We wouldn’t be able to do any of the stuff we do with kids if it wasn’t for the support we get from local business people in our community. This is not a shameless plug for our sponsors, just recognition of the fact that whatever we’ve been able to achieve in Dulwich Hill has been a team effort between church and community.
People often ask me, “I suppose the church pays for all this, do they”. I tell them straight, that our little church in Dulwich Hill has never been able to properly afford even the minimum wage for their priest, and that the Church with a capital ‘C’ (ie. the Anglican Diocese of Sydney) has contributed next to nothing. No. Almost all our support comes from the three local pubs – the Gladstone, the Royal Exchange, and the Henson Park Hotel – and from the local RSL club (Petersham). The rest of it we pick up through the Christians vs. Lions fight nights we put on, and through other community events (eg. the Mayor’s golf day, the annual community Street Fair, etc.).
It wasn’t always this easy. In the early years we really struggled to keep the Youth Centre open. Then we caught the attention of one corporate benefactor, who was able to keep us going long enough for us to put the other support in place. That benefactor was Ray Williams, former chief executive of HIH insurance – one of the most gentle, caring, and humble men I have ever met, and currently one of the least popular men in the country.
It amazes me when I think about it. Some of the best people I have ever met are people with terrible reputations. In each case of course their reputations have been largely media-generated.
When my mate Jim got shot, one of the major Sydney newspapers ran story entitled “Evil Villain Gunned Down”. It featured a picture of Jim carrying an automatic weapon. The picture had been taken many years earlier during Jim’s time with the Australian Army. I thought ‘You bastards! That’s not the man I know.’
When Morde was on trail in Israel I read a variety of articles that spoke about him as being a sophisticated spy – working for the Arabs and out to destroy his country. I thought ‘You bastards! You have no idea who you are talking about.’
Now I read stories about Ray – about how he manipulated the market to line his own pockets and how he deliberately defrauded millions of people, and I think again ‘You bastards’.
Ray was sent by God to help us. I have no doubt about that. I first met him through a fight I took, though Ray himself was no fan of boxing.
The story of that fight was in itself quite bizarre.
I had been sitting with the Archdeacon in my office one afternoon. He was wagging his finger at me and telling me that I’d have to close down the Youth Centre. “You just don’t have enough money to keep it going” he said. And he was right. We were exactly $1000 short of being able to pay our youth worker’s wage for the next month. I was feeling rather nonchalant about it all and was telling him to have more faith. At exactly that moment Kon, my trainer, came to the door.
“Dave, do you want to take a pro fight?” he asked. “No” was my knee-jerk reaction. I’d just completed my fight career (I’d thought) with a shot at the NSW super-welterweight title in kickboxing. The law in this state at the time was that you had to hang up your gloves when you turned 35. I was 34 and nine months at that stage. “How much are they offering?” I asked Kon. “$1000” he said. I told him I’d take it. We raised close to $50,000 for the Youth Centre through that fight. More than half of that money came through Ray.
A guy by the name of Jeff Wells wrote an article about my fight that was published in the Sydney Morning Herald one Saturday. After that, cheques for as much as $1000 started arriving in the mail! Then one morning a courier turned up with two cheques – one for $10,000 in the name of HIH insurance, and another for $15,000 in the name of a Mr R. Williams. I remember trembling when I received these cheques. I’d never seen that much money before in my life.
I had never heard of Ray Williams, but his business card was attached, so I rang the number and got one of those classic receptionist voices, saying “Mr Williams is busy at the moment. Can I take a message?” Then I mentioned my name and all of a sudden I was speaking to Ray.
“Ah … hi … do I know you?” I started. “No. I don’t think so,” he said. “You’ve just sent me cheques for $25,000” I said. “Yes” he said. “Um … are you a local from around here? Have you been watching our work?” I asked. “No” he said. “Well … are you connected with the church or with youth work around here?” “No” he said. “Well … are you a fight fan?” I asked, scratching for some point of connection. “Not at all” he said. “I read an article about you in the Herald and it looked like you needed some help.” “Yeah, I do” I said. “Well, will that help?” he asked. “Oh yeah” I said, “that’ll help.”
That’s how our relationship began. Over the years that followed Ray took a keen interest in our work. As things at HIH became tighter, we didn’t receive any further support from the company, but Ray himself would generally turn up to our fundraiser fight nights, and he wouldn’t leave before slipping us a cheque from out of his own funds. It’s what kept us going while we searched for more stable sponsorship from the local community. We owe a lot to Ray.
And it wasn’t just the money. It was the man too. He was inspiring in his humility.
At the time of the first donation we had a guy in our church who worked as one of the chief accountants in the public hospital system. “Oh yeah” he said to me one Sunday. “If it wasn’t for Ray Williams, half the hospitals in Sydney might be closed.” And then he added “but he never likes to have his name mentioned. He hates the limelight”
We found this to be entirely true. We managed to get him on stage once to present a trophy to one of our fighters, but it was a tough job. He really hated being at the centre of attention. It’s one of the things that makes this Royal Commission so odious to him.
I still can’t believe the way the media have gone after him – vigorously attacking him for his generosity to hospitals and charities. It’s not as if he was giving away money that should have gone to insurance claimants. If he hadn’t given it away, I guess it would have slightly increased the dividend paid to the shareholders, and he himself must have been one of the largest shareholders. I still find it preposterous to think that the media should have acted so self-righteously indignant about the fact that the poor shareholders were losing potential income because it had gone to the children’s hospital. It’s just ridiculous.
But it wasn’t only the media that crucified Ray. Once the news about HIH’s collapse became public knowledge, former colleagues deserted him, old friends and associates turned their backs on him, and charities that he’d been supporting for years all of a sudden didn’t want to know him. Ray had been on the board of the Children’s Hospital for as long as anybody could remember. They sent him a letter saying ‘thank you but your services are no longer required’. Nobody waited for the results of the Royal Commission. Nobody waited to see if perhaps he wasn’t the real villain in the piece. Everyone distanced themselves, not wanting their own reputations to be tarnished.
I seriously can’t understand that attitude. I know I’m capable of doing some stupid and selfish things, but deserting a mate in his time of need is not one of them. When I think about all the people that Ray must have helped over the years, I just can’t believe that none of them thought to ring him up and say ‘How are you going, Ray. Perhaps it’s my turn to give you some support?’
Anyway, my point here is not to spit my dummy. And I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have a clue about big business, insurance laws, or anything of the sort. But I know a good man when I meet one, and Ray Williams is a good man and someone whom I’m proud to call my friend. And I’ll be buggered if I’m going stand by and listen to people pouring crap out on a mate of mine without saying anything.
To be truthful, I don’t expect that Ray will ever fully regain his former reputation or standing. I know too much about how the media works and about how our court system works to ever expect real justice. As with my friends Jim and Morde, I’m not holding my breath waiting for the truth to come out. No. I’ll look to the day when the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and Christ. When that day comes, all the crap will be sorted out.
You have just read an excerpt from ‘Sex, the Ring & the Eucharist’, a book by ‘Fighting’ Father Dave Smith – Parish Priest, community worker, professional fighter, father of three.
Dave is the only Australian in Holy Orders to turn pro boxer to help fund his work. He is Parish Priest in Dulwich Hill, has a sixth-degree martial arts black belt, and has received numerous awards for his work with young people.
Get a free copy of his book, ‘Sex, the Ring & the Eucharist‘ when you sign up for Dave’s newsletter at www.fatherdave.org