Alan Attwood

Alan was a student at Carey from 1968 to 1974, completing years 7 to 12. He was a member of Dunshea House and his brother, David Attwood, also attended Carey, graduating in 1972. Alan went on to complete an Arts Honours degree at the University of Melbourne.

In 1978, Alan began working at The Age and he worked in mainstream media in different capacities over the next 35 years. His career as a journalist included a stint in New York as a foreign correspondent for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald between 1995 and 1998. He won a Walkley Award in 1998 for his sports coverage, and has written on diverse topics for Australian and international media. Alan is also the author of two published novels, one of which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize.

After three years of writing a regular column and volunteering at the magazine, in 2006 Alan became the Editor of The Big Issue. In the years since he took the helm, sales of the fortnightly magazine have steadily grown – despite the trend for an overall decrease in sales for print publications in Australia. Alan has played a key role in ensuring the survival of this national magazine and his passion and dedication, not only to the magazine itself but also to the community it serves, is inspirational.

The Big Issue works on a fairly simple model of creating employment for people who are unable to access mainstream jobs – vendors purchase copies of the magazine for $3 and sell them to the public for $6, earning the difference. Not only does the magazine provide monetary support to people who so desperately need it, it also helps give them a sense of purpose and membership of a community. Alan once wrote: ‘Selling The Big Issue boosts self-esteem. Vendors are not begging; not leaning on others; they are working. This is their job. They are proud of it, and take it seriously. … Days are long and empty if you’re unemployed.’

Since he began working in this role Alan has assisted approximately 4,500 people. Since the first appeared in Australia in 1996, over 10 million magazines have been sold by vendors, with $21 million being earned by them (in 2014 alone, earnings were $1.8 million). The magazine is estimated to save the community $20,000 per vendor per year through a reduction in their demand for social services including hospitals, welfare support and correctional facilities.

Alan embraces The Big Issue’s many social initiatives, such as the Community Street Soccer Program (he nominates himself as its worst-ever player!), the Women’s Subscription Enterprise and ‘The Big Idea’, a program encouraging university students to come up with their own social enterprises. He has also held writing classes for vendors, and helps educate the wider community about homelessness, disadvantage, marginalisation and the benefits of volunteering – having helped out at the Collingwood Childrens Farm over several years.

His envious writing and speaking skills have been transferred to many different vehicles of communication. He presented on panels and ran sessions at the International Street Newspapers Conference in Glasgow. He regularly speaks to community groups and students about his work at The Big Issue, trying to raise awareness of issues faced by the magazine’s vendors.

The Carey Medal Committee believes that Alan is a very worthy recipient of the Carey Medal. He has given exceptional and outstanding service in many areas of his life, especially through his work with The Big Issue.

Carolyn Apostolou,
Chair, the Carey Medal
Committee 2015

Attwood, A. (2009). WORKING ON BIG ISSUES. Retrieved October 15, 2015, from https://griffithreview.com/articles/working-on-big-issues/