IN the unconventional parish of Father Dave Smith, the community knows violence is not the answer —but it can be part of the cure.
Fr Smith finds a good fight is the best way to get the message across to the disadvantaged youth of Duiwich Hill.
And a quick punch on the nose is one way of earning a wayward youth’s respect.
An Anglican priest with an unusual hobby, Fr Smith works at the Holy Trinity Gym In Dulwich Hill, which functions as a youth drop-in centre during the day and provides lessons in martial arts at night.
The church hail has a boxing ring and gym equipment for youngsters wanting to go a few rounds with the churchman. About 50 children and teenagers use the centre each week for kickboxing lessons, Fr Smith’s chosen skill. Twice that number use the drop-in facilities.
“It’s a way to build bridges with the young kids in the area,” Fr Smith says.
“The hope is that we can help the kids channel their aggression in more constructive and creative ways.”
With five years of kickboxing behind him, Fr Smith, 34, knows enough to dodge the flying fists of his young opponents, no matter how angry they may feel.
“There can be a lot of aggression in the ring, but if a kid starts taking swings at me, I can usually just bop ‘em on the nose,” he says. “After that, you have their respect.”
These days, Fr Smith finds it hard to separate his hobby from his work with the Church.
With a robe in Trinity Church colours and shorts with “Father Dave” embroidered on the waistband, he says he has a psychological advantage. But when he feels he’s losing outside the ring, it reflects on his performance inside the ring, too.
Last Saturday night, it cost him a fight at the Belmore RSL.
“Working with kids can be very frustrating at times,” he says.
“We work really hard and like to see some kids picking themselves up, but of course that doesn’t happen very often.
“We do see a lot of short-term benefits, but it’s a long-distance race to get them out of the gutter.”
Fr Smith himself took up kick-boxing after a painful divorce from his wife. “It’s the same with a lot of people who take up this kind of sport,” he says. “It comes from a need or real catharsis after some sort of crisis.”