Australian Biography - Veronica Brady

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Animated Film Australia Logo

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Australian Biography opening sequence

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Veronica walking with a bicycle towards Loreto Convent gate

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Veronica v/o : I'm a practising Communist,

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Veronica

Veronica sync: Communism in itself is a good thing, so what's the fuss.

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Veronica shutting the gate of the Loreto Convent

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Veronica

Veronica sync: Religion I think is one of the world's most dangerous drugs.

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Veronica riding her bicycle down a street

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Veronica

Veronica sync: The Christian way is that you have to, you have to be prepared to be a loser. I mean Jesus was a loser.

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Veronica riding her bicycle through a park

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Veronica v/o : There is a sense in which an old fashioned authoritarian

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Veronica

Veronica sync: Catholicism appeals particularly to a certain type of personality. And God loves those people and it's fine to be authoritarian and anal retentive and all of those sorts of things, but there are other ways of being a human being.

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Veronica riding her bicycle along the waterfront

Veronica v/o : You know, nobody's said to me are a wicked Heretic, go, because frankly I don't think I am a Heretic. I mean I think it's dreadful, I mean, we Australians are most peculiar people, we think that anything that's different is somehow wicked or wrong. It might be interesting, mightn't it,

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Veronica

Veronica sync: why not change your views. One of my favourite quotations from dear old William Blake is "Standing pools breed only toads and vipers." It's a lovely saying and they do, don't they?

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Photo: Veronica outside a church

Super: Veronica Brady
Born 1929
Nun
University Lecturer W.A.

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Photo: Young Veronica looking over a fence

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Veronica v/o : If you are Irish Australian, your Catholicism is part of you.

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Photo: Young Veronica

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Veronica v/o : I was born into the Catholic tradition, I don't think I idealise it,

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Photo: Young Veronica in a wheelbarrow

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Veronica v/o : I am fully aware of all its warts and things like that. But it's our family, and

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Photo: Veronica on a rocking horse

Veronica v/o : we all know we've got funny people in the family, but it's where I was born and

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Veronica

Veronica sync: you see thousands of years of presumably of Irish Catholics, you know, most of us have intermarried, which is the whole Catholic thing, so that's who I am.

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Photo: Veronica as a young girl with a veil on

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Veronica v/o : As I a child, I had certain sorts of religious experiences,

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Photo: Veronica with her brother

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Veronica v/o : it comes of course from the Catholic subculture to which you belong.

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Photo: Veronica with curly hair

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Veronica v/o : Freud or someone might say they were merely illusion, but ever since I was a little child I've had a

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Photo: Veronica as a young girl in a dressing gown

Veronica v/o : very, very strong sense that there realities beyond us.

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Veronica

Veronica sync: I remember one wonderful experience and I must have been quite small and just lying under the lemon tree in the backyard, and it was a sunny day which is extraordinary in Melbourne, and my legs were in the sunshine and the lemon tree was in bloom, and the hose was running somewhere, and I just had a sense of sheer bliss and sheer beatitude and sheer holiness. And I think having been surrounded also by love

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Photo: Veronica's father, zoom in

Veronica v/o : in the family. My father, well of course, as a little child he was just wonderful. One of my first memories is sitting on his knee and his reading to me or teaching

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Veronica

Veronica sync: me long words. I still remember one of them, he made this word up, Triantiwontigongalope. He was just a very gentle man. The least aggressive, macho man you can possible imagine. And also something else that makes me very proud of him, he was a young man during World War One and he refused to fight. Now it was probably part of his Irish background as well.

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Photo: Veronica as a baby with her mother

Veronica v/o : I always thought that I was very, very much closer to my mother than my father, good

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Veronica

Veronica sync: Freudian stuff, because I used to quarrel with my father immensely when I was growing up, because you see, we were very similar. I mean now I realise that he was probably far more influential than my mother was. And being a sort of arrogant young thing, at times I used to get impatient with him because, you know, he couldn't make money and he was a bit feckless and my mother was the one -- he wasn't feckless but he was just gentle and idealistic and my mother was the one who sort of held things together and drove the car and

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Photo: Veronica's mother and father

Veronica v/o : did all the right sort of things. And my father was always, he was always interested in politics;

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Veronica

Veronica sync: in fact he once stood for local government and he always said that he didn't get elected because they spread the word around that Ted Brady was a Catholic. I don't know whether that's true or not, and

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Photo: Veronica's father in a top hat

Veronica v/o : he was always a good Labor man and

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Veronica

Veronica sync: I was always a leftie because from growing up, I think the Depression influenced me profoundly. Growing up in the country. And as I say, we always, we were okay, though I was very well aware that there were money problems but we lived in a big house and we had this servant but the servant, our maid, Doreen, was the sole breadwinner of her family of about six or seven, her Dad has lost his job. And the family next door, they'd lost their job and there were quite a number of kids there, I don't remember how many. But they used to come into our house and say, "Tell your Mummy, we're hungry." And I remember we used to laugh at little Patty, little Patty Webster was my sister's friend because she had no pants. Now they were genuinely poor, and we used to have boys who'd, carrying the swag, who'd knock on our back door and ask for a feed. That I think did effect me.

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Photo: Veronica and an older woman

Veronica v/o : And when I was in my last year orso at school I began to

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Veronica, zoom in to CU

Veronica sync: think, maybe I ought to be a nun. I also admired the nuns who taught us. The main reason because not merely were they intelligent women but they obviously got on very well with one another. They were obviously friends and they were obviously happy, so none of this nonsense that you get in -- for me -- in stories about Catholic childhoods and the nuns who taught me were seemed to be well adjusted and happy women. So something inside me said, "Now look really you ought to be a nun." However the rest of me, which was at that stage discovering that life was terribly interesting and I was intelligent and I was writing poetry and I dreamt I was going to be great writer and I was going to the university, and I thought no thanks, and also I was discovering boys. "No," said I, "no I don't want that thanks". And I remember when I said to my mother -- and she was a bit surprised -- because they were not pious Catholics at all. She said, "look you go to university first." So I went to university and had a good time there and then I still thought, no thanks. And so I taught for a year after I graduated and the feeling was still there. So there was this good chap who wanted to marry me and I still thought, no, I don't think that's the way I am meant to spend my life, and also as I like to say, I'm pretty sure that I'm probably undersexed. I mean I like the company of men but I'm not frantically interested in sex and you know, good old Catholic upbringing, you're a good, pure little girl. So I thought look, I'll give it a go.

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Photo: Veronica in her twenties

Interviewer o/s: What was it about the life as a nun that really suited you so well?

Veronica v/o : I think

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Veronica

Veronica sync: the time for prayer and contemplation. Now our particular order lives according to the Jesuit rule, we have a wonderful founderess, an English woman of the 17th century who wanted to found an order of women who would do the sort of work that the Jesuits would, who would not have to dress up in specific religious garb, who would not have to live behind convent walls and wouldn't have fixed hours of prayer.

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Painting: Founderess of Loreto Convent, Frances Mary Teresa Ball

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Veronica v/o : Well, she was put in prison by the Inquisition and had to modify some of her views.

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Photo: Veronica in a habit surrounded by students, zoom in

Interviewer o/s: Now, you started out as a teacher, and in some ways it was the order that turned you into a scholar. What did you choose to write your Ph.D. thesis about?

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Veronica

Veronica sync: Patrick White, of course.

Interviewer o/s: Why was that?

Veronica sync: I'd discovered Patrick White, or rather he discovered me, one night when I was teaching, and it was the night before school speech day and we were putting out all the prizes and I noticed there, this book called 'The Tree of Man'. So I flipped through it, I took it away, I sat up just about all night which is a thing that I very, very seldom do. That book absolutely gripped me and I was hooked, ever after. I think when I left Australia, yes 'The Solid Mandala' came out when I was in Toronto. And I managed to persuade the University of Toronto, which was very fuddy-duddy and usually wouldn't allow you to write a thesis, a Ph.D. thesis on a living writer, I managed to persuade them to allow me to write

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Photo: Patrick White

Veronica v/o : a Ph.D. on his work, and then when I got back to Australia

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Veronica

Veronica sync: having done my finals exams to get on with writing the thesis, he came to see me and this is one of the wonderful stories of life. There I was living in Kirribilli and in those days, there used to be 10, 20 people -- used to call them poor men -- who would come begging for some food or a cuppa every morning. So one of the chores after dinner in the evening was we all set to and cut sandwiches. So there'd cut lunches there, you see. And as soon as the side door bell would ring, you would pick up a sandwich and rush to the side door and give it to this poor man. Well of course, guess who rang on the side door? Patrick. And that, that I think was the beginning of the fact that he thought this is an all right place

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Photo: Patrick White in a kitchen

Veronica v/o : and he was, I didn't ever know him well, but he was always very, very kind to me.

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Veronica

Veronica sync: And it was, one of the best things that I ever did, because I find that my view of life is, or certainly my view of Australia,

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Photo: Patrick White

Veronica v/o : is largely coloured by Patrick White and I just think he's a wonderful writer.

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Veronica, zoom in to BCU

Interviewer o/s: You teach at the University of Western Australia; really you got that job despite the fact that you're a nun. Is the fact that you are a nun, does that influence or affect your life as an academic?

Veronica sync: I think it affects the way I see the world. I mean some of my colleagues, not so much the ones who know me at work, because they know that I am relatively normal, but certainly my critical writing has a theological slant, and that's unfashionable and that's often suspect. And I think a lot of people don't think much of me as a scholar for that very reason. And I also think that probably I'm, as a critic, I'm usually far too kind, I don't like writing about books that I dislike because I think we academics have tenured jobs and permanent income and most writers live in a very vulnerable and fragile way and it doesn't behove me to tear to pieces the work of a writer, leave that to other people. I like to be positive in what I do and I suspect that that's affected the way I behave and the way I do my teaching and my writing because I unashamedly, I think that critical writing is a very minor art form, and I do wish that I could have gone on and been a part, but there we are, I didn't have the ability. But I think that it's a great thing to be able to mediate between books which are sometimes rather complicated and readers and help them to enjoy things and also help to understand more what the world is all about. And unashamedly, I'm interested in values, I mean they don't have to come labelled Christian values but I like to see works which can open up our possibilities as a human being to help us to understand other people, can help us see evil and contest it and so on and so forth.

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Photo: Veronica sitting at a desk

Veronica v/o : See I'm not much good as anything else expect thinking and talking. I'm not a practical woman,

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Veronica, zoom in to BCU

Veronica sync: but you do what you can because otherwise what happens, you let it go by default. I mean those good Germans of the 1930s had no impact in their time, but people can look back and say look somebody cared and I think the same thing now about the Aboriginal issue. I feel completely flummoxed, like many other people, I don't know what we can do to stop this appalling, appalling racism and the madness of our present premier who thinks he lives back in the 19th century. I think he thinks he's shouldering the white man's burden in darkest Africa. But you've got to do what you can do, and it's my view that if one person influences one person in her lifetime, well that means that things still stay on track and that a certain amount of decency still prevails. And if you don't do what you can do, well, the nastys just go uncontested.

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Photo: Veronica sitting in a church pew

Veronica v/o : My kind of Christianity

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Veronica

Veronica sync: has always said that you can't just sit back and pray, you're responsible for other people and you have to do what you can do. And you see, I wanted to go, when I was in North America, all the civil rights activities and the anti-Vietnam activities, I didn't join in there because I wasn't Canadian. I thought it's none of my business, but when I got back yes, I did want to get involved in the anti-Vietnam movement, and I went to various debates and things like that but I wasn't allowed to go to the Moratorium. And then, well shortly afterwards and I came over here, I also joined the university branch of the Labor Party, the ALP, and then there was the great Whitlam era, the great and glorious era when at last, the one and only time we had

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Photo: Gough Whitlam

Veronica v/o : a politician who was a statesman who took us out Vietnam,

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Veronica

Veronica sync: who reoriented our foreign policy, who did good things about education. Though to be fair, Menzies had already done it, but to me, it still is a golden age and I know I romanticise it, and the deposition of Whitlam was one of the most dreadful days of my life. I hadn't realised because Whitlam seemed to me to

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Photo: Gough Whitlam

Veronica v/o : do all the things that seemed to me to be what Australia was all about

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Veronica

Veronica sync: and then here, under the great and the good Sir Charles Court, the Court Government introduced a bill which was going to make -- the Fuel and Energy Emergency bill -- was going to outlaw strikes and would make every single unionist liable for thousands of dollars. I mean it was designed to smash the trade unions, and I also knew a lot about German history and that was one of the ways in which Hitler started and so I think I wrote a letter to the West, and again that's my father, he used to write letters to the paper. So I wrote a letter to the West saying that I didn't think this was a good idea and of course the idea of nuns writing letters about politics stirred everybody up. Well I think that's silly, I'm a citizen and I also care about justice, and then 'Four Corners' came over and did a story and because there was this little nun they filmed me, and then I also, because I am a good speaker, I was asked to speak at various rallies, peace rallies, anti-Uranium rallies,

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Photo: Veronica holding an Aboriginal baby in front of an Aboriginal flag, tilt down

Veronica v/o : environmental rallies, support of Aborigines, to me there all the one issue.

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Archival footage: ABC newsreader

Super: ABC-TV News, October 1993

Newsreader sync: The Pope has acted to stop what he considers the alarming moral decline of the Catholic church.

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Archival footage: The Pope getting out of a car

Newsreader v/o : In his encyclical

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Archival footage: The Pope waving to a crowd

Newsreader v/o : veritatis splendour or the splendour of the truth,

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Archival footage: A church ceiling, tilt down to people sitting on pews

Newsreader v/o : he urges Catholics not to abandon traditional church doctrine on issues such as abortion and contraception.

Veronica v/o : When you have an

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Veronica

Veronica sync: authority which is making laws which people do not, and in good conscious, cannot keep, something is wrong somewhere.

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Archival footage: The Pope signing a book

Veronica v/o : Now this document condemns all other forms, of notions in reality, except the notion that

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Veronica

Veronica sync: the present Pope assumes, and then goes on to the most astonishing statement that some acts are intrinsically evil, some acts are intrinsically evil. Now I'm sorry I can not accept that. I mean we've been given brains, it's the intention with which you do things. And then of course what are those acts. They are contraception, abortion, a whole raft of things like that. But what is stunning it is utterly individualistic, there's not a mention of the crisis of population into the world, and now it is perfectly true, as somebody said to me the Pope has also written encyclicals about that. Yeah but it's germane to this issue, so I find, and it's style is terrible and it's dogmatic and of course it's not infallible, that's what people don't understand.

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Archival footage: A group of cardinal-bishops, pan right to the Pope

Veronica v/o : If it's the case that perhaps I might

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Archival footage: A group of people waving

Veronica v/o : say something which conservative

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Archival footage: The Pope waving at a crowd

Veronica v/o : Catholics might say is disobedient to the Pope, I'm afraid in my theology,

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Veronica

Veronica sync: the obedience we all owe is to God, and the papacy is the focus of the faith of the believing community.

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Archival footage: The Pope in a car waving at people

Veronica v/o : But no human being can have the last word. I always

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Veronica

Veronica sync: say I don't like fanatical people, but I think I probably am rather fanatical myself but one thing I'm certainly not, I think I'm not a puritan. I love life, I love enjoying things. I like my body, I like good food and drink, I like swims, I like all of those sort of things and I don't regard them as evil and I don't suspect them. One of the reasons why I get so upset about all this nonsense that's being talked about sexuality and population control is that look, sex is a good thing, and I don't see why we should be slaves to biology. I really do think that love is the most important thing and you ought to have children so that you can love them. And if you're trapped and just sort of women, those poor women are just baby bearing machines and I think that's that really is an insult to the God you made us, to live with dignity and happiness and I'm sorry to say that, but that's the way I see things. And I think the way some sections

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Archival footage: Aerial view, priests walking into a mass

Veronica v/o : of the Catholic church are so obsessed with sex is just weird. You'd think it's the only, you

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Archival footage: A procession up a church aisle

Veronica v/o : mention to some Catholics say what's the word that comes into your mind when you think of sin, it will be sex.

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Archival footage: Priests gathering around the altar

Interviewer v/o: Well of course some people argue that it's the celibacy

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Veronica

Interviewer o/s: that's the problem and that alienates people from...

Veronica sync: I agree.

Interviewer o/s: So as somebody who practises celibacy yourself, do you think this could be a genuine criticism?

Veronica sync: I do. I think myself, I put it in theological terms, I think it's a gift that you can function as a normal, relatively normal human being without explicit expression of your own physical sexuality. I think you can be psychically sexual and so on and I don't think there are many people who have that gift. And I puzzle about it, that a if gift is made compulsory it seems to me to be wrong. See the other Christian traditions seem to manage to totter along with a married clergy.

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Archival footage: A priest 1 blessing the Holy Bread

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Veronica v/o : What's wrong with being married, I ask.

Priest 1 sync: This is my body which will be given up for you.

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Archival footage: A priest 2 blessing the Holy Bread

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Priest 2 sync: This is my body which will be given up for you.

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Archival footage: A priest 3 blessing the Holy Bread

Priest 3 sync: This is my body which will be given up for you.

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Archival footage: A group of priest standing around an altar

Interviewer o/s: What about women priests?

Veronica v/o : Well again, I see absolutely no

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Veronica

Veronica sync: reason, and in fact well we know these are just cultural things, like they say -- the loveliest argument, the standard argument used to be that, this is a Neo-Scholastic one, that the matter of the sacrament of orders is Jesus. Jesus was a male, ergo, only males can be priests, but I heard a priest drop that out and it was a small mass in a side chapel and one aging actress, she's now very old, Neeta Panel, you may know Neeta, for whom Patrick White wrote the part of the Goat Woman in Night on Bald Mountain, Neeta in best theatrical voice said, "Oh father, don't be silly." Because you see, the fact is Jesus was a human being,

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Painting: Jesus struggling with the cross

Veronica v/o : Jesus was also, they forget, Jesus was not a priest as we are now, he was a lay person.

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Veronica

Interviewer o/s: You're criticised for sticking up for homosexuals. Homosexuality is one of the reasons why some people are for getting rid of the notion of celibacy among priests, because it's quite an issue among priests. Is it an issue at all for the sisters?

Veronica sync: Not as far as I know, no. I know a lot of people talk about it, and I do know in my lost youth there used to be this extraordinary bigoted Protestant paper called 'The Rock'. And it used to be, I used to buy it particularly when I was a student used to love it, it was full of these dreadful stories about nuns having babies by priests. Oh yes, there was a general view that nuns were lesbians, but to the best of my knowledge that's not so, it may be and, you know, I happen to think sometimes that there's some evidence that there's a genetic or there's a biological factor which makes some people homosexual and some people heterosexual, just as it makes some of us celibate. So for the life of me, I can't feel that it is necessarily or innately wicked. And that is probably something, that is, that some people would regard as heretical.

Interviewer o/s: If we started having married priests would you, could you imagine a situation in which there might be homosexual priests.

Veronica sync: There are homosexual priests.

Interviewer o/s: But practising it openly.

Veronica sync: I suppose there could be, but I don't think, that would take a very, very, very long time.

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Photo: Veronica

Interviewer o/s: If you had to describe how you think and feel about the idea of God, how would you do that?

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Veronica

Veronica sync: I'm perfectly convinced that we haven't got the foggiest notion of what the Godness of God is, because I think in one sense, assuming that Jesus was divine, he was a concealment of divinity because he was an ordinary human being. And there was a lot of nonsense used to be talked about his, when he was lying baby in a cradle he knew everything. If he was proper human being, he didn't. But in some mysterious way, sort of that was God amongst us, and then God's spirit still lives with us. And that's why I believe, you see, the Spirit flowing through history and flowing through us and why I believe in this sort of inwardness. And if the resurrection happened, then it means that good is going to win in the long run, but it's a very long run. And that finally our task, this world is given us and other people are given to us, and we've got to make it better and more loving and more generous and more fruitful and joyous and eventually it will be okay.

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Photo: Veronica

Interviewer o/s: In speaking about your faith, you sometimes sound a little sceptical.

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Veronica

Interviewer o/s: You say, if the resurrection is true, if God exists, if all of this happened. Are you a little doubtful about it?

Veronica sync: Not really, but it's part of the problem of having a mind which has been trained in a sceptical and Enlightenment tradition. And even as a child at school I always thought that these arguments for the existence of God, which went, if you came upon a watch, you would say, ah, somebody must of made it, therefore if you come upon the world, you say well God must have made it. Well I never thought that the world was like a watch. I think if God means what I think God means it's something totally mysterious, it is beyond our ability to

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Painting: Jesus, returning to Heaven, mid Resurrection

Veronica v/o : prove or disprove, because the Resurrection was a very peculiar thing, because somebody who was dead was suddenly not dead, and was raised up into new life.

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Veronica

Veronica sync: So if you've got a mind that's been trained to be sceptical, you have to say that. And some people think that if you doubt, or if you've got some scepticism that means you don't believe. My own view is that don't have some kind of scepticism you really don't understand what you are believing in. Because it is pretty incredible isn't it? I mean I think you can historically prove that somebody called Jesus Christ existed and the whole show does hinge on whether or not the resurrection happened

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The Bible

Veronica v/o : but you can't prove it. Of course the Bible is a whole collection of many, many, many, many different kinds of books.

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Veronica

Veronica sync: They're literature, and of course, literature has its own kind of truth but it's not this verifiable kind of truth.

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Photo: Veronica standing on top of a hill

Veronica v/o : I think I probably was a liberation theologian before

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Veronica

Veronica sync: liberation theology was invented, and I find their theology immensely stimulating and convincing, because you see, I mean, Jesus kept saying, contesting what was evil ,because he cared about people, and every person in my simple view is sacred as such. And if, if some other person is being degraded or humiliated then I don't, I think that affects all of us. I'm convinced that what we've done to Aboriginal people has damaged us as a people, because of my so called mystic streak, I think injustice damages people and it makes for brutality and leaves a terrible burden and I think many of us are still carrying that awful burden because we won't face it. If you think in Jungian terms, think of it as the shadow, and if you refuse to face the shadow it haunts you forever.

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Photo montage with black masking under credits:

Interviewer: Robin Hughes

Camera: Ian Pugsley

Sound Recording: Robin Zorn

Sound Mixing: Robert Sullivan

Music

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Photo montage with black masking under credits cont.:

Research: Graham Shirley
Frank Heimans

Marketing Executive: Kaye Warren

Production Manager: Frank Haines

Production Accountant: Carolyn Jones

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Photo montage with black masking under credits cont.:

Production Assistant: Amanda Howitt

Production Coordinator: Jane Manning

On-Line Editor: Phil Stuart-Jones

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Photo montage with black masking under credits cont.:

Film Australia would like to thank:
Veronica Brady
Loreto Convent, Nedlands WA
ABC-TV Archives
John Fairfax Ltd
The Age
The West Australian

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Producer/Director/Writer/Editor Frank Heimans

Executive Producer Sharon Connolly

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