From the pulpit to the boxing ring
To the locals, he’s Father Dave from Marrickville. But to many others he’s “Fighting Father Dave”.
Dave Smith is an Anglican priest, but he’s probably best known for his boxing passion and his work with at-risk youth.
Twenty years ago he opened a sporting centre with a boxing ring in a run-down facility in Marrickville. Since then it’s become a safe haven for young men and boys suffering from substance abuse and crime.
“Boxing is all about channelling that negative energy into something beneficial. That’s what I teach, that’s what’s important to us and in the end they learn how to box that’s a bonus.”
Father Dave says many young men going though difficulties often want something to do, and his boxing project gives them just that.
“They come here and bring their mates and girlfriends thinking they’re going to show off and when I get in the ring with them and ruffle them up a bit, they realise this isn’t about just throwing punches, it’s about endurance, patience and learning how to focus.”
But boxing wasn’t always just for troubled youth. Father Dave says the sport also helped him through his own dark days.
“While I was going through my divorce, I was suicidal at times and it was difficult. I was drinking myself to sleep and thought well this isn’t going to end well. So I found help and comfort in boxing - although you do lose the same amount of brain cells, but hey!”
"There is a saying in Arabic, ‘If we can break bread together, how can we be enemies?’ And it’s true, these assumptions come crumbling down once you engage with people face-to-face over something like food or sport.”
– Father Dave Smith
When not in the ring, Father Dave is also a political advocate. With the success of his boxing project, he’s ventured abroad with his ‘Boxing for Peace’ project for Syrian refugees.
“I can’t do much about the politics, but I can do my part, and sport has always left the doors open to communication and building relationships. So I found an opportunity in that.”
Father Dave takes young Australian boxers to Syria and teaches refugees how to box. He says it’s a life changing experience for those involved.
“It’s all about bridging the gap and getting to know each other. There is a saying in Arabic, ‘If we can break bread together, how can we be enemies?’ And it’s true, these assumptions come crumbling down once you engage with people face-to-face over something like food or sport.”
Along his journey, Father Dave has managed to establish strong relationships with different faith communities, including Australian Muslim communities.
“People ask, why are you so popular within the Muslim community? I say, well maybe that’s because I’ve made conscious effort to understand them and their views. It’s not a good environment to be a Muslim right now.”
Father Dave hopes to continue his work with youth and hopes that one day he’ll no longer need to box for peace.
Fighting Father Dave takes young Australian boxers to Syria and teaches refugees how to box