I grew up with a single mum and an elder sister in St Albans, Melbourne. I never knew my father; he died when I was one. My mum’s parents are Ukrainian, and during this turmoil I’ve been wishing I could do more. I got the amazing Ukrainian trident (tryzub) tattoo, so now it’s always close to my heart every day. Slava Ukraini!

I was a ratbag growing up, just trying to get away with as much as I possibly could. When I was 14, I was hit by a car. I spent roughly a year in hospital – on crutches for a year and a half, multiple operations. The Royal Children’s Hospital saved my leg. I think I’ve had 13 surgeries now in my life. So that dramatically changed my life.

I moved out of home just on 18. I was still in high school. I’d missed so much with the hospitals that I restarted VCE. I was pretty lucky; I was my own guardian, living in my own flat, going to high school. I won’t be coming in to school today. Why? Because I don’t feel like it!

When I was 19, I moved to Adelaide for four and a half years, just for a change of scene. Adelaide was a pretty little place to be when I met my ex-wife at about 23. We met at a medical centre; I was a clerk there. Many years later, we ended up married.

I was running my own maintenance business, but I had a bit of a gambling problem. Didn’t completely lose the whole house, but my ex-wife gave me enough chances and basically, it was the final chance. That was pretty hard. We were together for 13 years.

By 37, I needed a hip replacement. I couldn’t be a handyman anymore. In that time I couch surfed, wore out welcomes and had share-housing nightmares, with a dude once setting my lawnmower on fire. For a few years, I got a bit too silly, partying, and got into trouble with strangers. I guess I’ve always been up and down. Then an amazing manager at Youth Projects, Vanessa, heard of a place called Housing Choices Australia. Within five months I got the apartment I’m in now. I’ve been in social housing for 12 years. I got my cat Sookie a year after I moved in. She was so tiny she fit in the palm of my hand.

Before COVID, I was the only on-street shoeshiner in Melbourne. I used to call myself Cloud Nine Shoe Shine. Then that all sort of fell apart. I went to The Big Issue vendor support crew and introduced myself. I’ve been doing it two years. The main thing was actually getting out of the house. I can be so insular. The money was definitely an added bonus. I can still remember the first day I was selling: I sold enough magazines and I bought a trendy burger – a $20 burger instead of crap Maccas. I literally had tears coming down my face eating the burger because I was just so happy.

In January last year, on my birthday, I’d saved up and proudly bought my first Akubra. This last birthday I got a new pool cue with Big Issue money and contributions from some amazing friends. It’s called “The Beast”. The first two days, I pulled it out and played 18 games and only lost two. Love The Beast.

MBK (Sometimes known as Matt) sells The Big Issue in Yarraville, Moonee Ponds and Ascot Vale, Melbourne

Interview by Sinéad Stubbins
Photo by James Braund

Published in ed#690