I was born in Western Australia. Mum was from Melbourne, and Dad was from Perth. They split when I was three. We lived out in Coburg at my grandmother’s house. We’d go back and forth to Perth a lot to see my dad.

I’m an only child. Mum called me a miracle baby. She’d almost given up when I came along; she prayed to Saint Anthony. She was the best mum, everyone loved her. She had a breakdown when I was about 12 or 13. The stigma in the family meant she wasn’t given the help she needed. I was only young, and it was pretty tough.

When I was in Grade 4, my mate said: “Do you want to wag?” I said, “What’s wagging?” That’s how my truancy started. It got out of hand, and I got taken from Mum for a little period. I was 12. I started drinking and smoking – I hadn’t done that until I was in the children’s home. Mum got a good lawyer, and I got put back in Mum’s care. I didn’t have to go to school. After that, I just hung around with mates, smoked dope. A lot of it was escape, because family life was tough for me. It was just so sad.

I would work hard. I got a job detailing cars when I was 19. And then my mate’s mum and his aunt got into the Hyatt, in the laundry, and then he got me in there. It was a top job, I loved it. I worked my guts out. But Mum was homeless. She needed hospitalisation, but I was too young to work out the system.

To cut a long story short: a lot of bad luck, a lot of good luck, a lot of drugs on and off. And then things got really bad, so I took off to Perth. My dad was there, I stayed with him.

That was in 1991. I found God, or God found me. I went to NA; a priest told me about it. I got myself together. I stayed clean nearly 10 years. I was doing youth ministry in the church, then I got a job in youth work, and I got a couple of TAFE certificates in youth work. I worked in schools for a few years, and then the funding fell through.

I ended up unemployed. I was underqualified going up against uni students, and I was over-qualified for manual labour. After about six months of bad luck, I picked up the meth. As soon as I had it, I knew I was hooked. I ended up homeless. It was terrible, but you get used to it. The last 25 years, I’ve been in and out of recovery.

I came back to Melbourne in late 2017. Then I found this job at The Big Issue. I get a lot out of it. I’ve got people skills – you’ve got to be a bit of an entertainer, you’ve got to give directions. I enjoy it. The income helps me heaps: you can buy a coffee, something to eat. I use the money wisely.

I’ve got a girlfriend in Western Australia; we’ve been together about 15 months. Her mum looked after my mum in aged care, before Mum passed away in 2013. I ended up in Ozanam House because I was homeless. They’re trying to get me a unit. And she wants to come over. We’re just seeing how we go. I’ve got some good things happening, it’s not all bad.

Brendan sells The Big Issue at Southern Cross Station and Batman’s Hill, Melbourne

Interview by Amy Hetherington
Photo by James Braund

Published in ed#714