used to go with the boys and watch a few games. I lost my twin brother, he died of cancer last year. But I’ve got my sister and my sister-in-law, so I go and see them...

Paul sells The Big Issue in Hunter Street, Sydney.

Interview by Peter Ascot