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18 February 2020

Robert B

Photo by Nat Rogers

School was hard for me. I grew up around violence and alcoholism, and was bullied at school. I also moved a lot – I went to five or six different schools so I was always the new kid. That made things hard. In Year 10 I started work picking potatoes. Real hard work, from dawn to dusk. I left school to help Mum while my three younger brothers stayed at school. I didn’t have much of a childhood. Life has always been a battle, leaving me little time to rest. In some ways this has continued, even now.

My mum passed away in 1997. She was the only person I was close to, the only person I ever fully trusted, so when she died alcohol became my friend. Before long, I began blackout drinking. Now I don’t want to drink. If I’m having a bad day, I write my thoughts down. Solid people in my life are my new props – not alcohol. In January I was six months sober. I haven’t seen my brothers since Mum died. I had an older sister who was adopted out. One of my brothers tried to contact her but she didn’t want to be found, I guess.

I’ve never been married – except to alcohol. I was also a bit of a workaholic – I’d even work through lunch breaks! I used to work for Ford in Tasmania – my first real full-time job. I loved this job. It had a basic number system, which I could really get my head around. I have a good head for numbers. Maths was my best subject at school.

I was on heavy medications and one day I woke up and decided I couldn’t take it, so I got a flight to Melbourne. My plan was to stay on the street and drink, even if it meant drinking myself to death. I was two years on the street that time, my longest stretch. It was the worst. Dark, no light. I saw some gruesome stuff. It got pretty desperate, but I found my way back to Adelaide. I hit rock bottom after I arrived. I was only three weeks sober and just finding my strength when I met someone who helped me turn it all around. This person’s been my life support. He convinced me that my old negative ideas have to be smashed!

I heard about The Big Issue from friends in Melbourne. When I moved back to Adelaide I thought I’d give it a go. I’m trying to get my driver’s licence back. I’d like to save for a car, then do some country trips to explore a bit. Hopefully I can sell enough mags to save for a campervan or station wagon so I can sleep in it. I could even do some fruit picking to earn money along the way. But no potato picking!

Photo by Nat Rogers

Interview by Erica Rees
Adelaide