Born in Western Australia in 1944, the third of nine children. As my older sister died when I was still a baby, I grew up as the second of eight children. My mother was English and my father Australian. My family were working-class and Catholic. We lived in Newcastle Street, West Perth (as it was then - it is now Northbridge).
The cultures I absorbed as I grew up were Australian (from my father and the world around me) English (from my mother's stories, from books and from films) American (from films and comics) and Irish (from school and church).
In 1952, our family moved to Bentley, a new State Housing Commission suburb that edged on the bush. It was wild and awash with kids, a place of limitless freedom, where we lived within a cycle ride of swimming places on the Canning River and "the Hills" (the Darling Scarp to the east of Perth).
I was educated by the Sisters of Mercy, the Irish Christian Brothers and by the Vincentian Fathers at St Charles' Seminary, Guildford. There, I was training for the diocesan priesthood, but in 1963 I took off for Melbourne and the Jesuit noviciate. I felt I was called to be a Jesuit, but the novice master decided I was altogether in the wrong place. He was right, although I found it hard to accept at the time.
Jim and Ted at Yanchep c. 1950
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Mum and most of us
at Santa Clara, Bentley
at St. Charles' Seminary
From 1965 to 1968 I studied at the University of Western Australia, graduating with a BA (Hons) in Classics. Following this, I made my way to Germany, where I did a German language course and one semester of theology in Münster. I had hoped to study theology and still go on to the Catholic priesthood, but I soon found I had "done my dash" as far as academic study was concerned.
Graduation, with Mum and Dad
Thanks to the traditional hospitality of Benedictine monks, I was able to retreat to Ampleforth in England, where I taught in the monastery school for two terms, and discovered to my surprise that I liked teaching. I went on to teach at Cardinal Newman Comprehensive School in Coventry, whose headmaster was a no-nonsense Scotsman, Harry Mellon, a man totally committed to his profession, his school, staff and pupils. Harry and his
family made me welcome to life in Coventry.
Through the school, I fell in with two other generous and outgoing families, the Clarkes and the Slaters, who became, and have been ever since, my English families. I fell into the happy pattern of taking camping holidays every spring, summer and autumn (we were all teachers) with the Slaters, their extended family and friends. I spent each Christmas with the Clarkes and, over the years, found myself hosted by four generations of Heather's family: her parents, Frank and Floss in Dudley, Heather herself, her daughter Nichola and her granddaughter Jo.
At Cardinal Newman School
the early days
With Paul Slater in Coventry
Heather and Gerry Clarke, with grandchildren
After Coventry, I taught at Countesthorpe Community College in Leicestershire and then St Gregory's Middle School in Oxford. Coventry, however, being the first English city I settled in, became my "home town" and has kept that hold on me. My football allegiances (such as they are) are with the Sky Blues.
After ten years in teaching, I moved to community work in the Blackbird Leys area of Oxford. For the next ten years I was engaged in a voluntary capacity, mostly through the local Church of the Holy Family, living on a combination of unemployment benefits and occasional casual work. Spiritually, I had moved from my traditional Catholic beginnings, first through some involvements at Coventry Cathedral, then through prayer and fellowship meetings with members of St. Aldates, an evangelical Anglican church, later again through
involvement in the Charismatic movement, where I experienced profound healing and renewal of faith, and finally through sharing work and worship at Holy Family Church, an ecumenical partnership of the Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Moravian and United Reformed denominations. Holy Family was (and is) a church seriously committed to issues of justice and peace and to the development of the local community in Oxford and Blackbird Leys.
My mentor at Holy Family was a brilliant community worker, Audrey Rowland. The work revolved largely around the "Neighbourhood Centre" an advice and drop-in centre which Audrey had set up in the church building. Community development, in the tradition of Holy Family church, meant working with members of the local community to set up the organisations they wanted and needed, not as "church property" but as independent community organisations supported by the church. Audrey was the inspiration and energy that established the Neighbourhood Centre (now the Agnes Smith Advice Centre), the Adventure Playground, and the Family Support Group (an all-day childcare facility).
When I followed Audrey as Church Community Worker in 1989, I continued her work with the Family Support Group, which led on to work with two other local preschools and setting up a fourth. A large new housing development at Blackbird Leys meant a booming population of under-fives, and, working with parent committees and play leaders, we were able to meet the needs with co-operative organisation and fundraising. My other major involvement was setting up the Blackbird Leys Credit Union, first in
Holy Family Church
a baptism in the swimming pool next door
A Church Community Worker in Blackbird Leys
the church building then in the Community Centre. This remained my main project up to and beyond retirement. On an Oxford-wide scale I was involved in projects to support the homeless population (a major issue in Oxford). At the same time, I was trained and began to work as a local preacher in the Oxford Methodist Circuit.
All my life I had had ambitions as a writer, but in the late seventies I abandoned two half-promising novels and began to write about the scriptures. Three books followed: The Warrior God, Too Close to God and Justice at the Gate, reflecting on the period of warrior-leaders, kings and prophets from Israel's coming into Canaan to the end of the northern kingdom. Later, I wrote Jesus Messiah, a reflection on Jesus in the three synoptic gospels, and a long book on the Gospel according to Luke, which later expanded into a trilogy. Another trilogy, The Acts of God, covers the Acts of the Apostles, and with reflections on I Thessalonians and I Corinthians, I have made a start with Paul.
With Neville and Neil in Nicaragua
When I began as the employed community worker in 1989, the Diocese of Oxford offered me, on a "fair rent" basis, a house they had bought in Blackbird Leys for a curate. Though a bachelor, I had never taken to living alone and I was soon sharing 15 Monks Close with two others, Neil Quin, a newly graduated social worker who taught me how to live as a community, and Neville Louden, a newly graduated youth worker who was supported by his church in Northern Ireland, but needed somewhere to live while he continued his youth work in Blackbird Leys. When Neil and Neville moved on after a few years, this very fruitful experience was followed by a new kind of community.
In 1998 I gave space to two young men from East Timor who had suddenly become homeless. That was twenty three years ago, and since then, my household have always been members of the East Timor community, of whom there is a large population in Oxford. Most have been Fataluku speakers, from the Lospalos district of East Timor, and from them I have learnt the Fataluku language. This opened up what was to become, especially after retirement in 2009, my main area of work. I am now a voluntary community support worker offering help, advice, problem solving and, above all, translation, in the areas of health, housing, law, employment, tax and immigration. That is now a full-time job.
Timorese friends at 15 Monks Close
Needless to say, the above life experience makes its mark on my writings, which, with the help of modern technology and an inexpensive printing firm, I am now able to self-publish. I write about the scriptures, but the scriptures are about life, and in particular about the One who rules all the centuries of all our lives, including this 21st. The scriptures are a good starting point for a challenge to the 21st century world, and a good finishing point too.