By Anastasia Safioleas, The Big Issue Australia
I’m Wiradjuri born. I was born in Fitzroy, in Wiradjuri country. My mother was born in Boorolong country and is also Latchi Latchi from up in Mildura. I grew up in West Heidelberg – it was like the Bronx! When I was a teenager I travelled around Australia. I was living on the streets then. I’ve been up to Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Western Australia and I’ve done South Australia. I was trying to find my home because I was physically, sexually and emotionally abused from the age of four, so I tried to run away from my problems.
I got sober and clean in Alice Springs. People used to say that, of all the places to get sober, the centre of Australia was the place to do it! I met a lot of wonderful people there – I don’t know if they are still alive but I hope they are. The Aboriginal elders got me sober and clean. They cared about me. I was 27 years old. A friend of mine who was my sponsor, he was an Aboriginal guy, he tried to stop the bus when I was going back to Melbourne because he had a dream that something bad was going to happen in Melbourne, and it did. I ended up in jail. I’ve done Long Bay in Sydney and I’ve done Melbourne’s Pentridge. I’ve been out of jail since 27 March 1993, so this March will be 24 years.
I’ll be turning 55 years old soon. I’ve been with The Big Issue for 20 years. It’s helped me heaps all the way through. If I wasn’t working for The Big Issue, I’d be in jail because I would have had nothing to do and crime would have been back in my head. I believe I would have been back inside. Or I would have killed myself by now.
Things have been really good recently. Hank came into my life about 16 years ago; he’s my best friend. He’s lost his mother and I’ve lost mine so I understand what he’s going through. I had a choir called Djambana going, which Hank and I started ourselves. It means “the gathering place”. There were eight other members and that was going for a while. We sang at Rock Against Racism, we sang with Archie Roach, Kutcha Edwards, Dan Sultan, we sang at Earthcore, we’ve sung for a lot of charitable organisations. I was also in the Choir of Hard Knocks for three or four years. It was really good for us because we got sober and clean – I’m taking it a day at a time.
I enjoy singing. It makes me happier. I love singing ‘Hallelujah’ by Leonard Cohen. I love that song. I love singing ‘Down City Streets’ by Aunty Ruby Hunter and I love singing ‘Stand Strong’ by Kutcha Edwards. I love singing songs that really mean the truth and heart of a person.