I was born in New York City, in Harlem, and grew up in the Bronx. This was the end of the 50s – it was tough. I had a strict upbringing and we went to church every Sunday. My mother was from Puerto Rico. My dad was from the South, his father was part Cherokee Indian.

Once I finished high school, I worked at optical laboratories. One day I met an English girl who worked for the UN, so I decided I’d go visit her in the UK. That didn’t work out, so I kept travelling. Once I left the Bronx, it was like I was going to the moon – it was a completely different universe.

I travelled through Western Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Backpacking big time. I got on the Magic Bus – the hippie bus that travelled from London to Kathmandu. This was the 70s and I was the only black guy. It was a pretty racist time.

I met Judith in Kathmandu. She was from Adelaide. We travelled around but money was getting tight. We didn’t have enough to go to America – Australia was closer. I’d always wanted to go there. One of the first Golden Books I read had Australian animals on the cover – I always remembered that.

We decided to settle in Sydney. This was maybe 1980. We lived in Bondi, right across from the beach. I wish we had the foresight to buy the flat we were in! I liked Bondi. It was a hoot, a really happy time with Judith. But she started getting a bit lonely in Sydney; she wanted to be with her friends in Melbourne. We put everything in a truck and drove overland.

In Melbourne, we split up. But after 10 years we got back together again. When she came back to live with me she wasn’t very well. We were at the Alfred Hospital having tests done and she put her teeth on her tray. They got taken away, so I had to go through bags of rubbish trying to find the dentures. I never found them, so I started selling The Big Issue in 1996 to make money and buy her some teeth.

Judith and I were living in a rooming house in St Kilda when she had a stroke. She had liver cancer, but it was the stroke that killed her. She was 43.

I kept selling the magazine. Except for one break, I’ve been selling The Big Issue this whole time – I’m the last of the originals. I’ve made a lot of friends over the years. I mean, Brunswick Street in the 90s went off. It was like magic. I was a part of the community there.

The best thing about selling The Big Issue is meeting people. Getting a buzz out of selling the magazine, it’s like a little affirmation that you’re doing alright. For me, it helps. I might be flat before the first sale but once it comes, I’m off and roaring.

The income from selling The Big Issue has really helped. You don’t have to be so hard scrabbled. I’ve got my own place now. It’s good, I love its location.

To all those customers who have bought magazines from me over the years, I remember you. I love you and keep buying the magazine. Next time, get a triple!

Louis sells The Big Issue at Southern Cross station and Melbourne CBD.

Interview by Anastasia Safioleas.
Photo by James Braund.