I grew up in Campbelltown, but it wasn’t well known then. You’d say you lived there and people would say, “Where’s that?” I was close to Mum. I didn’t get on with my father too much, but he was still my father.

I was pretty much trouble as a kid. Nothing serious. The only person I’ve really hurt in my life is myself. When I was 15, I started working at a supermarket, pushing trollies. I was a hard-working boy because I was shy. They got rid of me because I turned 16. That’s what they did in those days. We didn’t have unions, you know? My father educated me on that. He said, “It’s not your fault.”

After I got the sack, I ended up at a boys’ home. I stole a few cars here and there. That was a tough place back then. Then I hit the bottle. I didn’t know how to cope with this world. I go back to the old saying, “I wish I knew then what I know now.” I wouldn’t have made those mistakes.

After I got out, I worked in blow moulding for a good 10 years. I got a redundancy there, then started drinking. Stupid really, but that’s what I did.

A couple of years ago, my wife, who I loved very much, passed away. We were together 30-something years, on and off. We argued, but the love never dies. When someone gets sick, you’re there. She would have done it for me, too. I promised her I’d keep her out of a nursing home, and I did. But she lost her battle. The only good thing was that her pain was gone.

We had a son together. He’s 34 now. We both watched his mum die of cancer. She passed away a few days after my son’s birthday. A lot of people died around me at the same time…like dominoes.

When I was looking after her, I wasn’t drinking. Then she died and I hit the bottle real hard. My son pulled me up. He said, “I’ve just lost my mother. Am I going to lose my father now?” He told me he loved me but I was being selfish. So I pulled up on the drinking from his words.

I’m a gym junkie now. I go six days a week. I’m a lot fitter than I was, but I’ve still got room for improvement. I went from an alcoholic to a very sick person to a semi-fit one.

I started selling The Big Issue about 20 years ago. I had a break and came back again in 2014, but I didn’t last long. Now I’ve been doing The Big Issue again for about six months. My pitch is right next door to the gym. It’s a routine and it’s paying off. I’m not smoking as many cigarettes – haven’t got time! I save a bit of money, too. I’m saving for a car, actually. I just got my learner’s permit.

The best thing about The Big Issue is I’ve met so many nice people. They stop and have a joke, have a yak. Worth getting out of bed at six o’clock for. To my regulars, thank you for being so kind to me – and I mean that. Not just because they buy the magazine, but because they’re really nice people. They like to give me a joke to cheer me up.

Clem sells The Big Issue at the Chalmers St end of the Devonshire St Tunnel, Sydney Central.

Interview by Sinéad Stubbins
Photo by Michael Quelch

Published in ed#709