I was born in Geelong and lived in a weatherboard house that was painted olive green and in very poor condition. And one day, my brother who was about three, stepped through one of the floorboards. My mother hated it.

Mama was born in England. She was creative, determined, ambitious and really very funny. My father was born in Holland, and went to Indonesia to fight there, when it was still a Dutch colony. My father’s experience of the war made him volatile. He was also charming, and I had this deep connection with him. He had the triple gambling/drinking/women sort of thing, and Mama told him to leave when I was eight. There are three of us from my parents. And I have a half-sister, who’s 10 years older, from my father’s first marriage.

Schoolwork was easy for me, so I’d finish early and look out the window, daydreaming. High school, I didn’t want to go at all. My father took his life when I was in Grade 6. I really wanted to stay at home and be a farrier and a poet. I did a lot of reading, and spent time with Flash, the horse.

I wanted to study Latin at school, but couldn’t because I was already doing French and German. I’ve gone to language a lot as a way to find meaning, which I don’t find in English. I felt like maybe another language or culture might help me make sense of things, and people make sense of me – but that didn’t work.

I went to uni, studying arts. I was reading Camus and Sartre, and I think it was Sartre who said, if you don’t like a choice, well change it. I thought: I don’t like doing this uni thing, I’ll stop it.

I went to Sydney, where I got a job folding cardboard boxes. Then I found a job as a jillaroo up north… I love horses but I have a bad sense of direction, I couldn’t kill a snake, couldn’t drive a tractor, I ruined cooking the steak… I was sacked after a week.

I went back to uni to learn Chinese when I was 21. After 14 months of study and two years working on the railways to save money, I went to China in 1984. There were only 70 cities open then – Haikou was the first city I visited. After almost a year I came home to finish my studies, then I did a Dip Ed and my masters in Asian Studies. I met my daughter’s father at Melbourne Uni in 1988; and our daughter was born in 95. In 2018, I went back to study languages at the ANU; I did a year of Tibetan and three years of Sanskrit.

I have never been very good at knowing how to manage life particularly. I’m understanding more about this word “agency”. I always thought I might sell The Big Issue at one stage because I need a completely carefree, independent way of managing my own life. I like the people and feeling part of things – I think I feel the most part of things that I’ve ever felt. I suppose in general it allows you to engage with people, it’s a clearing and an opening of your heart.

Marian sells The Big Issue at Queen Vic Market, Centreway, Causeway Lane and the Arts Centre, Melbourne

Interview by Amy Hetherington
Photo by James Braund

Published in Ed#675