By Amy Hetherington

    Since 1996 The Big Issue has provided opportunities for people experiencing homelessness, marginalisation and disadvantage to find employment, earn a meaningful income, increase their confidence and reconnect with their communities. 

    Vendors of The Big Issue magazine sell all around Australia, including Melbourne’s western suburbs. Below is a profile from local vendor Brian who sells outside Coles in Williamstown, first published in edition #684 of The Big Issue magazine. 

    “I came into the world in 1957, in Young, New South Wales. I was the second born, and the black sheep of the family. I was always into mischief – wagging school, playing up. We moved to Forbes, and I got a job on a dairy farm before I turned 16. I’d milk cows, do feeding, a bit of fencing, very early mornings. It wasn’t bad. It paid $40 a week.

    “After a few years, I got itchy feet, and that’s when I started travelling around Australia, hitchhiking up and down the coast and all through the inland. I like seeing a bit of the countryside. There’s a lot of different people out there, and in most cases the people I’ve come across are kind, open and easy to talk to.

    “I’ve got a lot of knowledge because of all the travelling and jobs I’ve done. I worked on Hamilton Island for a while, as a porter, maintenance worker, cleaner and I’d babysit the guests’ kids. I worked in abattoirs, as a kitchen hand, did fruit picking, some painting. I worked on a Ferris wheel in carnivals. I did get married for a couple of years in Bundaberg – but we split up. I’m amazed at the places and the things I’ve seen. My favourite is Wagga Wagga. I went back there three or four times over the 20 years I was travelling around.

    “Lot of times I spent sleeping under bridges or in a park up against a tree. Sometimes, if I had a bit of money, I’d stay in a hotel for a night. I travelled light – had one small bag on my back – and just got a ride whenever I could.

    “It wasn’t a bad life, but in the end it just got too hard. I think it was about 1997, I ended up back in Brisbane. I stayed at the St Vinnies men’s hostel for a while, where I cooked breakfast for 80 to 120 people – you got your own room, the paper and meals. I started selling The Big Issue in 1998. I met a lot of people and it helped get a bit of money in my pocket. I left there in 2000 and went to Bendigo for two years, and then I ended up in Melbourne.

    “I’m coming up to 25 years of selling The Big Issue. I’ve been out at Williamstown for probably 18 years. Three years ago, when I had my bladder removed, the people of Williamstown raised some money for me to buy an electric scooter. It was a big saviour. I haven’t got any family, so Williamstown is like family. It’s good to catch up with people and have a bit of a chat.

    “Williamstown is the end of the road for me. I’ve got a one-bedroom unit in a place for over fifties. It’s nice and quiet. I won’t be going anywhere now. I’ll be plugging along doing what I’m doing. I appreciate everything that people have done for me around Williamstown over the years.” 

    Photo by James Braund

    Our content is a labour of love, crafted by dedicated volunteers who are passionate about the west. We encourage submissions from our community, particularly stories about your own experiences, family history, local issues, your suburb, community events, local history, human interest stories, food, the arts, and environmental matters. Below are articles created by community contributors. You can find their names in the bylines.

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