“Everybody died – my mother, my father, my two sisters.”

Living Well | Interview: Peter Wilmoth | Photos: Matt Harvey | Posted on 28 November 2019

The heartbreaking story behind Melbourne’s favourite Father, Bob Maguire.

I’m doing things for others then I’m doing things for myself. That’s when I’m at my happiest. A woman stopped me in the street and said, “You’ve got an aura”. I thought she meant I’d dropped my Weeties on my shirt. I’m not interested in auras, I’m only interested in getting the job done. 

Like Jimmy Barnes, my story started in Glasgow. We were a family of Irish migrants who moved to Glasgow in the 1920s and became upwardly socially mobile as lawyers. But there was always a general feeling that you should put back.

Father Bob Maguire

Everybody died – my mother, my father, two sisters.
I was left on my own as an orphan at 15. We lived in East Prahran. My little sister died very early. I never met her. She died of meningitis, in the 1920s. After that Kathleen, my sister, contracted TB and died. She was 22. She was the one who took me out because my parents were dead and she had accepted responsibility. She’d say, ‘Come on Bobby, we’re off to the Astor Theatre in St Kilda’.

When I started at St Peter and Paul’s (Catholic parish in South Melbourne) I said, “But there’s nobody here”. It was 1973 and there was this magnificent church and a huge house and hall – but they were empty. It wasn’t normal in those days to encourage people to come to churches looking for a feed. We said, “This is in fact the main game”. So we decided to open the joint up and have meals in the back yard. That worked out nicely so that the outsiders became the insiders. 

The church wanted me to retire because the things we were doing were unpalatable to them. I’d been at St Peter and Paul’s for 40 years until 2012. We were spending more time with outsiders than insiders. The (church elders) were confused, they weren’t up to the alternative model we’d adopted, which is to be a parish without borders.

We’re all born with a grand narrative although most of us don’t ever find it. Going into the priesthood was mine. If you’ve got a grand narrative you should make sure that somebody carries it on. That’s why we started the Father Bob Maguire Foundation – to carry on the work. We rely on a huge army of volunteers. We feed people four nights a week out in the parks, in St Kilda in particular.

We should have a ‘Cobberwealth’ because – will we break into the song? – we’re all in this together. I’ve had medallions made called The Order of Cobbers for people who’ve gone above and beyond.

Father Bob Maguire
Father Bob Maguire
Father Bob Maguire

There should be an app to tell you where you can get a bag of food.
Kids need an app to help them find an alternative when they leave their house looking for a safer place. Jesus is God’s app. 

Our foundation has a camel farm. Don’t laugh. It’s 240 acres in Ararat, with a dozen camels. Nick and Sally Millard signed it over to us because they didn’t want to waste 240 acres with a dozen camels on themselves. They said, “We saw him on the television” so now it’s ours. They live on it and manage it. It will be possible for people to come from Melbourne for day trips and pat a camel. It will help get over today’s hump, so to speak. 

I was the organ grinder’s monkey on radio. I was (satirist and documentary maker) John Safran’s sidekick on Sunday Night Safran on Triple J. John has a funny way of being serious. I remember going to Sydney to sell the show to the ABC and John said, “On this show we’re not going to offend anybody, we’re going to offend everybody”. I thought, “Oh god, how long is this going to go for?” It went for bloody 10 years.  

I live alone. I have no wife, child, lover or manager. I’ve got a dog called Franca. You’ve got to be careful, though. I said, “Hello darling how are you?” to the dog, and bloody Siri piped up and answered. I get a bit nervous.

What will my legacy be? It’s like Harold Larwood bowling to Bill Woodfull (in cricket’s Bodyline series). The rotten English captain Douglas Jardine said, “Don’t worry about it, just keep going”. I’m the bloke who gets hit. You just get on with it. What else can you do for heaven’s sake?

There seems to be a guardian angel in my life. I can hear the wings beating occasionally – and I’m sober.”