by Jeff Wells
If I want an opinion on the banning of boxing for kids I won’t go to a bleeding heart, yuppie, politician, or combination of any of them.
I go to the man. I go to The Man’s man. I go to the street, to the edge of the breakdown. I go to a man of God who would rather see kids throwing punches than punching heroin into their veins.
Anglican priest Father Dave Smith deals with Australia’s most disgraceful youth problem – 14-year-old kids on smack, stealing to feed their habits – every day In his tough inner-west Sydney suburb of Duiwich Hill.
He would be more impressed with the politically trendy calls for banning boxing if it was just as politically correct to get heroin off the streets.
But it is not. Heroin, he says, is now the cheap drug of choice among young teenagers, and a crime wave is the result, with young thugs strutting the streets like kings.
Old ladies have been rolled, kids are stood over with knives and machetes for their lunch money, and there are break-ins galore – all to finance the habits, leaving the community with a legacy of misery and despair.
But put on a fight night, in which a few kids flail about and nobody gets hurt, and the usual suspects —led by the Australian Medical Association — start babbling about a danger to society, with political opportunists lining up behind them.
Meanwhile young junkies are kept on the street — virtually untouchable until they turn 18— and nobody says boo. You figure it out, I can’t.
Father Dave watches helplessly as the kids learn to rort the system. Arrested, out the same day. Never forced to get the right medical dry-out. Absconding from probation, rarely brought to account.
They poison their bodies and pollute their minds with the gear, but police can’t throw them into detox units which are the best chance to help them — they can’t even inform the parents of some kids that they have a habit.
So the Punching Priest fights his own lonesome battle at his Holy Trinity Youth Centre. He teaches boxing, kickboxing and wrestling to both boys and girls, and delights in small victories his way when the system has failed its way.
But his parish is in a permanent financial struggle and two years ago, at the age of 34—Just before he could be banned from the ring by State laws – he turned professional fighter for one night.
The $1000 in prize money and donations which he earned from a draw with Jimmy Pat just kept the centre going.
David Smith is an extraordinary man, influenced as much by 19th Century Danish philosopher Kierkegaard as he is by kickboxing, in which he was a State title contender.
His father, too, was an Anglican priest, but young Dave went off the rails as a leather-jacketed bother boy on the rugged streets of Newtown before he did an about-turn and found God.
So, even though he is proud to have never thrown a punch in anger outside of the ring, the local punks know he is just as tough, and a lot more talented with his fists and his feet than they are. He gives his church incredible “street cred”, they used to make movies about his breed — usually starring Spencer Tracey.
He has a tattoo on his arm representing the “Sacred Order of Fighting Fathers’, a bunch of mates who like to test themselves in the ring and abide by three rules – obedience to God, loyalty to the church, and service to the community.
It is the bonding of the ring which is the basis of his philosophy.
“Most kids who train together, or get in the ring together, respect each other and become friends,” he says. “I would rather have them bonding in the gym than in gangs on the street.”
He says he sees the biggest changes in kids who go far enough with their training to enter an amateur fight.
“They work off their excess energy, feel the changes in their bodies, and they are proud to have gone that far, and happy to be off drugs,” he says.
But this is nowhere near a program to prepare children for ring careers. Only a very tiny number of kids who have amateur fights want to turn professional.
“In a lot of cases a couple of fights is enough — they no longer have the aggression,” he says. “They would rather become fitness trainers than fighters.
I am particularly proud of one of my kids who backed out of a street fight the other day — he could have whipped the other kid but just knowing it was enough.”
So the kids keep turning up at the youth centre, the tough guys wanting to take him in the ring. He ducks under their wild swings, gently bops them on the nose, then takes them under his wing.
It doesn’t work all the time, but it works enough to make boxing bans sound ridiculous.
Boxing Day is the big fund-raising day at the youth centre and Father Dave has spent up on a box of trophies – symbols of achievement — for his youngsters who will fight martial arts style to beat the NSW boxing ban. He hopes to have a pankration fight —an ancient Olympic combination of wrestling, slapping and kicking – against a friend, a better fighter who could whip him.
“I don’t think I can win – but the message to the kids is that at least Ill be having a go at something,” he says.
I’ll go for Father Dave’s way.