I grew up in Hoxton Park, out past Liverpool. Back then, it was more like living in the country than in Sydney. We had a farm with a hay shed. We had cows, geese and chooks. My mum and dad were great; they really took care of us. They taught me: don’t eat fatty foods; always go to mass on Sundays. I’m the middle of five children. We’re still close, and catch up regularly. My oldest sister passed away in December last year.
We sold the farm when I was 12 or 14, and we moved to the city, to Rockdale. I got used to it, but I always remembered the country upbringing I had. I loved the freedom; it was wonderful.
I liked school, especially history, geography and playing footy. Even today, my main hobby is following the league. I always root for St George. I grew up in the Parramatta district in rugby league, and Dad asked me who I’d like to go for – and I said the wrong thing! I said the Western Suburbs. He was an ex-St George player and selector, and so was my uncle. I didn’t go for the Western Suburbs for very long.
After I finished my HSC in 1972, I worked on the railway as a storeman for three years. Then I became a clerk in social security.
At 17, I hitchhiked over the Nullarbor. It was fantastic. One of my mates was going over and I agreed to go with him. I didn’t stay in Perth long. Then in 1980 or 81, I went overseas for six months. I travelled through South America, getting a bus overland through Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil. I went to Machu Picchu – it was amazing. You’re high up in the mountains, and the buses that would take us up there…every now and then, one would fall off the cliff. It was a real eye-opener. There were a lot of amazing things that people wouldn’t believe over here, like the tarantulas. They were huge! But the redbacks on the farm were worse. I also went to Europe – to Austria and Italy. The highlights were the strudel in Austria, and in Italy, it was Florence – the artworks, more generally speaking.
When I came back, I worked in the Registrar‑General’s Office, on land titles. Then I met an older woman, and we moved to Queensland for a while. When I came back to Sydney, we broke up. I didn’t have a job, and I experienced a period of homelessness, often staying with friends.
I’ve been selling The Big Issue for nearly 20 years. I remember it was hard selling at first, I didn’t have the knack. Now I do, and I always look presentable. I like that The Big Issue is always there, at the ready. I’m always willing to have a chat. The income helps, too – I have a penchant for soda water. I’ve been 30 years without alcohol. I got myself into a fair bit of trouble, not terminal, but a fair bit of trouble, so I decided to kick it.
Matt sells The Big Issue at Broadway Shopping Centre, Sydney
Interview by Amy Hetherington
Photo by Michael Quelch