In Bob We Trust

Father Bob Maguire

With a title like this, there is an air of divinity attributed to the larger-than-life subject of this very well-made documentary, Fr Bob Maguire of the archdiocese of Melbourne.

The context of the film is the requirement of all parish priests and bishops to offer their resignation from the position at the age of 75. It is low-key to say that Bob was not willing to go from his parish, Sts Peter and Paul, in South Melbourne. At the top of the poster is a statement that this is a conflict of biblical proportions, a David and Goliath struggle.

This is a partisan documentary. It is Bob Maguire’s campaign against his removal from the parish, the film-makers and photographers following Bob around for quite some time, shooting footage in the church, in his presbytery (and with his dog), in the streets, outside the James Good Building where the Archbishop has his office. There is lots of Bob to camera – not hesitating to give his opinions of the archbishop, sometimes muttering the word ‘fascist’ to camera.

A note at the end says that both Denis Hart and George Pell (shown at the end going into the Victorian Inquiry into sexual abuse) were offered the opportunity to be interviewed but declined. Bob is nothing if not articulate – though very extroverted in manner, in the vein of ‘how do I know what I think until I’ve said it!’ This makes for a lot of repartee which can be quite amusing, though making an audience laugh does not necessarily mean that you are right.

Over the years, Bob has developed, even cultivated, a persona which many audiences, even outside of Melbourne or Victoria, will have heard on many radio interviews (excerpts here from studio interviews with John Saffran and with Neil Mitchell – the film also includes Neil Mitchell questioning Denis Hart about the resignation issue) and on television, especially on the ABC and SBS.

He is the bluff, rough and ready priest, something of an ecclesiastical ‘shock jock’, glad to be a bloody stirrer, ever ready to speak out about bullshit, with an accent that favours a slangy approach and a larrikin tone and a blokey dropping of g’s at the ends of words.On the other hand, he has lots of Shakespeare references, Churchill quotes and mention of theology books which belie the bluff exterior and voice.

Yet, for many in Melbourne he has become the face of the Church, something that this film reinforces. With his blunt remarks and criticisms, and his jocoseness and his ironies, he makes it easier to be critical of authorities.

A pity they didn’t take part in the film. It would have been interesting to listen to a to-and-fro between Denis Hart and Bob and discover that, perhaps, the archbishop might have had a point or two in his favour.

But, Bob, age 79 at the time of the release of the film, is still battling on, working for his charities, and that the Capuchins moved into the South Melbourne presbytery. However one responds to the on-screen Bob Maguire, we can say that Lynn- Maree Milburn knows how to put a film together and tell a story - Peter Malone, ACOFB

Documentary with Fr Bob Macguire and John Saffran. Directed by Lynn- Maree Milburn. 104 minutes. Rated PG (mild themes and coarse language).

In Bob We Trust