I was born in Narrogin, WA, as the third youngest of eight children. My family moved around a lot when I was young. I lived in too many places to name, but remember going to school in Kalgoorlie and Perth.
I was a bit of a troubled kid, walking around after school stealing things. If it wasn’t tied down or locked up, I’d take it. Of course, I got caught and had to go to court. To avoid prison the judge sent me to a receiving home; I was eight years old. From there I went into a group home – I don’t remember much of it, only that there was a lot of kids at the same time. The trouble didn’t stop and I “graduated” to prison when I was 16. The following years I went in and out of prison for low-level crime and married my first wife. We had a son but broke up and they live up in Broome now. Things were not great, and I was drinking heavily.
The drinking got me to make the life-changing decision to move to Darwin. I was getting pneumonia in Perth, so was longing for the warmth of Darwin. It turned out to be a good move, because I met my second wife up there. Her name is Sonda. We’re together for almost 20 years now. She is an Aboriginal artist. After I met her, I had an episode when I was talking stuff that didn’t make sense, and she decided to trick me into going to the hospital. That was when I was diagnosed with my mental illness. The drinking stopped, the trouble stopped, and I’ve been sober ever since.
These days, I’m living by myself in Perth. My wife and I are still together but living separate from each other. We both prefer to live close to our own families – it works for us. I’m visiting my sister in Perth every day to say hello. She is the oldest and also the smallest in the family.
I like listening to 80s and 90s music on the radio, so you might catch me with a headphone in one of my ears while I’m working, and I enjoy drinking coffee. It gets me through the day. After moving back to Perth, I was still struggling to get my life together, sleeping rough and begging on the street. One day I had a discussion with a Big Issue vendor selling near where I was sitting. She encouraged me to get my life in order. That conversation got me to walk into The Big Issue office to sign up. I still talk about it with her every now and then, and remind her that she made me do the right thing.
I enjoy working for The Big Issue – it gives me something to do and it changed my life for the better. I used to get in trouble with the Perth rangers while I was begging. These days, they walk past me every day, say hello and give me a compliment. I like that. For me I do not look too far into the future. Life is stable, so things are good. I just take every day as it comes.
Wayne sells The Big Issue in Hay St Mall, Perth.
Interview by Simon Grammes
Photo by Ross Swanborough