I was born in Perth. Apparently we lived in Manning Park, but I don’t remember that. I can only recall from the time when my family and I moved to Carnarvon. I remember my Grade 1 teacher, because I loved her. And I remember my Grade 3 teacher because I hated her. She gave me one thing to be grateful for, though – she taught us to sing ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ in both English and Latin. This is when I discovered my love for different languages, which opened up opportunities for me later in life. I speak Russian and English, and used to be fluent in both French and Italian as well.

We moved to a small town called Kalannie, in the Wheatbelt region of WA. I remember life there with affection. It was a very small town with only 99 students. After I finished primary school, we moved back to Perth, where I completed high school up to Grade 10. High school wasn’t a good time for me, and I left as soon as I could to enter the workforce. So everyone was gobsmacked when I passed the public service exam and got a job in the Tax Office in 1970. Turns out all I needed to excel was something I had a real interest in. It felt like a whole new world. Then I moved to the Child Support Agency in 1993. At this stage I was doing some interpreting and translating on the side. Eventually I decided to move in to interpreting full-time.

I went to Russia a couple of times to get more practice with the language. Interpreting and translation was going well, until new rules were brought in around translation. I didn’t want to have to keep up with all the processes it took to stay registered, so just stuck to interpreting instead. By the time I had hung my shingle out and left the public service, I acquired a house in Russia using my super. I have a partner and kids over there.

The plan was to move to Russia and be an expat pensioner, but COVID hit. Now with the uncertainty in the region these plans are on hold. I ended up stuck here, paying rent out of the age pension, which leaves not much to live off.

What ended up saving me was finding out that, to sell The Big Issue, you don’t have to have a disability or be homeless. I thought to myself, I should do that! I used to buy the magazine occasionally and thought it is good value, so why not? Selling the mags has gotten me through these tough times. My pitch outside the Social Manna cafe in Vic Park has been a saving grace for me. The staff and community there have been very welcoming and nice.

The plan is to save enough money to go back to Russia. I would love to be reunited with my family. It’s hard not being with them, but I know that things are improving every day and it’s only a matter of time!

John sells The Big Issue at Social Manna Café, Victoria Park, Perth

Interview by Celia Tran
Photo by Ross Swanborough