Global Cultures

Father Dave Smith

June 2016

Founder, Boxing for Disadvantaged Youth

He’s been fighting the good fight for over two decades - using boxing and martial arts to steer youth away from a life of drugs and crime. In a continued effort to celebrate the people and the communities of New South Wales, ANZ has commissioned Archibald Finalist Luke Cornish aka E.L.K. to pay tribute to ‘Fighting’ Father Dave Smith with a mural in Sydney’s CBD. This is part of a series of portraits that will appear across Sydney in the run up to this year’s Archibald Prize, of which ANZ is principal sponsor. 

Father Dave Smith

A professional boxer and black belt as well as a Parish Priest, ‘Fighting’ Father Dave Smith uses boxing to help troubled youth in Sydney.  Over the past 25 years Father Dave has worked tirelessly with at-risk young people, using boxing to save people from a life of heroin addiction and crime.

In his teenage years, he found himself drawn towards the punk movement and would wander the streets with a knife. Father Dave says “none of the kids I work with were as bad as me, I was a nasty bastard, I really was.” It was around this time that Father Dave says he had a religious experience following a conversation with his father about the nature of right and wrong. He would eventually follow in his father's footsteps and study to become an Anglican Priest. He was ordained in 1989.

“9 out of 10 kids we were dealing with had heroin issues. It was like a bloody war zone.”

In 1991, Father Dave opened the church hall in Dulwich Hill as a place for where at risk youth could get fitness and martial arts training. This evolved to the Holy Trinity Youth Centre and Fight Club which officially opened in 1994. Father Dave says “When I opened the Youth Centre, 9 out of 10 kids we were dealing with had heroin issues. I lost a lot of kids, it was like a bloody war zone, it really was.”

Since then Father Dave has worked predominantly with young people suffering substance abuse issues. He cites boxing as an amazing tool that can not only break the cycle of behavior, but also pull people away from negative influences and peer groups.

Father Dave holds the world record for the longest continuous boxing match, an astonishing 120 rounds. He was the Marrickville Citizen of the Year in 1997 and 2009, and was nominated for Australian of the Year in 2005 and 2009. He continues to serve as Parish Priest of the Holy Trinity church in Dulwich Hill.


Luke Cornish (aka E.L.K.)

Luke is a Sydney-based artist who creates unique, powerful images from handmade stencils. His rise within the contemporary art world has been meteoric, becoming the first artist to be nominated for the Archibald Prize with a portrait created entirely out of stencils.

“I knew straight away that Father Dave is the person I wanted to paint for this project” says Luke. “We don’t have male role models anymore, with the breakdown of the family unit. Many kids don’t have anyone to look up to. I certainly didn’t have any role models growing up. Not positive ones anyway.”

“I’m not interested in painting pretty pictures. I want to make people feel.”

According to Luke, “street art is a gift to the people- something to brighten up their day. A world without art would be boring. It can bring joy, hope and inspiration into people’s lives, and it has the power to bring a lot of issues to the forefront.”

He’s enjoyed being part of this ANZ initiative, saying “I want to be an advocate for people who are genuinely doing good in society and the community. People not just talking about making a difference but making a difference.”

#InspiringLocals: Father Dave Timelapse

Watch E.L.K transform a plain wall in Martin Place into a stunning depiction of the inspiring ‘Fighting’ Father Dave.

The Process

Some of Luke's stencils contain over 80 layers. The subject of his Archibald entry, the infamous ex-priest Father Bob Maguire, contains more than 30 and was influenced by Cornish's association of him with his own grandfather. Atheist, religious iconography can be seen frequently in his work.

Working with so many layers is an intensive process, but it gives him a huge sense of pride in his work. “There’s a lot of integrity and honesty in it. I could press a button and machine cut, or I could pay someone else to do it. But that’s not art. That’s just decoration.”

Luke searches for the same two qualities in his work and in his subjects. “What makes a good portrait is honesty and integrity. I’m not interested in painting pretty pictures. I want to make people feel.”

It seems he’s found what he’s looking for in Father Dave. “Art comes from sacrifice. I think that’s what Dave is doing here. He’s sacrificing his time to improve the lives of other people, to benefit society and the community at large.”

“We need more people like Father Dave,” says Luke.

ANZ in the community

Through its Seeds of Renewal community grant program, ANZ supports local community groups that improve the lives of youth at risk. This includes initiatives that help disengaged or disadvantaged youth from communities across New South Wales.