I was born in Cessnock in NSW and lived in institutions from a very young age. I have a lot of pain from this time – it should have never happened to me or to anyone.

I am finally living in my own apartment, and this is the thing in my life that I am most proud of. Moving into my own home has been my lifelong dream. I love living where I do as everything is close by. Most importantly, I live right next to the tram line. This has been a massive boost to my independence as I can now travel around Newcastle on my own.

This newfound independence has made me keen to meet new people and make new friends. But this has turned out to be much harder than I thought because I have no speech. I’ve found that a lot of people don’t know how to relate to me or ignore me.

I use my nose to drive my wheelchair, with my red Big Issue bag and an information sheet that has details about me and the magazine, as well as how to pay and get your change. I use this information sheet and an app on my phone to communicate basic messages with my customers, including regulars.

I love selling The Big Issue. It’s a bridge for me to meet new people in my community. My favourite part of the job is when customers stop and chat – selling The Big Issue allows me to start conversations when previously people found it difficult or didn’t know how to talk to me. One of my favourite people is Darren, who runs the local Foodworks near my home. Darren is my very good friend. He is always supporting me with selling The Big Issue around his store and sometimes he buys from me.

Since starting as a vendor, I haven’t looked back. This is my first steady form of income – I make selling magazines a priority each day. I am selling more and more issues each fortnight, and the money I make is a bonus! I’m saving up for a holiday. I want to be able to get out and experience more of the world. I love meeting new people and seeing new things, so I think a cruise would be perfect for me.

When I am not selling magazines, I love catching up with my family and friends and socialising. I often visit my mum Lola, who lives in a nursing home. Sometimes my friends stay over and we go out to the city, often to see live music or go to karaoke.

I have an amazing circle of support – Jennifer, Stuart, Jen, Linda, Alisha and Cayt. This group of family and friends meet with me regularly to support me to take action on my dreams and my goals. I have big plans for the future. I want to become a successful businessman and filmmaker, and I want to travel around the country and the world.

The Big Issue has allowed me to explore new places, meet new people and be part of my community. I can put the past behind me and focus on my future.

Rob sells The Big Issue in Newcastle, NSW.

Interview by Teya Duncan
Photo by Simone de Peak