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21 June 2013

Stephen M

Photograph by Joshua Thies

"I was born in 1965, but I feel old. My life has been a battle to survive mental illness. Mum told me I had whooping cough as a baby and might have had brain damage at birth. 

At school I was very good at drama, history, English and art. Like other boys I said and did silly things for fun, but also liked performing in the skits and plays. I remember getting an award for writing about the Ancient Roman Empire and the Renaissance. 

At 19, I was placed in Ward 7; a locked ward. Years and years of misdiagnosis and the wrong treatments [followed]. Medication didn’t seem to work too well for me. Finally they said schizophrenia, with a question mark on Asperger’s syndrome. My life as a patient was really like going through hell in my mind. That’s the past.

I used to write volumes and volumes of material when I was receiving psychiatric care. A person can be mentally ill and intelligent at the same time; talented, too. 

My family reckon my poetry writes itself. I’m a published poet, mainly anthologies of my work and other people’s that were written in hospital and as outpatients. My collection of poetry, In Dark Hours, was published in 1997 when I was in a psychiatric hospital. I might even be famous soon if I start selling enough books on the open market. 

I still use my pen name: ‘Mad Dog Munro’. I’ve had a fascination with bushrangers from when I was a very young boy. I’ve been a fan of Ned Kelly my whole life – the armour, the beard, the robbing the rich to give to the poor…

I write every day – at times, the words virtually flow from my pen. It keeps me well. I get ideas and write them down, mostly by hand, anytime I want. At home we have a laptop that our doctor gave us, but we don’t know how to use it just yet. I also write short stories and would like to try my hand at scriptwriting. With enough practice I can be good at many things. 

I’ve been selling The Big Issue for about six years now. I’ve got Vendor of the Month, top monthly sales awards and had my poems published in ‘Streetsheet’. I work on and off, depending on my mother. If she thinks I should work, I go. We live together with my oldest brother. 

I like to read history and Australian poetry. A taxi driver asked me once if I read The Big Issue. I said I sold them too fast to read them myself! I have my regular customers. I like to keep busy and don’t mind the job. I am ambitious to publish more poetry, though. 

I believe that eventually I will succeed in life and I believe it’s getting closer. I’ll often have a cup of black tea and a cigarette and think about it."

Interview by Judy Johnson/ photograph by Joshua Thies
Stephen sells The Big Issue outside Central Station, Brisbane.