I was born in The Hague in 1957. On my 11th birthday, we landed in Perth – Mum, Dad and my two younger brothers. I did all my primary school education in Holland, and then I repeated two years in primary school to catch up to the language. But already in Holland they were teaching us English, French and German. I also speak my Dutch, and I would love to learn some languages and to go to uni.

My dad thought it was a brilliant idea to move to Perth. He had seen military action in the Dutch Indonesia of the past. And when we got to Perth, we hooked up with another Dutch couple from Indonesia – that was how we bonded with our community in Perth.

When Dad was having the time of his life, Mum was with the nuns learning to be a ward sister. Mum paid for the house, Mum put food on the table. My mum was a living saint. She also rehabilitated my dad as a side project, that’s the sort of woman that she was. Mum died very, very young, back in 79. I really tried to look after Dad.

After I got my matriculation, I got a lift from a mate to Melbourne, and started work. Since 15, I’d done orderly work as Mum got me into her hospital. So I managed to get a job nursing for a while.

My schizophrenia was creeping up on me. It started to become more and more of a difficulty. I didn’t know what to do – there was no Beyond Blue in those days. But the three times that I’ve been in psychiatric care, I’ve always had a good outcome. Since 1992, I’ve had no worries because every week I’ve squared up with my doctor, and paid attention to it.

I became a qualified chef. I do provincial Italian cookery. My signature dish is my gnocchi Parisienne – I use a choux pastry with any sauce you care to do. It’s so good man, you can’t stop.

I had two or three jobs all the time: driving for Pizza Hut, newspaper delivery, a breakfast chef job every morning for five years, and then a lot at night-time working in restaurants. I was having a bad time of it, and my psychiatrist wrote me a leave of absence from work. He said: “No cheffing, go and do something else.”

I started at The Big Issue in 2008, and I was part of a big advertising campaign – I got the chance to go on billboards across Australia, so that was really cool. When I’m selling The Big Issue, I can always get one real good meal, and I can always get books at a second-hand bookshop. From my mother I inherited a love of reading and books. I love karaoke, I love music. I bought myself a turntable, bought myself some records. And I also knit bags.

I’m just searching for a girlfriend. I’ve got my studies storted, and I’ve got my real answer to mental health. So a girlfriend is really looking a lot better.

Kelly sells The Big Issue at cnr Elizabeth and Lonsdale Sts, Melbourne.

Interview by Amy Hetherington.

Photo by James Braund.