The priest and the publican
A FRIENDLY contest of chaffing – perfected and usually kept within bar-rooms, spilled outside, shouted via the written word across Sydney’s Broadway during the 1980s and 90s.
A Broadway publican and Anglican church minister, who performed their duties opposite each other, began trading witticisms by means of signboard slogans that entertained thousands of people who travelled along one of Sydney’s busiest thoroughfares.
The much-loved tradition sadly ended when the 148-year-old church, St Barnabas on the corner of Mountain Street and Broadway at Ultimo was destroyed by fire on May 10 2006.
Since the 1920s, St Barnabas had been well-known for its clever messages delivered on a calico sign board facing Broadway.
The Rev RBS Hammond began the tradition of pithy phrases after he became St Barnabas’ minister in 1918. Some of his cleverer signs included: “It is better to be in a tight corner than in a corner tight”. Others read: “Beer builds bonny breweries, and the mugs pay”, and “Give a politician a free hand and he is sure to put it in your pocket”.
The trading of slogans between the church and the Broadway Hotel came much later. The publican and minister started their repartee in the 1980s when Rector Robert Forsyth was in charge of the church. It began when Rev Forsyth used the church notice board to advertise a ‘bikie pastor’ as guest preacher: “Hear John Smith this Sunday 7.15pm”.
Among the regulars at the Broadway Hotel at the time was another Jack Smith, so publican, Arthur Elliott, replied with a sign of his own: “Hear Jack Smith here every day”. And so the games began:
CHURCH: “Anyone wrapped up in themselves makes a very small package”.
PUB: “Good things come in small parcels”.
CHURCH: “God made sex for marriage not for money”.
PUB: “Wish he had made money for marriage!”
CHURCH: “If God offered you heaven or hell, which would you choose?”
PUB: “I’d choose a hell of a good time in heaven”.
CHURCH: “The liquor bar – a bar to heaven, a gateway to hell, whoever named it, named it well!”
PUB: “A bar in heaven, a long way from hell, with a barman called Jesus who will serve you well”.
CHURCH: “Wise men came to Jesus – they still do”.
PUB: “Wise drinkers come to Broadway – they still do”.
CHURCH: “This church is for sinners”.
PUB: “This pub is for drinkers”.
CHURCH: “Money does not make you happy”.
PUB: ”I’d rather be rich and happy than poor and happy”.
CHURCH: “Free Grace brothers and sisters” (St Barnabas was next to a Grace Brothers department store)
PUB: “Free David Jones too!” (Referring to another department store).
CHURCH: “Jesus bowled over death”
PUB: “Lillee bowled overarm”
CHURCH: “Jesus died for the whole damned world”
PUB: “But would he do it again?”
PUB: “Closed, but bread and wine available opposite”
Over the many years the entertaining banter continued, with a genuine friendship developing between the two sign writers. Elliott even invited Forsyth to conduct the wedding of his daughter.
The publican was quoted as once saying to Forsyth: “If Jesus walked down Broadway he’d come into my pub and have a drink and meet the blokes”. Forsyth supposedly, with reluctance, agreed.
Rob Forsyth went on to become the Anglican Bishop of South Sydney.
The day the church was destroyed by fire in 2006, the sign outside survived the flames. It read: “You have nothing that God did not give you”. And across the road at the Broadway Hotel, the sign replied: “I know I have nothing, but I’m not sure who gave it to me”.
While the church was rebuilt, a new sign was placed in front of the church. It read simply: “Eternity”, in reference to Arthur Stace, an alcoholic who found Christianity at St Barnabas in the 1930s and who became famous for scribbling that same word on Sydney’s pavements.
After the church was rebuilt in 2012, a new sign board was placed outside Barnabas, continuing the long history of displaying religious messages. However, sadly there was no come-back from the pub across the road, now known as Broadway Crown.
The chaff fell silent… A tradition had ended.
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