I was born in Melbourne. Mum had rubella in the second month of pregnancy, and they weren’t too sure how I was going to come out. I just happened to be a miracle baby. I was born with no vision in the left eye, and six per cent vision in my right eye. I’m just so thankful to be alive and to see what I see and to hear what I hear.
School wasn’t easy. I was 16 when I left school. I went to about five schools, I didn’t have any stability there at all. They put me in a blind school, a Catholic school for a year, then a state school, then I went to a technical school, then a boarding school. The thing is, you get on with life. You’ve got to keep moving and keep pushing.
Dad was a salesman and Mum was a physiotherapist. I learned how to do sales from Dad. My dad was a different type of leader to me. He could run a youth group, he could organise a camp. For me it was different: I’m not a leader who stands out in the middle of the footpath and shouts. I’m more what you’d call a quiet, persistent leader in the background, building rapport and relationships with people. I was involved with the youth group, and one of the guys said, “You’ve got really good leadership skills”, because I didn’t push an agenda, I didn’t judge them. I did a youth work course in Melbourne, and so often people just need encouragement.
After school I worked in the factory division for the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind. I’ve had a few different jobs: I’ve worked selling doormats, at an injection moulding factory and in the metals trade.
I got married in 1993 and had two daughters. We were married for 21 years, which is a heck of a long time. We all moved up to Queensland in 1998. I ended up working at a telemarketing job for 13-and-a-half years. It was hard work. A friend said, “Jim, you need to get out of that job, it’s going to kill you.” I went to the doctor, who said I had high blood pressure, and was headed for a stroke if I didn’t watch out. So I ended up getting out. That was the last job I had before I started The Big Issue, and I’ve never looked back.
I just love working with The Big Issue. It’s the people I’m meeting. Seeing what’s going on in society, what’s happening in the streets. It’s been a mind opener, but it’s been an absolute blessing.
I love collecting music, I have a vast collection of records. If I get a chance I like to get out and go to gigs – I like jazz, blues. One day I’d really like to run my own business. It will probably be something to do with records.
I have a positive attitude to life. You’ve got to skip the negative stuff and focus on the positive. That’s what you need to do, you need to bring life into everything you move into. We’re all human, we sometimes get down in the mouth. But we’ve got to keep pushing ourselves. If I go out and I sell one mag a day, I can walk away and still have the right attitude and still enjoy myself.
Jim sells The Big Issue on The Esplanade, Burleigh Heads and at Commonwealth Bank, Queen St, Brisbane
Interview by Lou Abson
Photo by Barry Street