Father Bob Maguire on larrikin Catholicism

Speaker Key:

AL               Andrew Leigh

BM             Father Bob Maguire

 

BM             If somebody tells me I was wrong, I go over it because maybe they’re wrong about me being wrong. Like somebody said to me once… A very nice nun, a woman religious, said to me, Bob, you sound as though you think you’re infallible and I said, no, no, no, no, no, I’m not infallible at all, I’m just in charge.

AL               My name’s Andrew Leigh and welcome to The Good Life, politics-free podcast about living a happy, healthy and ethical life. In this podcast we seek out wise men and women who have lessons to teach us about living life to the full with humour, pleasure, meaning and love. I chat with musicians and athletes, CEO and carers about making the most of this one precious life. If you like this podcast, please take a moment to tell your friends or rate us on Apple Podcasts. Now, sit back and enjoy the conversation.

                   Father Bob Maguire is one of Australia’s best known priests but to call him a priest is a bit like calling Nick Cave a guitarist. It’s true but it doesn’t quite capture the breadth of the man. Born in 1934 in Thornbridge, Victoria, Bob Maguire worked as a beekeeper and an army officer before becoming parish priest for Sts Peter and Paul’s Church in South Melbourne from 1973 to 2012. In that role, Father Bob campaigned on social justice issues, particularly homelessness, engaged with the community through radio shows on 3AW and Triple J and frequently clashed with the government and church authorities.

                   I got to know Father Bob in 2013 when he kindly joined me for an in-conversation event about my new book on inequality, Battlers and Billionaires. I quickly learnt why a thousand people came to his final church service. He’s incisive, amusing and passionate. Father Bob Maguire’s brand of Catholicism isn’t that of Daniel Mannix and Bob Santamaria and certainly not Prosperity Gospel.

                   His is a form of social justice Catholicism, larrikin Catholicism, in the vein of Australian Catholic leaders of the past, like Peter Kennedy, Bill Morris and Naples’ priest, Mario Borrelli. It means reaching out to the local community through his Bob squad and his Bobmobiles. Bob’s work over the years brought him multiple awards, including Victorian of the Year, and he’s recently had a documentary made about his life, In Bob We Trust.

                   He’s a passionate Collingwood supporter and it’s a pleasure to have him on the podcast today. Bob, thanks for joining us.

BM             Thank you, Andrew.

AL               Now, let’s start at the beginning. You had a tough childhood. Your father, as you’ve said, was violent towards your mother and towards you. Growing up in an environment in that, what did you see that was good in your father?

BM             It’s taken me all this time. I haven’t finished yet. You see, I’m trying to redeem my father. I told a bloke that about five years ago. Cousin Francis Maguire who came all the way on his own, very old he was, he was 85/6, but he came here to visit me and another Maguire in Sydney, and I think he must have taken seriously my statement to him by email somewhere that I’ve been trying to redeem my father all my life because I don’t think he got a fair go when he was, I claim, expelled from Glasgow by his mother.

                   So, the redemption of the father, I think that’s a word that we don’t use much these days, but I did see it, did I not, on Q&A the other night. It was mentioned. I think it was mentioned by somebody, the word redemption as though it was time it was reintroduced into our conversations. Otherwise we’re going to do what I suspect the reptilian of the human brain says we ought to do, which is to flog and hang everybody who disagrees with us.

AL               He was somebody who was an alcoholic and violent.

BM             Talented.

AL               And talented.

BM             Very talented.

AL               So, tell me about how you’ve managed to find the goodness in a man who didn’t treat you as we would hope fathers would treat their children.

BM             Well, he was away. You see, he was a sailor, so I forgive him for a lot because post trauma stress disorder, being away from placeness, not just homeless but actually placeless, I think is the great terror that’s stalking the human race just now. You see? We don’t realise or we’re not… We may realise but we’re not prepared to go to pains to make sure that every member of the human race has a place.

                   So, we let them run all over the globe. We chase them, in fact, all over the globe. Anywhere, as long as they don’t lob next to us. Now, my daddy was probably in that… She said to him, look, we’re trying to run a decent new dynasty of Maguires, having fled from the potato famine, probably, in Ireland in the 1800s, having landed in Glasgow maybe late 1800s and she wants a new start. Now, we’ve heard of that before, haven’t we?

                   New start. She even changed the spelling of the name, from MCG to MAG so that when she opened her tobacconist shop and put the name on the window, the Protestants wouldn’t stay away. I remember the old man talking about this and I thought he was talking crap. Going down to the city to fight the Orange men. And I couldn’t work out… I said, is he going down to fight the fruit man? You know what I mean? I never heard of the bloody Orange men.

                   And yet that was the ethos at that time and she changed the spelling from MCG. Otherwise I could claim a relationship with Eddie McGuire. You see? I might do well out of that connection, but I can’t.

AL               Final Collingwood coming to you.

BM             See what I mean? So, MAG she said. Now, Jimmy Maguire, my daddy, I think probably by then had already been to World War I as a sailor. I don’t know whether he came back as a drunk as well as being ex-sailor but for one reason or another she detected… He was playing the piano down the street, apparently, in the suburb of Glasgow.

                   I think he was playing the piano and accepting drinks as tips. So, culpably or not, he got to the stage where he was the black sheep and she was looking into the future and she saw Robert, my namesake, who was her other son, and the others all doing well, and she couldn’t see that Jimmy Maguire would do any good for the family.

                   So, she told him, there’s no place here for you and he was off to Australia, Station Pier just down the road, which is why I hang around here. So, I can’t say to the Archbishop, by the way, don’t send me away, I’ve got nowhere else to go, like in the movie. You see what I mean? An officer and a gentleman, you can’t do that, Sir. Why? Because I haven’t got anywhere else to go, because this is the place. You see? So, he landed here in 1923 or something.

                   Mother arrived in 1923 also. Now, whether he was already in love with her and whether that was one of the reasons why mother, my grandmother, wasn’t keen on him because I think he may have been going to marry beneath his station, as they used to say. So, one thing led to another and both of them were here at Station Pier and the rest is history. You’re sitting there on that side of the desk and I’m on this side of the desk and here we are.

                   I sit down there at Williamstown on our ex-socialist, no, our ex-Premier’s esplanade, Nick Bracks, isn’t it?

AL               Steve.

BM             Steve. Nick’s his son, I think. You can look across the bay and I see the ships facing into the wind in the distance and you see an occasional… And I think to myself… Well, it reminds me of the fact that the daddy, James, was part of that extraordinary ancient culture and may there be no moaning at the bar when I put out to sea. Who said that?

AL               You’ve got me know.

BM             I don’t know who that was. Walter Scott? No, I don’t know who that was but that whole business of the sea and the whole business of hazards at sea and the whole business of making, what, the best out of stormy conditions. They’re all lined up out there. They’re all anchored and they mysteriously change directions, depending on whether the wind is coming at them or whether the wind is… So, I suspected my daddy’s, what, the culture of the seafarer, which is why I was pleased to accept honorary life membership of the MUA. You see? MUA, am I making that up?

AL               Not at all.

BM             The Maritime Union…

AL               Of Australia.

BM             Yes, I liked that. So, he was at sea as a member of Her Majesty’s Navy, World War I, and he was at sea in the 40s as a member of the often dishonoured… A merchant sailor he was. Because they were often treated badly in public because they weren’t in uniform.

AL               You weren’t through a lot of storms yourself as a child. You lost your sister, Kathleen, to tuberculosis when you were 11.

BM             Oh, poor Kathleen, God love her.

AL               Your mother at… Well, your father when you were 11, your mother when you were 15.

BM             I was thinking last night, I think by the time… I was trying to work it out last night, actually, at the age of 83. Because I was thinking about kids around here and I’m thinking, yes, I suppose the need for what parents or a parent or whatever, mine were all gone by the time I was about 14. The sister was gone with TB. The father was gone, certainly, Jim, with lung cancer. In fact, I might be an accessory after the fact or something, because we used to visit him in the Alfred Hospital.

                   I don’t know if they had specific cancer wards but he was in there and we used to roll cigarettes and he’d be smoking. What the…? It’s outrageous, isn’t it? But in those days the culture would have been, well, if you’re that bad off, at least let them have comfort. Assisted dying. If not physically, at least some comfort while you were dying. So, poor old Jim went and then the mother was the last one standing and she left and they were all… I think they were barely 60. I think so. But I’ve got to be careful with the timeline, if you see what I mean.

                   If they were gone in the 40s, I’ve got to be careful with the timeline, because he had to be of age to be in the Royal Navy by 1914, hadn’t he? In fact, I’ve got a book here. Look, I picked this up the other day, because a nice man from Scotland.

AL               Oliver Twist.

BM             Yes. A nice book here, and inside is St Mungo’s Academy, Glasgow, prize for paraphrasing Master Jas Maguire, first class something Christmas 1897. You see, the timeline I’ve got to be careful of. And I was thinking the other day, when this… I looked at that and I said, oh, he was good at paraphrasing and that might be where I got my interest in Twitter. 120. So, I wasn’t very impressed with Mr Twitter said, I think I’ll extend it to 280.

AL               So, this is part of the redemption of your father, is finding those qualities.

BM             Well, I like the idea we’re all in this together. It’s a never-ending story and people are startled some when they say, listen, I don’t know much about my… I said, well, you’ve got to go and find out. You see? Because where do you think you came from? You think you were instant, pour water and you’ll end up with…? No, you don’t. It’s taken generations.

AL               Are there lessons for that in others who are looking to forgive or redeem those who’ve hurt them? There’s a saying, and I don’t know where it came from. I could be making it up or it could come from Bluey and Curley or somewhere, the wise ones. To know all is to forgive all. And we make up our minds on the last sound bite or we make up our minds on how the person, you know all about this, responded to a doorstop interview.

                   And I’m looking at people now on, say, the Morning News, television, and I’m thinking, God, how in the name of God did she or he manage to sit in front of that camera and to say anything? You see. And you have to keep talking, therefore you run the enormous risk of putting your foot in your mouth at seven o’clock in the morning. So, it’s a very risky business because we’ve got two ears and one mouth and I think we’ve lost the art, you see, because we talk too much and we listen too little. If we listened closely enough, we would find reasons.

                   The Americans are beating around the bush about this latest Las Vegas shooting. They want immediate answers, why did he do it, and they want it now. He’s only just finished his shooting and he’s dead himself and them poor buggers are all dead and wounded and the reporter wants to tell us immediately why did he do it. I said, you’re never going to find out why he did it until you do the research into where did he come from. His daddy was a bandit, apparently. But that’s only a little… That’s only a sound bite.

                   We’ve got to find out the whole story. See? As you do in any of these… It’s the same around here. Port Melbourne/South Melbourne as a neighbourhood, that’s why I’m hanging around for, because I want to find out the history of the place. Did the Aboriginal people not cross the land bridge and land in what’s now Fisherman’s Bend? You see? So, I want the spiritual connection with the original owners, or our first peoples, and then I want to know about the…

                   Even Mike Brady, who sings songs and things, he was part of the migration and the migrants who lived in the migrant hostel down in Fisherman’s Bend. Station Pier is the place where we all arrived. Station Pier is the place where the Minister for Immigration, it shows his redemption and conversion. Arthur Calwell, who said, keep them all out one day, the next day he was converted and saved and he said, let them all in. Even the Maltese who he’d sent off to God knows where, New Caledonia or somewhere, no, he said, I’m wrong, let them all in.

                   And what we are today because of that change in migrant policy. You see what I mean? So, that place down there, South Melbourne/Port Melbourne, and the working class, brazenly working class. In fact, I heard a story about two or three brothers, say, from one family down in Port Melbourne come to one of their local clubs on the way home from work in overalls. Saturday they turned up at the same pub in suits. See? In other words, there’s more to us than just being overalls.

AL               You’re a great champion of South Melbourne.

BM             Well, I like South Melbourne/Port Melbourne.

AL               You entered the priesthood a few years after you became an orphan and you had your period as an army chaplain but then…

BM             Yes, good times, the army chaplain. I’m going up there today because I’m going to Mooroopna and I’m passing through Seymour and I remember the… I had a conversion in Seymour because I was there as a priest, an assistant priest, and I thought…   

                   And the word came the chaplain in Puckapunyal, next door, is sick, he can’t do his job as a character training instructor, which the chaplains were in those days, not just being religious but being philosopher instructors. Because we’d settled for not religion as a way of getting young men, 20 years of age, through the war but we settled for the Greek philosophy, strangely enough. Yes, character training. So, that put me in the army for four years.

AL               Were there particular things that you did in inculcating character training?

BM             I just followed the course because I’m a great believer in taking what you have given to you and using it. You see what I mean? Oh, no, I can’t go on today. I remember one of the occasions. God, they were hard days. We were in corrugated iron huts, I can see it now, full of 20-year olds, all smoking in those days.

                   And here we are, the first session, gentlemen, is on the meaning of life. See? And for the purposes of this lesson, gentlemen, we will run over a few basic points but we will then divide up into discussion groups and the discussion group will concentrate on if we were on a desert island, what steps would we take to survive/flourish and we will come back and have that open discussion. And you found out that, in fact…

                   You didn’t even have to make it up because everybody came back and said the first thing we would do is to appoint a leader and the next thing we would do is this and the next thing… Hello? And it all came out of thinking, which I’m a great believer in. Any religion that doesn’t let people think is no religion at all. You see what I mean? And that’s going to be part of the ongoing public conversation about assisted dying, abortion, equality of marriage and more, much more, you see, because we’re going to have to make decisions, are we not, about who’s to go and who’s to stay. That’ll probably be the thought police.

                   Who’s to go and who’s to stay? Can we afford all these old people in retirement villages? Lots of moral dilemmas are waiting for us and sadly… What am I saying, sadly? Rightly or wrongly, there’s hardly any moral… Well, there’s no moral regulators. Everybody expected to be regulators of the economy but the moral regulators, the churches, have behaved so badly that, thank God we weren’t set upon and murdered or executed or something. They just ignored us, which the Aussies are good at. You know what I mean?

                   And consequently I’m very unhappy that, in fact, we haven’t got the wisdom, the accumulated wisdom, of the Jewish/Christian/Muslim/Buddhist/Hindu/Confucian package, which has taken, I don’t know what it is, about 5,000 years to gather, and that should have stood us in good stead. But because we are now drifting into, what, the era of the interconnected loners… We’re all connected by AI, artificial intelligence. We’re all going to be interconnected but we’re going to have so much information crammed into us and at our fingertips but we’re going to have so little wisdom to handle it.

AL               So, how do we get those wise conversations in an Australia where, although 70% of us say we believe in some form of higher being, only 16% of us attend a religious service monthly or more often.

BM             Yes.

AL               Where do those conversations about wisdom come from, which formerly came from religion for most Australians?

BM             Well, it’s hard to know, you see. I’m staying in the business. I’m trying to… Well, I don’t know if I’ll get around to it but I’m trying to… I’ve registered the name Parish Without Borders and then I’ll work from that and see if I can what? What do you do? We’ve got somebody here designing an app. So, it’ll be Parish Without Borders. What do you have to do? Do you have to buy it or is it free, this app?

                   Because I see it all out in the street there. They’ve got apps that tell them the way to the lavatory, apps that tell them way over the pedestrian crossing, why can’t I have an app that says, look, boys and girls, we may be interconnected loners but you don’t have to be lonely.

AL               So, what messages…?

BM             You see, a message of religion, pure and undefiled, whatever brand it is, is common sense and compassion. In fact, I’ve got an algorithm that says… What is it? Five Cs. Care, Communication, Concern, Compassion and Common sense, if you put all of that in place, we will all live happily ever after. Except there’s a sixth C wandering around out there, which is Control.

AL               Is living a good life really that simple?

BM              I would think so.

AL               You’re almost dismissing the challenges of modern philosophy.

BM             No, I’ve wrestled with many of the…

AL               So, I would say living a good life can be a deeply difficult thing to do. You make it sound almost of Hallmark card simplicity.

BM             Well, we’re born with the in-built application, the app, because we’re born with common sense and compassion. It has to be trained out of us. We notice that with natural disasters.

                   There’s a nice book that I’ve got down there that’s called A Paradise Built in Hell, and it goes on quite fascinatingly considering all the tragedies that have happened since I opened the bloody book, for God’s sake, where it says, hey, listen, you’ll notice that whatever disaster it is, the blitz in London, the San Francisco earthquake, now it would be the shootings in Las Vegas, the hurricane, whatever it is, he said you will notice that the first responders are not in uniform.

                   The first responders are ordinary people living next to you, or the car that was driving through the neighbourhood stops and a stranger gets out. Hello. Now, this flies in the face of the preferred panic-driven fear of the elites who are terrified that every time there’s a natural disaster ordinary people will set upon them, the elites, and rob them of whatever.

                   And they say more or less, my God, the bloke who helped me was that thug, the bikey, the dark person, the person that I had thought was a natural enemy, that’s the bloke who came and helped me. And you get the stories all the time. I find it quite fascinating when watching the American television. Shock, my God, most of the work done on the scene of that disaster was by random strangers. I thought the early responders were all in uniforms because Mr President and Mr Mayor would love to say first and foremost…

                   He wants to surround himself with uniforms for a start, and flags, and then say, I would like to thank those… What? They did their duty. It’s all the anonymous crowd that, in fact, strangers accumulated were our salvation. Now, that’s the way we have to go. In fact, people are saying it’s fascinating. Not only do they help one another but they get a thing that they never experienced before in their community lives.

                   They got a sense of joy. Not only did they get the job done but they enjoyed it. And then they said to themselves, why can’t we have this without the disaster? Hence enter from left stage the thing that so many ordinary people have that the wealthy would kill for, and maybe do kill for, I don’t know, and that is resilience and bravery. They think they have to pay for it to learn it, to go away to a retreat and do a course about it.

                   Housing Ministry around South Melbourne/Port Melbourne, the most populated Housing Ministry colony in Melbourne. Everybody who wakes up in the morning in these Housing Ministry estates, wakes up with their little pack, A, resilience, two, compassion, common sense.

AL               Is that part of what you were trying to build as a priest?

BM             Yes.

AL               You’ve spoken about the two cities model that you had. Was it not just about helping the underprivileged but also the giving the more affluent a sense of purpose in life.

BM             Yes. That’s what we’re going to do down in Fisherman’s Bend, if I can ever get around to it, is my, what do you call it? This lovely thing here which he now shows. Let’s see what it’s called. The Father Bob Community Hub. You see? And it’s got a philosophy behind it now because we’ve been around for 40 years. So, it’s got to be… It’s ruthlessly rational.

                   And, no, I accept the fact that you can’t, in fact, be assertively compassionate without being ruthlessly rational. That’s why I’m quite… I feel, well, proud when people say, would you like to explain to us… Like in Mooroopna. I’m going up there to the service clubs, for God’s sake. They should have nothing to learn because they’d doing it already.

                   But, in fact, we’ve got to be careful we don’t miss the next generational leap when, in fact, we might get away with the traditional service club reaction to local need. We might have to make a space leap and go further and that is, what, just say we don’t treat one another in Mooroopna as being different classes, different castes, different parts of the town. The rich live down there and the poor live over…

                   No, we’re going to have to create what the Aboriginal people created, which is a corroboree area, when we all come together and especially we come together when we have differing opinions on what should be happening for good. And we will thrash that out. They’re doing one up there, apparently. I saw it on the telly. Up near your arts centre in Melbourne. Around the back somewhere they’ve now developed an architectural thing which is getting awards. It’s an open forum, for God’s sake.

                   The Greeks said, look, boys and girls, I know we got beaten by the bloody Persians. We know we did, they said, and we’re saying the best way to get over this, or get through it, we’ll all come together and we’ll thrash it all out and we will have even someone play the part of the enemy to see their point of view and we will go through what you now know to be the classic stages of whatever rehabilitation, including what do you call it, a catharsis.

                   You’ll have to go through the catharsis. Don’t interrupt it too soon. And you’ll have to go through metanoia, which means a change of attitude because you’re not going anywhere unless you change your attitude. And then, finally, the jackpot which appeals to Aussies, euphoria. The feeling of wellbeing. But you can’t have that, comrade, the Greek algorithm, without that and that and that.

AL               You have a dizzying array of interests and your mind moves very quickly from the specific to the general. As a priest, how do you manage to stay present for individuals working through crisis situations when there’s so much else going on in your life?

BM             My life or their life?

AL               Well, your life. I’m always struck by the importance of a priest not just giving a sermon to a large group of people but being there to take confession, to engage with people.

BM             Yes, the pastoral care.

AL               The pastoral care, how do you manage to be there, to be present and completely focussed for a parishioner in need when your mind is abuzz with a thousand things?

BM             Well, because you’ve got to focus. The real presence of God is in the next person you meet. See what I mean? All the other places, your church buildings, your ashrams, your mosques, your synagogues should all… They’re going to have to be parked in the garage for a while to get tuned up, preferably by secularists so they come out of some earthly use. Otherwise they’d be wallowing in a hole God knows how long, of otherworldly use.

                   Well, guess what, folks. What? This is the end of the world as we know it. We’ve had our 200/300 years of enlightenment and all that stuff. It’s gone. We’re now in stormy waters and we’re going to have to have the real-life assistance we need, and that’s where your religions could come into their own again. If they change from being comfort stations into being pit stops, I can imagine what that should be.

                   What the Roman Catholic church, of which I am a card-carrying member, if they want to repent of the sins of their clergy, they should do so practically speaking by turning each Roman Catholic parish in Australia into a pit stop. Not just a comfort station for a few people to go and sing Glory to God in the Highest but pit stops where you give glory to God in the lowest.

                   So, it means your church becomes the heart of the neighbourhood, which is what we were doing up there for 35 years, up at Sts Peter and Paul’s. Now we’ve taken six years, I think it is, to try to duplicate, replicate, whatever, what we were doing there, which were meant… The rich and the poor both shared that precinct and no one had more right to the place than anybody else. That got up the nose, I presume, of the Roman Catholic elite. Only a few of them but they said, excuse me, this place really should be a nice place.

AL               And one of the reasons you clashed with Melbourne Archbishop at the time, Denis Hart, was over the sale of church property to the poor.

BM             That was silly. And he knew it was silly. He eventually ran out. He talked too much for a start and then he had to back off as he went. The same as we’re doing now with the Royal Commission. But poor Denis had to find some… Excuse me, Your Grace, why does Bob Maguire have to go? Because he’s 75. But that’s not necessary. It depends on how you treat his letter of resignation. Well, he also had trouble managing church property. Hello, here’s another reason.

                   And then, Father Maguire, did you have…? No, no, no. Whatever we did, we did with the approval… I just had some letters the other day, because I must have a file now there that says… What’s it labelled? An explanation of… The great philosopher wrote his title… Apologia pro Vita Mea. Now, apologia doesn’t mean I’m apologising. Apologia means I’m explaining.

                   Now, here’s the explanation. Church number something or other down in… I passed it yesterday, Park Street, South Melbourne, yes, he sold that, of course, and, hello, let’s go back to no wall is too… The place was falling down. I asked for money to fix it. You said no. I said, well, what do you want me to do? They said, well… I said I can’t find the money to fix it. Well, then you’ll have to sell it. I don’t want to sell it, I want to… No, sorry, you can’t have it.

                   All right, we sold it. 20 years later up pops the furphy. What, he sold the church? Oh, my God, and he gave the money to the poor? This went on and on and on. It didn’t go on for the first 30 years mainly, it went on for the last eight, when they  had to find a reason to get me out because it was an embarrassment to them, a parish choosing to be…

                   And we left them with truckloads of money because we managed, thank God, to use a tiny part of the parish property, which was tiny anyway, point nine of an acre, the whole lot, a little bit in the corner, 42 units of community housing. Thank you to the state government. Thank you to South Melbourne Community Housing Group who partnered with us and the state government said, we will give you the money to pay the lease for 90 years. Now we left them with truckloads of God damn money.

                   And I told him that. I told him that early days. I said, listen, don’t panic. We might be $200,000 in overdraft but leave it to me because we’re going to do things that will produce enough money not only to pay off the overdraft but enough money so that the parish will be able to continue its creative and innovative work. Not just sustainable, your Grace, not just viable but sustainable.

AL               It sounds as though, at least given that you were working under Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, that you were thinking far more often what would Jesus do rather than what would the Pope do.

BM             What was the previous Pope, the one who started this all, when I was first commissioned, John XXIII, who said, let’s have a Vatican too because we are dying here inside the ramparts of our garrison church. We should throw the doors and the windows open and let the fresh air in. In fact, we should go out through the doors and join the others of goodwill.

                   That was the choice then, in the 60s. Why don’t we team up with anybody of goodwill, anybody doing good for the right reasons? Whether it’s a political party, whether it’s… You don’t have to join them but, in fact, you form… You do what the Aussies are best at, you form a hybrid. You see what I mean? A bit of this and a bit of that. So, that’s, in fact, what…

                   That’s what I’m hoping will be the flower that will bloom in the spring. That example, I think the public of Australia would learn to forgive, if not forget our sins. That’s what I’m hoping for. That’s redemption, not only for my daddy but for my mother’s church.

AL               And this is your notion of a lay-led church.

BM             Yes.

AL               Which goes significantly further than Pope Francis’s reforms.

BM             But he can only do as much. He’s 77, isn’t he? He’s an old-timer and he’s a devotional Catholic at heart. But he’s got the, what do you call it, the common sense and compassion which drives everything. The rest is commentary. Now, if he loves the statute of Our Lady, which he does, under the title of untie the knots, mother of God, what’s all this about? Well, it’s only virtual reality, for God’s sake.

                   Why can’t we have things…? You put the goggles on and you’re seeing yourself swimming with sharks. He’s got a statue there titled our lady of untying the knots. We’ll have a look at it and say, oh, I know, I should be helping to untie the knots. Or I’ll pray to her to untie the knots. He who prays has to do what he’s praying for. Like the boxer in the ring, isn’t it? He makes the sign of the cross before he boxes. Isn’t it? Someone says, does that help? He said, not if he can’t box.

                   So, you go to your Parliament and they say, all those in favour of the Lord’s prayer before proceedings, and people say, no, there’s no need for that. I’m saying, well, what’s the use of that anyway in Parliament House? If you want to say, Our Father, hello, forgive us our sins, give us this day our daily bread. It’s all good stuff but if you can’t actually achieve any of it, why say the prayer? That’s when religion becomes a bit, what’s the word, otherworldly.

                   If you see the Aussies at their best under the sign of the southern cross as a religious legend that went off like a bottle of Star milk when Constantine, the emperor, saw the cross in the sky and said, in this sign conquer. And from then on we were buggered because, in fact, we took it seriously that you could use the cross as a sword.

                   Now, the Aussies have got a sign of their own, which is probably Bunjil, the Aboriginal other being, and that cross should be seen as the sign of self-sacrifice. It’s not just a sword. Self-sacrifice. And Aussies should be self-sacrificial. But they’re nervous that if they put themselves second, they won’t do well, whereas the algorithm is saying that plus that plus that, including yourself, will produce community.

                   Hello, can’t we have community without…? No, sorry, you can have something else. You can have an Elysium, where the rich and powerful live, the 1%-ers live happily ever after, but, you see, the rest of us won’t be able to… We don’t bloody Elysium. We want a paradise built in hell because, as you know, politics is the art of the possible, isn’t it? Now, that’ll do but, in fact, these days you are on the verge of needing the impossible, or what has been taken for granted as being impossible.

                   We should be able to say to Mr Toyota, do not close that thing, or, if you do, please, we will acknowledge that you have made so much money out of that thing, that factory, and good luck to you, but this is now our factory and we are now going to use it for the local community. As their deity said, what’s his name? Wealth of Nations.

AL               Adam Smith.

BM             Yes, Adam Smith said to them, owners and shareholders, don’t put yourselves first, put the workers first. And I’m saying now, no, not only the workers  but put the community, which has suffered 50 years or 60 years of this factory being such a feature. All businesses ought to invest… That’s the CSR thing, isn’t it? Corporate Social Responsibility, which is a winner.

AL               You’re keenly aware of so much suffering and so many challenges, in your own life, an orphan at a young age, you’ve worked with straight kids.

BM             We lost 40 in the 80s around here. 20-year olds.

AL               How, in the face of such a strong awareness of so much suffering, do you maintain a daily sense of gratitude?

BM             Nature is the reminder, I think.

AL               Tell me more about that.

BM             Well, nature is the reminder that you burn the place down and then tomorrow the first sign of regrowth happens. Or even while you’re watching the ashes. It pops up out of the ashes. You know what I mean? I think Gallipoli is the same. It’s not the celebration of a victory, it’s the celebration of how to make the best out of a bad thing. You see what I mean? And I believe…

                   And I think people accept, don’t they, all the heroes or all the people that came back from wars, all the people that come through bush fires, floods, all of that, you get down to the two medals there where one is resilience and one is bravery and that we’re born with. I suppose, what, I inherited that, I think. The Scottish inheritance. We’ve even got a coat of arms or something. I was looking the other day at this thing here. Look, there he is, a knight on a white horse or something.

                   The motto is something about justice and fortitude are invincible. Now, if you know that, it’s no good mucking around. You see, it’s the same with the Aussie… Who was it? Was it Woodfull? In the test match against Jardine and [unclear]?

AL               The one who struck…

BM             Like that he was, yes. What can you do? He wants to bowl bodyline, well, what are you going to do, walk off the field? No, you don’t. You just stay at the wicket. And the ball will come when you can belt the shit out of it over the… See? But you’ve got to stay there, isn’t it? That’s what I’m saying, whatever, about fortitude and bravery are invincible. I believe that. Once again, it almost sneaks back again to Greek philosophy. Almost sneaks back again, that that will come out of thinking your way through.

                   Now, our problem is, and I know the discussion about artificial intelligence says, look, you pile all that stuff/information into that computer about cats, a woman said the other night on Q&A. The thing will eventually get the idea of what a cat is. But it’s limited. It doesn’t know the difference between a cat and a dog or why cats don’t get on well with dogs. It’s limited. See what I mean?

                   And you can feed it all the pictures in the world about cats into the thing and it still will absorb all the information but it still can’t quite… Well, it certainly can’t express any emotions about cats. See what I mean? Now, that’s what I’m hoping. Because I’ve got a horrible feeling that one of the great plagues that is about to descend on us, it’s already showing signs, is emotional deficit that we don’t see. God bless them, everybody walking around with mobile phones and all the rest of it, texting and everything else. What’s missing? The feelings because those apps can’t do feelings. You see what I mean?

                   So, if somebody texts you, Andrew, happy birthday. Well, you’ll say, that was nice, they remembered me. But it’s not as nice as if they picked up the phone and talked to you on the phone, if they can find you and talk to you, hello, it’s… Hello, what added value was that? The human voice. But we’ve got Siri, so she can tell you, hello, is there anything else I can do for you? She doesn’t give a rats. Isn’t it? The same as the thing on the dashboard.

AL               It’s interesting to me to hear you move so seamlessly from a question about how you see the glass half full to the glass half empty.

BM             That’s where Your Jesus comes in too. You see, Your Jesus comes in as the divine app. Once you’ve got Your Jesus, you’ve got all you need to know about God, warts and all, which is therefore, obviously, contentious amongst clerics because they don’t like the idea of a flawed God.

AL               What advice would you give to your teenage self?

BM             I suppose Weary Dunlop’s thing. I wouldn’t have known then, would I? Put others first. I think it’s the most daunting piece of advice that Your Jesus did is to put others first, including even the enemy. See what I mean? So, you’ve got Sandy Hook, haven’t you? The man shoots the children. The mothers of the shot children go to the widow of the shooter and say, we would like you to come to our children’s funeral. Oh, but… No, don’t worry about that. We will be there with you. See? Catharsis.

                   And then we would like to attend your husband’s funeral. Hello. Not to try in a thing and yell and snap. But where did that come from? That’s the ultimate. That’s redemption. And that’s the only way to go. That’s why I’m longing for the day… I don’t think I’ll see it, with Peter Norton and with, what’s his name, Burnside and with others for the time when the Aussies will accept restorative justice as being far better than retributive justice.

                   Because we’re going through that stage of flog and hang them. Build more prisons, do this, that and the other thing. Keep those naughty people who came here by paying smugglers punishment. Punishment, punishment, punishment. Where did that come from?

AL               What do you think is the greatest mistake you’ve made in your career?

BM             I don’t know. I don’t concentrate much on… If somebody tells me I was wrong, I go over it because maybe they’re wrong about me being wrong. Like somebody said to me once…  A very nice nun, a woman religious, said to me, Bob, you sound as though you think you’re infallible. And I said, no, no, no, no, no, I’m not infallible at all, I’m just in charge. See? Now, the greatest mistake… I don’t know if I can consider any of the mistakes. I think I consider them all to be opportunities.

AL               Is there something significant on which you’ve changed your mind?

BM             No, see, because I believe that I’m always learning. That’s why I’m off to Mooroopna. They think I’m coming to give a speech to their service club dinner. No, I’m not. I’m going to learn. I found a thing on the telly from Japan. It’s called Forest Bathing where you’re fully clothed, you go into the forest and you wander around in the forest and you absorb, what are they, essential oils and you come out refreshed.

                   Now, I reckon what I’ve been on about for 83 years probably is what I’m now experiencing overtly, which is crowd bathing. So, I like to go out there, even to Mooroopna, or the other day I was down at a wedding in, what’s it called, Portarlington. But I’m saying to myself the refreshment of the mixing with the crowd, that people say, oh, you’re just a bloody show-off, you’re performing, I said I don’t care what I’m doing. I’m contributing what I can contribute but these people here have contributed more to me than I’ve contributed to them.

                   It’s the natural instinct of what? It’s in our nature to help the stranger, and I think if you can give a crowd the chance, it’ll welcome you. I found that with union people, for example. They say, come into town, we’re going to protest against… I said, well, I can’t bloody well go to town and protest like a… But I don’t. I come into town because you’re there. So, another example of crowd… Because it’s a sense. It’s an idea.

                   That’s the beauty, I think, of mixing with crowds. Like the Tigers the other day. And the opposite, of course, with the Adelaide Crows, poor babies. You see that they’re experiencing too much of the catharsis and not enough euphoria. So, that’s what I’m saying. The older I get, I’m having great fun with memories. I like all of that. And Dr Google helps a bit with that.

AL               When are you most happy?

BM             Happy. When I wake up.

AL               Why?

BM             Well, it’s number one on the bucket list, is to wake up, because if you don’t wake up, well, then the rest is a waste of time. When do I most enjoy myself, did you say?

AL               I asked, when are you most happy, but enjoy yourself, by all means.

BM             Well, no wife, child, lover or manager, you’ve got to have what? Well, once again, you see, this is why… There’s an African saying which I went insane over last year. Ubuntu. It’s an African word that says I am because you are. Now, I’ve decided, I think, that that’s what I’ll settle for. I am because you are. If it wasn’t for you lot out there, I wouldn’t be who I am today. So, what do you do? Do you gorge yourself on other people?

                   I keep telling that woman out at the desk there who’s trying to protect me, I think, from things… I say to her… Oh, she said, but it’s far away, it’s far away. I said, well, so what? Let’s go far away and have an experience. Because you don’t often get those opportunities. If I was in a retirement village or something, I don’t want… I’ve got things to do. And as long as I’m…

                   I’m lucky because I’ve only got some neurological disorder that took me hands and my feet about five years ago but the buggers came back with immunoglobulin from plasma. So, I’m grateful to have the opportunity at 83 to be able to walk around and talk. I can talk under water, as you notice. If I lost my ability to talk… I was thinking the other day, what happens if a valve bursts or something? Well, you can then go and do what that man does in the wheelchair with the artificial voice.

AL               You’ll be the next Stephen Hawking.

BM             Yes, that fellow. Or you can do what Dr Google helps you to do anyway, or what you’re doing, which is the podcast. I should be doing a podcast for the Parish Without Borders but it would require discipline because I’d have to knock it into shape first before I… And I’d like to do… I told them the other day, when we have people dropping past, street people, because we help older ones, if they want five pounds for a cup of coffee or something.

                   I said, listen, we better be fair dinkum with this because I keep preaching that these people are all street philosophers. Well, we better start asking them their latest thought and put it on YouTube so the people will get used to out of that face and out of that mess come words of wisdom. So, that’s what I want to do next.

AL               Well, Father Bob…

BM             I think it’s time to stop.

AL               I hope when I’m 83, I have half of your energy.

BM             You’ll have more because you’ll have more experiences.

AL               But as Australia’s greatest exponent of lay church, revolutionary father, thank you for joining us on The Good Life podcast.

BM             Thank you. And there’s also somebody who’s almost edged me out of that position.

AL               Yes?

BM             Kristina Keneally. She’s starting to make a lot of sense about… We proudly accept she’s a card-carrying Catholic and she’s prepared to put the case for the lay-led church and she’s getting whacked by it by the… Not the Conservatists, we’re Conservatists, for God’s sake. The others are Revisionists. Enough because we’ll be here for the rest of the day.

AL               Enough it is.

BM             Thanks for the opportunity, comrade.

AL               Thank you. Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of The Good Life podcast. If you enjoyed it, please tell your friends on social media or rate us on Apple Podcasts. You may also be interested to know that I’ve got a new book out, published by the Lowy Institute and Penguin. It’s called Choosing Openness and makes a range of policy recommendations as to how we should deal with the rise in populism and the questions that many are raising around globalisation.

                   Of course this isn’t a podcast about politics or policy, so I won’t mention the specific policy recommendations but it is worth mentioning that Choosing Openness also talks about how we practise politics and about the importance of dialling down the volume if we are to make sure that we have a sensible conversation about engagement with the world. I hope you check it out and, if you do, drop me an email and let me know what you think.

                   Next week we’ll be back with another Good Life guest to discuss living a happier, healthier and more ethical life.


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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.