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Eureka Street loses two friends

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John Button With the passing of John Button and Archbishop Frank Little Eureka Street has lost two good friends. We shall miss them. The Australian Catholic Church and public life are the poorer for their passing.

Paradoxically both John and Frank were true believers. Paradoxical, for John Button found freedom in emancipation from the Christian faith that animated Frank Little. True believers, too, are seen as enduring and faithful through good times and bad. But their popular image is also tinged with grudges long held and ideological fixity. Neither of these men was like that. But they were true believers. In carpentry, to true is to get the angles right. The gift brought by John and Frank was to true other believers. The demeanour of both men made believers reflect, if momentarily, on what matters.

We knew John as part of our extended Eureka Street community. He was one of our best writers. He was always generous in accepting requests for articles and reviews. He met deadlines and wrote at the right length for what he wanted to say. In his writing he prompted his readers to conversation. His judgments were always humane and respectful because he was interested in people. Certainly he always went out of his way to encourage us, and particularly our younger editors who were learning their craft.

This concern for people seemed characteristic also of John as a politician and government minister. He is known for his industry reforms, at first sight a demonstrating exercise in economic rationalism. But although he understood the large issues in adjusting industry policy to the changes introduced by globalisation, he was concerned that workers could live decently within a functioning economy. He loathed economic theory that did not look at its effect on human lives. He found aspects of political life tedious. They were the games that allowed politicians to act with less than due respect to each other or to civil servants and members of the public whom they were in a position to bully.

Frank Little Archbishop Frank Little was also a friend of Eureka Street. He read widely and commented on what he liked in his reading. Eureka Street would not have been his favourite reading. His natural taste was for theology written directly for a Catholic audience. But he had a catholic taste and knew that insights were to be found in unexpected places. You did not have to agree with him to enjoy his friendship and humour.

Frank was a natural parish priest, even as Archbishop. His people were family. His ritual and preaching were about connection with God and others. He was at his best when meeting people, and his warm interest in them commended the faith they found represented in him.

As Archbishop he never complained about the responsibilities that he bore, but it could not have been easy. He disliked confrontation and his first thought in the decisions he made was for those whom they would hurt. For him, as for John Button, retirement meant freedom. It was a time in which even more than during his time in office people looked to him as their father.

Neither John nor Frank was a liberal. They were men of strong beliefs. They believed that the context for individual freedom and for the use of power was community. They were not men for the meaner times that followed their retirement. But although they were not liberal, they were both men of liberality. They embodied respectively the best traditions of Australian society and of the Australian church.

Frank delighted in telling a story of Pope John Paul II's visit to Australia. They were travelling together to Flemington in the Popemobile. The Pope, who came to life in crowds, was dozing off between engagements. But, ever the performer, he stirred to energetic life when a group of people began to wave and shout at a street corner. Then he noticed that the crowd were calling out, ‘Bishop Frank, Bishop Frank'. He shrugged and gave the Archbishop a wry look, one of those looks that say, 'You win some and lose some'.

Frank Little and John Button knew much about winning and more about losing — they passionately supported Essendon and Geelong football clubs. They differed, too, in the ways they ultimately grounded human dignity. But they believed alike that in humanity there are no winners and losers. And they treated all they met with great respect.

John Button's last Eureka Street contribution (with links to others)
Archbishop Emeritus Frank Little

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is the consulting editor for Eureka Street. He also teaches at the United Faculty of Theology in Melbourne.



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An excellent eulogy for two great men. I too had great respect for them both. We are the poorer for their passing - may they each find great joy in heaven.

Margot Kerby | 10 April 2008  

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