I was born in Melbourne, in Fitzroy in 1944. There were three boys, and 13 years later, there was a girl. I was the second, the middle boy. My older brother Ron, who did also sell The Big Issue, he passed away in 2011.
I left school very early, at 13. Now, I liked school. See, I was pretty – may I brag a bit? – popular, because I was good at sport at that age. I did like school, but I wasn’t good at it. I liked home time and lunchtime more than anything else. I was good with maths, but I could hardly read and write.
Leaving was a choice I made. I thought, Well, I’ve got to do something else. My dad was the main decision-maker in the family. And to be perfectly honest, he didn’t care. My father was really a bit of a bastard, he’d sooner see you fail than succeed. Now, he was very bad to my mother. She was a wonderful woman, very generous. She would help anyone and everyone.
When I left school and started going for jobs, I got on my bike and rode around. I stumbled into some kind of factory and said, “I’m looking for a job.” And as it turned out, they wanted a young bloke wrapping up parcels of material, so I got that job.
I moved on to labouring, I worked in a meatworks, and it was very hard work. That’s where I started and finished… I was there for many, many years. I even went up to Townsville, and worked at the meatworks up there for what they used to call a season.
Now, my inability to read and write – I hid that for quite a long time. It was like shame. One of the first times I opened up about it was when I started selling The Big Issue on Glenferrie Road, because the people there, they’d sooner help you than criticise you. And that’s what’s happened. That’s how I made a lot of friends. My reading has come a long way, too. Now I get it pretty right.
I’ve been selling The Big Issue since 4 December 2004. I adopted my dog Matilda on 3 September 2012, and she went everywhere with me, from day one. She died, sadly, on 30 August – we had almost 10 years together. She had become part of me, and it was like I died a bit with her, too. When Matilda first passed away, I said, “I’ll never get another dog,” because Matilda was the one and only, sort of thing. But one of the ladies who talks to me said, “Look, Les, there’s a lot of nice dogs out there that need a home.” And I thought, Well, that’s pretty right. And so I got Nellie. She’s from the same place as Matilda, the Lost Dogs’ Home in North Melbourne. She’s friendly with customers… She’s a good dog.
Les sells The Big Issue at Readings on Glenferrie Road, Malvern, Melbourne, Australia.
Interview by Amy Hetherington
Photo by James Braund
First published in Ed#673