I grew up in Cooma, New South Wales. There were four children in our family and I’m the eldest. One time Dad was working in Thailand. My sister and I went to Bangkok to visit him. It was exciting going on the plane.

I had my first go on the pokies at 19 and I was instantly attracted to them. The sounds, the lights, that you can have a win. It was exhilarating; it really did something for me, the feeling of winning. When I was a kid I loved sport.  I had some success at soccer, and it felt really good winning as a team. So did gambling.

I was going to uni in Sydney, studying engineering, and I was finding it difficult. I started doubting myself. So I would have a bet on the pokies. I’d gamble to escape. I failed my first year and went back to live with my parents. At 21 I decided to go back to uni to study maths, but the same thing happened. I had suicidal thoughts. In my third year, my uncle came and found me at a pinball parlour. I’d spend hours there, searching for leftover money to put in the pokies like a scavenger. He contacted Mum and Dad, who asked me to come and live with them.

In 2008 I was sharing a house in Brisbane and I was behind on the rent by a month, because I’d been gambling. I felt ashamed, so I rang a helpline and they suggested that I join a peer-support group. I turned up to a meeting every week for about two months and didn’t gamble at all. But then I went back. I felt very isolated; I didn’t have any friends. It was a very lonely and depressing time.

I started going to Grow in 2008. They help people with their mental health. It was challenging, but it was good to be part of a supportive group. Thanks to Grow and my peer-support group I was able to stop gambling. I’m still a recovering compulsive gambler, but I haven’t had a bet of any kind since August 2013.

I met Heather in 2014, when she came to Grow. She saw that I had taken on a leadership role and I think she was impressed by that. She wanted to see me after a meeting and I suggested going for coffee. When we were walking to the cafe, she told me she adored me.

Our wedding day was special. We had been attending a local church for about five years and the ladies offered to do the catering for us. Having our church family around, as well as our relatives, made it the best day of my life.

A friend suggested I try The Big Issue. On my first day one of the other vendors came over and said hello, which felt really nice. That was in 2016. Approaching people as they walk past has helped build my confidence, because I’ve been quite a loner in my adult life. Some people stop for a chat; it makes my day. People have been so kind.

Michael sells The Big Issue on the corner of Albert and Charlotte Sts, Brisbane.

Interview by Amanda Sweeney.

Photo by Barry Street.