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St Mary's

It was an island of piety out of place in Port Adelaide’s working class sea of pubs. Off the main road, St Mary’s was a refuge for the Catholic faithful and a few wino’s pretending a prayer for an hour of sheltered warmth. Three masses on a Sunday drew a dwindling crowd. My grandmother, dressed in her best with the mandatory hat, went to the 10.30. It was a mass for the elderly and the young hung over after a late night binge. I cut my teeth there on the grim chew of its doctrine. Back then latin rattled through its wheezy lungs. Old, dark, paint peeled, it always seemed a breath away from its last. Creaking pews, polished to a shine by a century of sliding bums, would advertise when you were late. Stained glass windows filtered sunlight through a panorama of pain. I was baptized by that wash of joyless light. Almost gone, St Mary’s was resuscitated by Italians keen to cage a stake. Their statue of the Virgin Mary poked a Mediterranean finger into the collective Anglo eye. Jewelry dripped, imposing and ornate, she affronted local tastes. Statues were for background, guardians of peripheral regions placed to arrest a wandering eye and bring it back to God. This Italian Virgin Mary stood like a crowned colossus. The old bishop’s ghost, they say, still wanders the church shackled to his guilt. Mary McKillop hovers in his tormented head. She's gone to God and sits a newly minted saint. The church grows smaller. Lodged like a barnacle on Port Adelaide’s rusted hull it still hangs on. The Italian Virgin Mary now seems at home and looks down on rows of vacant pews. Outside - shoppers pass in haste to serve more fickle gods.

Copyright © | Year Posted 2022




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