7 May 2015

Our vendors: Mark (The Big Issue Australia, Adelaide)

Years of smoking, drug use and alcohol addiction had taken their toll on Mark's health, which in turn made it difficult for him to keep a steady job. Then last year, he started selling The Big Issue Australia seven days a week in Adelaide. He says being a vendor has completely changed his life. 

"You know, once I was a real wild bastard. And even up to when I turned 50 I thought I'd grow old disgracefully," says Mark. "Then, six months ago, I came back to Adelaide and totally changed my life around. Instead of being a wild man, doing The Big Issue has put some direction and discipline in my life."

Mark grew up in Woodforde, a suburb of Adelaide, in South Australia. After leaving school in Year 10 - "they asked me to leave. [They] rang up my parents and said I was wasting their money and the school's time" - he went to a technical college for a few months, then got a dead-end job in the motor trade.

"After a year [of that] my old man gave me an apprenticeship in the family butcher shop," Mark recalls. "That was in 1978 - I've still got all my fingers! But I had to retire for health reasons, and then I drove taxis, did bar work, fruit picking…all sorts of things.

"I got put on a pension years ago for chronic alcohol abuse, and I used to be a firm believer in drug testing - namely, what drugs are we testing out today? But it was more so that alcohol was my favourite poison."

Mark first heard about The Big Issue during his five-year stay in Melbourne.

"A friend of mine was selling The Big Issue there - I made enquiries, but I never got around to doing it. I came back to Adelaide 'cos my old man was really ill, and I got the induction course done and started selling.

"They put me back on the pension a couple of years ago for emphysema, and this is the only job I'm capable of doing now."

He normally works seven days a week, mostly at a new pitch on the corner of Gawler Place and Pirie Street, outside the NAB (National Australia Bank).

"I'm getting regular customers," says Mark. "A lot of the businesspeople like the magazine, and now they can walk out of their business and find a vendor on the way to the coffee shop. I've got a big personality and a big work ethic - they treat me as another one of the workers down Pirie Street now.

"Material wise I've got bugger all, but since I've been doing this I've bought myself a good camera and a watch, so I have something to show for the money that I've earned."

This is a summary of a full article from The Big Issue Australia made available to street papers in our network via the INSP News Service here. Original interview by Peter Ascot.