the psalms in the chapel of the old convent building
amidst the shouts of desperation emanating from the
drunken chaos of the lives of people in the darkness
below is a memory that stays with me to this day. This
was the world of poverty and tragedy which Mum Shirl
invited me to share. I was then a naïve 21 year old
Marist Brother. This was a world I knew nothing about.
It was at once frightening and welcoming, depressing
yet energising. While Mum Shirl was around I felt safe,
as though things could be brought under control – one
could literally take shelter behind her. Her powerful
presence was akin to the power of Jesus calming the
storm, yet at times she could be the storm itself, and
no one was safe from her blunt challenge to plumb the
depths of our real motivation for being with her people.
She could cut to the quick with a word, then wrap you
up in arms of unconditional love, something I experienced
or witnessed on many occasions.
was in these circumstances that I came to meet Ted who
was away when I first went to Redfern. Ted was seen
by many “religious” at the time as a prophet – one who
by his living with the poor and dispossessed qualified
him to challenge us with integrity not with merely rhetoric.
So it was that many religious came to Redfern for an
“emersion experience”. My “emersion” experience was
to continue on and off to the present.
earliest memories of Ted are images of the simple room
he lived in on the top floor of the presbytery. Not
long after when the presbytery became uninhabitable
he was sleeping in the sacristy. I
some time away from Redfern I returned on Christmas
Eve of 1982. I had just left the Marist Brothers and
I was feeling very alone and lost, but I knew that a
welcome awaited me at Redfern. I knew that Redfern was
a place for the lost and alone and confused. I also
felt that this was the only faith community that I would
feel comfortable in at the time – it still is, when
I get off my bum and get there.
memory of Ted that typifies his passion and compassion
was an occasion on which I, with another, accompanied
him to the house of a landlord in Redfern who was giving
someone a hard time. Ted went to him, not to ask, but
to demand that the landlord mend his ways. I don’t remember
the outcome, but I’ll never forget Ted’s righteous rage
for the poor.
have always been amazed by the unique relationship that
Ted had with Mum Shirl. For as bombastic and forthright
as she could be at times, she would still call Ted “my
Father”, yet I sense that Ted viewed her as “his Mother”.
He in his role as priest, and especially as Eucharistic
minister, satisfied her deep spiritual hunger, while
she in her being grounded Ted in his spirituality, and
in some way validated his presence amongst her people.
Perhaps this latter reflection applies more to me. I
often find myself asking aboriginal people I meet if
they knew Mum Shirl. This somehow gives me an introduction
to them, a “ticket” into a world and relationship dynamic
with which I am still so unfamiliar.
have strong memories of weekday masses at Redfern when
just a few people would gather. On winter nights Mum
Shirl would sometimes come in exhausted and depressed.
She came to drink at the Eucharistic table, and she
would pray to “her” saint – St Martin de Porres. In
these experiences she drew the strength she needed to
go on, and Ted was part of this process of renewal.
extraordinary ability to welcome all and to take all
in his stride during mass was sight to behold. Redfern
was totally unpredictable, and the spontaneity was refreshing,
if not at times really in your face and disturbing.
Will we ever forget Normie West calling out “play it
again Sam!” when Peter Kearney had finished singing
“Where is your Song, My Lord” – a song which to be known
by many of us as “Normie’s Song”. How many versions
of the “Old Rugged Cross” have we heard!? How many gut
wrenching testimonies of shattered lives have we heard!?
How many beautiful baptisms have we witnessed!? How
many aboriginal people has Ted buried!? By how many
beautiful people, black and white have we been touched!?
Some of us have even met our partners at or through
our experience of Redfern. I was lucky enough to meet
Kerry through Anne Hudson. Those Sunday cuppas after
mass are a good way to meet people. Kerry and I will
ever cherish our wedding celebration in the newly painted
church. All this and so much more form the tapestry
of memories I have of Redfern.
want to thank Ted for the very special person he has
been to me, awaking in me an interpretation of life
and of the scriptures that perhaps without his influence
may have remained closed to me. Ted, you challenge,
you inspire, you educate, you love and you are truly
a friend to and ambassador for the oppressed and marginalised
people of this world.
don’t know if my reflections above bear any resemblance
to the truth as you see it. You and Mum Shirl have had
a profound influence on my life. I guess for me, together
you have been like a dynamic duo, yet you have gone
on as a dynamic uno.
for everything Ted.
by Geoff George