I was born in Bristol in England, but I grew up in Kent. I was adopted by my mum and dad when I was about six-and-a-half, along with my two brothers. I don’t remember anything about my life before then. My dad was fighting in India when he was 15 – he put his age up so he could join the Army. He fought halfway around the world. While he was off fighting the war, my mum was bringing up foster children from all over the world. When I was 11, I found out who my biological parents were: my mum was Jamaican, and my father was Irish.
When I was younger, we lived in a 14-bedroom Georgian mansion called “The Hermitage”. Twelve of the bedrooms were nurseries. It was a beautiful house, which the government paid for to support my mum. She devoted 40 years of her life to fostering children, and in 1962 she was named the “Fairy Godmother of England”. I think it was just something built into her – she wanted to take care of people.
When I was 14, we moved to Australia with my parents. Before we came over, my brother and I were in the Air Training Corps. We both wanted to go into the Air Force, but we emigrated to Australia before we got our wings. I remember when my parents showed us the map of Australia – it was exciting. It was massive, compared to England! We came straight to Queensland and lived in Inala.
I left school in Grade 9 and had my first job at 15. I worked at the meatworks for seven years. The bosses were great; I didn’t mind it. I ended up with most of my family working there. After that I went to General Motors-Holden for 10 years. Most of the time I was spray painting the cars. I was also in the Army Reserve at this time. I was on standby to go to Vietnam. I was lucky I didn’t have to go.
I lost Mum and Dad when I was in my mid-twenties. Things happened in my life: my job went downhill, and I couldn’t pay my bills. I ended up living in a boarding house; it was a rotten place. Eventually I was on the streets. I had really bad mental health. I was living on the streets for two years.
While I was on the streets, I volunteered for the “Homeless Court”, supporting people who were experiencing homelessness and had criminal charges. I also managed to do a diploma in facilitation.
I started selling The Big Issue because I wanted to get out and do something, meet people. I’ve been selling at the same pitch for 13 years now. When I’m not at The Big Issue, I love to cycle. I saved up and bought myself an electric bike and I go on long bike rides with my neighbour. I love singing and do karaoke. Once I beat three professionals in a karaoke tournament! One of my customers took me to a concert; the musicians were brilliant. Soon we’re going together to see a Beatles cover band.
I really like communicating with people, and I feel good to be doing something worthwhile.
Dennis sells The Big Issue outside the South Bank Station on Tribune St, Brisbane
Interview by Lou Abson
Photo by Barry Street
Published in #697