Chris H

I started rowing when I was eight, in Warrnambool. I did disability rowing – what they now call para-rowing. I had a speedboat that would follow behind me and tell me to go left or right so I didn’t run into any other boats. In high school, I made it to the national championships in Sydney, which I’m really proud of. People keep asking me: if I wasn’t blind, where would I be? I don’t wish I could see. Blind is who I am. I’m just me.

My father and I are really close. We both like trains, we both like travelling. We both have the same hereditary eye condition.

My mother left when I was 13. I was living with my grandparents, but they got too old, so my aunty and uncle decided to take care of me. When I was 17, they didn’t want me there anymore. I couldn’t really go back to my grandparents, and my father only had a one-bedroom unit, so I thought, you know, what am I going to do? I had no real fixed address. At the time, I didn’t even care. I just thought, My life’s over.

I brought myself back somehow. I went to the Lighthouse Foundation – they have a mental health focus, so I basically got my mental health under control, and I started healing. Then I met my wife Portia, and we just clicked, we just work. I moved from Warrnambool to Canberra to be with her. The process took a lot of hard thinking. My family had been fighting over me for years. I had to fight for myself.

I needed to do something, because I was looking for work and couldn’t find a job. My father sells The Big Issue and encouraged me to give it a try – the rest is history. When I started at The Big Issue in Canberra that started a lot of healing from the trauma in my past. I could finally get out and do something, make something of myself.

Portia and I live in Victoria now. We are renting a house in Morwell. I love living in the country. I’m happy with life at the moment, I’m kicking goals. I started doing disability advocacy. I was in the first Victorian Youth Congress focused on mental health. I work part-time as a support coordinator, helping people with disabilities, especially when they are on the NDIS. It basically involves helping people that don’t always have a voice, and you’ve got to give them a voice. I want to help people.

I’m also selling The Big Issue nearly full-time, and I’m happy. My routine is waking up at 3am, getting ready for work, and catching the train at 4:30am, which gets me to my pitch at Southern Cross at about 6:45…if it’s on time. Before I start, I grab a coffee from Gloria Jeans. I know the franchise owner, he’s a nice fella. I think they give me a discounted rate. I work until 9.30am.

I also sell the magazine in Traralgon on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Portia has started selling there, too.

Chris H sells The Big Issue at Southern Cross Station, Melbourne and in Traralgon.

Interview by Pete Whelan
Photo by James Braund

First published in Ed#705