I was born in America, and we moved to Perth four years later, when my Aussie-born mum and American father split. I have cerebral palsy, and my grandfather told Mum to bring me to Australia because the health system was much more affordable. I attended a “special needs” education facility in Mount Lawley, where I unfortunately didn’t have a very good time and was picked on a fair bit. While I was at school, it felt like they were teaching us skills that were good on paper but that we couldn’t use in everyday life.

In 1989 my grandfather died. I felt the sudden absence of his supportive voice, and soon discovered a few beers could stem the doubts that had begun to creep into my life. Life quickly started going downhill from then on. What has always been a trigger for my drinking is when I don’t feel heard, or safe to speak my mind.

After working various jobs – including at Megamart, running the ticketing for car parks, and selling The Sunday Times – I heard about The Big Issue from a couple of vendors. The first day I ever worked, I sold 20 mags. After that, I’ve never looked back. I have just celebrated my 20-year anniversary selling the magazine!

The main reason I love being a vendor is because it has given me the opportunity to be a self-sustaining individual. I work the hours that I want to, can switch off from work when I get home, and have days off whenever I feel like it. It also helps keep me out of trouble and gives me places to go, people to see and something to do whenever I need a bit more of a distraction from my old demons. I especially enjoy being able to work at music festivals and arts events – these sorts of venues really help time pass by.

Over the last 20 years, I have met many people within The Big Issue community. I enjoy talking to all the different customers and have found them to be very supportive. I am very thankful for the lasting friendships I have made with the other vendors, customers, council members and all the management staff at the Claremont Quarter where I regularly sell. These friendships are a big part of the reason I’ve stuck around for so long.

Selling The Big Issue has put me in touch with a community that cares and helps keep me on track with my goal to quit drinking. I know I can do it because the support I receive has helped me take a more positive approach to life, where previously I would have just gone off the rails. I’m also feeling heard and seen as the intelligent person I am, instead of being seen as just a person with a disability like I had experienced in the past.

I’d like to thank John, Justin and Sarah at the Claremont Quarter for their help in maintaining a decent place for us to work, especially when it is unbearably hot, wet or cold. Thank you for always going above and beyond to make us feel not only welcome but also accepted as part of your community.

Bill sells The Big Issue at Claremont Quarter, Perth

Interview by Celia Tran
Photo by Ross Swanborough

Published in ed#698