I first got to Australia from New Zealand in 1978. I was only 18 or 19. I came here as an adventure – my older brother was here. I came over for a holiday and to have a look around, but I managed to stay. I’ve been back and forth between Australia and New Zealand quite a few times; it’s like they’re one country!

My first job over here was working in the stables in Caulfield. I used to work at a cannery in Richmond and then I worked at Ingham’s.

I used to play rugby for Brighton. I ended up getting picked for the Victorian rugby union side – that was a great achievement for me. It was unreal. I’d been playing since I was a little fella at school. I love the game so much.

I first started selling The Big Issue back when it started in 1996. I was living in Ozanam House and this lady walked in when we were having breakfast and she goes, “Who wants to come out on the street and sell magazines called The Big Issue?” She explained it was a book from London, and I think I must’ve liked the cover or something because I jumped up and said, “Yeah, I’ll have a go of that.”

Back in 1996, I was on the same pitch at Young & Jackson. Back then, my pitch was rough. I was really down and under in those days. I sold for about a year before I went to work in security. Now I’m back and it’s more peaceful, heaps more calm. I’ve picked up and got a nice place to stay and all that.

Other things have changed, too. Back in the day, the tree on my pitch used to be real small, the size of my leg, but now it’s really big! It’s been a long time: The Big Issue’s come a long way.

The Big Issue has always been a good option for me because of my disability. I have a pinched nerve – it’s unhealable. It’s hard for me to find a job because I can’t stand up too long because of my leg. The Big Issue is pretty adaptable with my condition. It’s a really good thing The Big Issue. People come and buy it and they’re all big smiles. People come up and ask how I am, where I’ve been. People read it and love it and it’s something that will give them a boost.

I had some land in New Zealand, but there’s no building on it and I also had a big hole in my pocket, and I wanted to stay here with my children and do something with myself. I have five grandchildren now. They’re beautiful! I see them now and then. I get them fruit from the market. If you wait till just before the market closes you can get it really cheap.

I’m looking forward to keeping healthy in 2021. I’ve been on a diet – I’ve lost a lot of weight and I’d like to lose 30kg more. I’m working on it and the doctors are helping. I try to get eight hours sleep, so that I can feel awake and alive all day. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, that’s a big bonus. I’m dealing quite easy. The Big Issue is an incredible help and my future is turning out alright; everything’s turning out alright.


Lionel sells The Big Issue at Young & Jackson, Melbourne CBD and at Dandenong Market.

Interview by Melissa Fulton
Photo by James Braund