by Jeff Wells
The Reverend David Smith has turned professional, at the age of 34, for his parish and for all men.
There will be a laying on of hands at the Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville on October 11. Father Dave’s hands will be encased in leather and they will be landing on the dial of a pug from Belmore named Jimmy Pat.
Jimmy will be hoping to land a Pat hand or two on the ribs of the punching priest.
There will, however, from Father Dave’s corner, be no malice aforethought.
It is odds-on that after the stoush the two men will embrace, each hoping he has earned the respect of the other, each feeling that there is a spiritual bond between them that most of the been barrackers will never know.
Father Dave won’t even hear of the word violence attributed to proceedings.
Two men stand bare under the lights with only their hearts and their hands to protect them.
Somebody may get hurt. Sometimes a soul departs. But each man has consented to the power and the art of the other.
“This is not real violence,” Father Dave says. “Now, sticking a knife at the throat of an old lady and rolling her – that is ‘real’ violence.”
Father Dave believes there is a fighter in all men. But there are right and wrong ways for it to come out, and in his Anglican parish at Holy Trinity Church in Dulwich Hill, it often comes out ugly. However, he believes that at the Holy Trinity youth centre, which he started in 1994, something important may be happening.
He is feeling his way, he says, but he may be at the cutting edge of “something huge”.
He was raised in Newtown, the son of the Rev Bruce Smith. At 17 he was a leather-jacketed switchblade-toting punk taking Hapkido (Korean self-defence) lessons in order to beat people up better. But at 18 he was converted.
He got a black belt and degrees in theology and philosophy and settled down to life as a penniless priest in a tough neighbourhood where kids from broken families were run-fling wild.
Yet, he says, when he was 30 a divorce busted him up inside. He turned to boxing and kickboxing training, thrashing his body in workouts, taking out hisanger on the bags. “it was a healing thing,” he says.
He found he could fight a man and still love him. Sometimes, he felt, he didn’t really know a man until they had sparred.
He had some publicity in 1994 when he was offering to fight any young stud in the parish. If the stud won, Father Dave — only a junior middleweight — would shout him dinner. If the stud lost, he had to turn up for Holy Trinity services.
He wanted to test himself as a kickboxer by fighting for a State title. He did that, in August, in his fifth bout, losing to Michael Dyer on points In a rugged go. He retired with a 3-2 record.
“I took a hammering, but I stood up to the pressure,” he says. “Now I feel I don’t have to prove anything to myself or to anybody else.”
Meanwhile, he felt he was finding answers at the youth centre, where he was running self-defence and fitness classes.
Father Dave doesn’t see much point in blaming testosterone for the ills of the world. “We must look for the spiritual side of the wild man within,” he says.
The family unit has copped a hiding at the hands of “progress”. Kids have no close role models. When the wild man does come out through an emotional hole — they can’t handle It.
Father Dave reckons a male who has grappled with other males — bested some and been bested by others — has tasted both pride and humility. He is a lot less likely to beat or mug someone.
One of the biggest successes at the youth centre, he says has been father-and-son wrestling nights.
But he will back himself against those who have saddled us with single-parent families and juvenile crime waves.
“I really think our youth centre could be a model for all churches.” he says.
Unfortunately, the centre, even though it funds itself with its classes, is just about broke.
So when promoter Barry Raff suggested he turn pro boxer, Father Dave listened.
Raff offered him a cut on any tickets lie could sell and has donated boxing memorabilia and other prizes for a rame. If, along with his purse, the total gets to $1,000, the youth centre may struggle past November.
“So far it is for one fight only. but if I win I may fight again,” he says. “The Bible tells us that there is a time to fight.”
And he says he is in the best shape of his life. He expects Jimmy Pat to brawl. He hopes to outbox him.
He’ll also be “focusing on the words from my corner”, he says.
As Father Dave believes he is “the first Australian in Holy Orders to fight as a professional”, that may entitle him to a little extra help from that corner too.