There’s no escape from the unexpected visitors to this historic home.
The one thing David Smith and his wife, Angela, really appreciate about living in a historic Anglican rectory in Dulwich Hill is that it has a secret attic where they can lie low.
The rectory is “like living in Central Station”, says the minister. “Sometimes you find people wandering in off the street and standing in your living room. A few are there to pinch something; the rest just want to speak with you. They think of it as some kind of waiting room, like in a doctor’s surgery. They don’t realise it’s someone’s house.”
“Father Dave”, as he is called by his parishioners, took over the parish in December 1990 and has lived in the rectory ever since, with his wife and three children: Soren, three, Imogen, eight, and Veronica, 16.
The home was built in the 1890s for a mariner and was purchased by the Anglican Church in the early 20th century.One of the many features is the widow’s walk on the rooftop, where the sailor’s wife would watch for his ship to come in through Sydney Heads.
The house is set over three levels and retains most of its original features. Angela Smith takes us on a tour, pointing out ornate marble fireplaces, beautiful ceiling roses and timber wainscoting. “I like living here, because I get to live in the inner city, and it’s a lovely old home,” she says. “But it’s a very dysfunctional design, in the way you have to leave people alone in the dining room, while you go off to the kitchen to get them something; it was intended for people who had servants and parlour maids.”
These days the family uses the rooftop to soak up the panoramic district views over Summer Hill, Leichhardt, and the Anzac and Harbour bridges. “On New Year’s Eve, we come up here for a party and to watch the fireworks,” Father Dave says.
Until recently, most of his fireworks have been in the boxing ring. In the mid-199os, he narrowly lost the NSW light-middleweight boxing title. Then in 1996, he turned pro. His only professional bout was declared a draw. “I had to fight to raise money to get the youth centre going,” he explains. “We raised over $50,000 for that fight.”
From time to time, he still climbs into the ring to raise funds for his youth centre. On one occasion he even duked it out with Anthony Mundine. The youth centre is across the road from the church and rectory. At the centre, Father Dave and his staff work with local teenagers, teaching them self-defence. “We’re struggling to keep the centre open beyond May, so I’m looking for a fight at the moment, to get some money,” he says.
When he’s not pulling on the gloves, Father Dave spends most of his time in his office at the front of the rectory. Like most of the home, this one has a four metre-high ceiling of pressed metal.
For inspiration, he surrounds himself with his favourite things: family photos, a library of books by philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (after whom the Smiths named their son) and lots of American Civil War paraphernalia.
He is also a huge fan of The Simpsons. On the wall is a “D’oh” poster of Homer. Across the hall in the living room are several plastic Simpsons figurines. “It’s my favourite TV show,” he says. “I’ve modelled myself on Reverend Lovejoy: “The Bible, it’s all good,” he says, nailing the cartoon preachers voice.
Then there are the Star Wars figures displayed in the living room. “I was a big Darth Vader fan,” he laughs. “I always thought Darth Vader had style, certainly more than Luke [Skywalker].”