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9 December 2019

Ronnie S

Barry Street

I was born in London. I’ve got a brother and a sister but I came to Australia by myself in 1969. My siblings are still in the UK, and I still talk to my sister. I haven’t been back to England for a long time. I don’t really want to go back but it’d be nice to see my family again.

I came to Australia after travelling the world. I went overland through Europe, the Middle East and Africa to get here. That wasn’t the first time I travelled the world. I’ve been to the concentration camps in Germany, I’ve seen Victoria Falls in Africa, I’ve even trekked to Machu Picchu in Peru. I actually speak Spanish. I also speak French, German, Hebrew and English. I was in Thailand at the time of the Khmer Rouge-led genocide and saw the refugee camps for the people fleeing Cambodia.

My favourite place is Peru in South America. It was so tranquil, so peaceful, so green, so natural. During that trip I stayed on an island and lived on frijoles for a week. I was living with the local tribe to experience their culture.

I started to travel when I was about 24. I’d support myself by finding jobs wherever I was. I’m a painter by trade. I’ve also worked in bars, clubs, even on drilling rigs while I was in Africa.

I have been homeless a few times in my life. I lived on the streets in London, in Spain and have lived on the streets here in Brisbane, too. I once even slept underneath the Eiffel Tower.

I sold The Big Issue when it first came out in London – I met [The Body Shop founder, and co-founder of The Big Issue] Anita Roddick and have a copy of the first ever edition of the magazine. I love selling The Big Issue. I love to talk to people; having chats and telling jokes with my customers is the best part. I like to make my customers laugh. I can’t believe the generosity of some people, especially at Christmas time.

I’ve been through and conquered alcoholism. I’ve been sober since I started selling The Big Issue. Selling the mag helped me get through my addiction by occupying my time so I couldn’t sit around and drink all day. It also lets me keep my independence; I’m too old now to keep painting.

I’m saving the money that I earn from The Big Issue for my next trip. I don’t have anything planned at the moment but I’m only 73, I have plenty of time left! If I was to pick anywhere in the world to go to next, I would go to China to see the Terracotta Warriors.

When I’m not selling The Big Issue, I read a lot. I like biographies and thrillers. My favourite author is Alan Robbins. I also spend a lot of time at my mate’s place. He’s got a home recording studio. We play and record music together, we’re recording some songs that I’ve written. I haven’t always been a musician, I started later in life and I’ve come to enjoy it. I don’t play any instruments yet but I sing.

Last but certainly not least, here’s a “Ronnie’s Funny”: Did you hear about the schoolteacher who is cross-eyed? He couldn’t control his pupils!

Photo by Barry Street

Interview by Stephanie Young
Ronnie sells The Big Issue cnr Creek and Eagle Sts, Brisbane