I was born in the UK in Surrey. I came to Australia when I was really little. I still love the old country – it hurts my heart that I missed out on all my cousins, my grandparents, my uncles – but I’ve been in Melbourne my whole life. I had a really happy childhood, and we had the best parents.
I was never really that great at school, so I left when I was 15. I worked at the old Cottee’s cordial factory in Blackburn. That was a nice job. At Christmas you’d get an extra week’s pay. I was underage then, but they’d also give you a dozen bottles of beer! Then I joined the railways. That was a lovely job too, talking to the travelling public. I started off as a junior station assistant. You had to sweep the platform, collect the tickets. Then I became a station assistant and after that a signal assistant. It was daunting – we had to make sure we only had the one train on each line! When I became a station master in my own right, I had my own station. We had to do interstate bookings and I used to help people plan their holidays. I loved it. We had an old signal panel and had to shunt trains. It was such a great job but then Jeff Kennett came out and told us “Make the best of it. It’s not going to last.”
So, I got a job making dental products. It’s where I did my back – lifting bags of material into moulding machines. But one day they got a new manager. He called me into the office and said “Pat, there’s nothing wrong with your work but we’re restructuring. There’s your money. See you later.” I was devastated. I still am in a way. I was pretty depressed after that.
I was just sitting at home, so I started collecting money for cancer patients. I met a friend there who had been at The Big Issue. He knew I couldn’t get a job because of my back and knees so he said give The Big Issue a go. I started selling the magazine and gee I enjoy it.
I get immense satisfaction talking to people. They’ll tell me about their kids, their husband, about their private life – some people really open up to you. I’ll never get wealthy selling The Big Issue but I get satisfaction and pride. Self-esteem that you’re working and you’re giving back to the community. I don’t know if it sounds a bit old-fashioned, but I don’t believe in being a burden to my country.
I would like to tell my customers that I really appreciate them. I love them all. I want them to be happy and prosperous. And to keep buying The Big Issue! I really care about every one of them. I mean that from the bottom of my heart.
Pat sells The Big Issue outside Target, Bourke St, Melbourne
Interview by Anastasia Safioleas
Photo by James Braund