In late February one of Australia’s greatest pro-family and pro-faith warriors went home to be with the Lord. B.A. Santamaria died at the age of 82, after surgery on a brain tumor. Mr Santamaria, although never himself a politician, was one of the twentieth century’s most influential political figures in Australia. He was also one of the great intellects of his time.
Mr Santamaria was president of the National Civic Council, an organisation devoted to preserving family and faith in an age which abhorred both. He is perhaps best known for his role in seeking to stop Communist influence in the Labor party and the labour unions, resulting in the Split of 1954 and the formation of the Democratic Labor Party, which effectively kept Labor out of power for two decades.
The NCC had a number of associate organisations, including the Australian Family Association. It is through the AFA that I got to know B.A. Santamaria. While National Secretary of the AFA for 4 ½ years, I got to know “Bob” as a caring father (and grandfather and great grandfather), a devout Catholic, a keen intellect with a razor sharp mind, and a skilled debater and tactician. A modest and self-effacing man, he nonetheless commanded the respect of most people who knew him.
It is no exaggeration to say that Bob Santamaria has done more good for faith, family and traditional values in Australia than most church leaders put together. His commitment to see his faith have an impact in the public arena puts many of us evangelicals to shame. He knew that a purely privatised faith was a faith that would have no impact and leave no mark.
Perhaps one of the abiding memories I have of Bob was his oft repeated insistence that we never give up, that we never succumb to discouragement, but that we persevere, regardless of whether or not it looks like we are making much progress. We keep on keeping on because what we are involved with is right and true, not because it is popular or successful. Indeed, Bob often said he failed in most things he set out to do. True, the Communist menace was in many ways successfully routed (and the fall of the Berlin Wall must have given Bob some sweet comfort), but the sour state of the church and the awful pressures faced by families today do seem to be overwhelming. Yet Bob Santamaria devoted over 60 years of his adult life to fight the good fight, even when the odds appeared to be running against him. Bob spent most of his life Against the Tide, as he titled his autobiography.
But he obviously had some influence. With around 2,500 people at his State funeral in Melbourne (including John Howard, Peter Costello, Malcolm Fraser, Barry Jones, Tim Fisher, and Kevin Andrews, to name but a few of the dignitaries present), Australians showed en masse that Mr Santamaria had indeed made an impact. Even many of his political and ideological opponents could find kind words to say about the man. I can only hope my life has such an impact on my culture, that when I pass on, I get a fraction of that many people to roll up to my funeral.
Mr Santamaria was a remarkable man who left an enduring legacy. It will be very hard for anyone to fill in his shoes. But we can be encouraged to follow in his footsteps. And we can say with the apostle Paul that B.A. Santamaria fought the good fight, he finished the course, he kept the faith. May we all pray to do the same.