My name is Grant the Polite Guy – that actually came from one of my customers, and it stuck. I grew up in Penrith in Sydney. My dad gave me a choice: I could leave school early, because I wasn’t very smart, and either join the forces or get a trade. I did a boiler maker apprenticeship in the army. Then I got out of the army and joined Sizzler and was with them for 12 years, training their cooking staff on safety and everything else.

When I was 40, I had a stairwell collapse on me, and I spent nine months in hospital. I had an old lady, a widow, who lived next door. I helped her with household things that she couldn’t do, like change the lightbulbs, mow the lawn. One day, I offered to carry her groceries up to her unit. As we got to the top landing the stairwell collapsed, just as she’d stepped inside.

I lost my house, my wife, my daughter. I lost everything. And I ended up being homeless for close to two years, sleeping on the streets. Nowadays, I get along incredibly well with my daughter, and even my ex‑wife. It was just a bad time.

I had nowhere to go, so I turned to The Big Issue. It gave me a chance to build back my life again. I literally worked my way to being the best vendor in Brisbane – all because I was polite. From there, I got employment in traffic control, and then I ended up working on the mines.

But then about a year-and-a-half ago, I had just completed my mining contract, and I went to Perth to do a refresher course. And on the first day, I ate some chicken for dinner, and a bone caused internal bleeding. I lost too much blood. I was literally dead on arrival at the hospital. Half an hour after I arrived, I’d already lost my leg, but they saved my life.

They transferred me back to Brisbane. Then I done my physio, five-and-a-half months. Because I had been transient, working on the mines, I didn’t have a place to stay. Burleigh Hospital helped me to get a place.

So once again, I’m back to doing The Big Issue – but with a smile this time, because I kept thinking, I’ve done it once, I can do it again. I’m grateful The Big Issue is still here, as an option. I’d like to express my admiration towards the office staff and, just as important, The Body Shop.

When I was a Big Issue vendor the first time, one lady came up to me and gave me some clothes and asked if I could please hand them around to others on the streets. I did, and I felt really good doing that. So I started asking other customers, “If you have clothes you never want to see again, please give them to me and I’ll hand them out.” This got so popular, it turned into a registered charity organisation called Signal Flare. And it’s still going today, giving people in need free food, clothes and toiletries. I give my appreciation to The Big Issue to put me in a position to make that happen.

Grant sells The Big Issue on the corner of Adelaide and Albert Sts, Brisbane

Interview by Amy Hetherington
Photo by Barry Street

Published in ed#707