Friday 08 February 2002

Brian

Brian sells The Big Issue outside the Newtown supermarket

On my way home yesterday afternoon I photographed Brian outside the supermarket, where he sells The Big Issue most days, apart from Mondays and Fridays when he switches his beat to Newtown railway station. The Big Issue, an Australian offshoot of a UK publication, is an “independent current affairs magazine with a sense of humour sold by the homeless and longterm unemployed on the streets of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.”

Brian is no longer homeless though he does have a great sense of humor and he has been “unemployed” for a number of years—if you define unemployed as selling his magazines for six to eight hours a day, thirteen days a fortnight. He receives half the cover price of AU$3 (US$1.52) for each copy he sells. He’s invariably cheerful and ready for a chat. I tease him about his smoking (he keeps promising to quit), I threaten to report him for not wearing his badge (on the cover of the magazine it says “Please buy from badged vendors only”), and I pretend to have bought the magazine from another vendor. It’s all water off a duck’s back.

Late last year I saw him on a Saturday afternoon selling sausage sandwiches outside the supermarket. I assumed he’d come up with a way of supplementing his magazine income but I couldn’t have been more mistaken. It turns out the supermarket chain was running a promotion for the Childrens Hospital and the manager had decided on a sausage sizzle. Brian saw him selling “about three in half an hour” and offered to take over. Through the course of that afternoon and the next, Brian sold enough sandwiches to his regulars and other locals to raise $1000 for the hospital.

Australia is full of people, rich and poor, who complain about the hand they’ve been dealt. Brian isn’t one of them. When I saw him yesterday, he had two reasons to be happy—there’s a story about him in the magazine (that’s his photo on the page he’s holding open) and today is his birthday. This afternoon he’ll be outside the station when I get off the train. I’ll look forward to seeing him so I can give him a gift, which won’t come close to repaying him for all he’s taught me. Brian is someone we call in Australia a “battler.” I’m lucky to know him.

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