Man of the Cross
Published by Pan Macmillan (AUS) 1997.
I’m not a religious man, but I grew up with the church and I’ve known and admired several people who have managed to combine their particular faiths with a great love of humanity. The Reverend Ted Noffs, founder of the Wayside Chapel in Sydney’s Kings Cross, was such a man.
For more than 25 years Ted was the defiant rebel of his church and the saviour of thousands of lost souls and street kids. “You don’t talk religion,” he liked to say, “you do religion.” And true to this philosophy, he turned the Kings Cross ministry into a worldwide crusade against drugs and misery. I’d met Ted on a few occasions through my work as a journalist and had become friendly with his son Wesley before Ted suffered a severe stroke that would leave him hospitalised and drifting in and out of coma for the rest of his life.
A few months before Ted died in 1995, Wes Noffs told me his mother Margaret would like me to consider writing his biography. But first, Margaret had said, we must both visit Ted and seek his permission. Communication was difficult at his bedside at the Alexander Mackie Nursing Home, but I was astonished to see his eyes light up as Margaret described the project. My role in proceedings was to make him laugh, which he did often, and at the end of this emotional meeting, we had a deal.
Wes and his wife Mandy opened up the archives of the Ted Noffs Foundation to me and I spent several months piecing together the inside story of this man of God who was the down-to-earth friend of saints and sinners, and knew how to solicit funding for his good works from the most powerful people in the big end of town. The story took in crooks, drug dealers, rock stars, civil rights activists, prime ministers and billionaires, and Ted managed to bend them all to his will.
People who know me and my work have often wondered why I chose to write a book about a religious leader. The answer is that, while his religiosity was fascinating, Ted was so much more. And his story was not just his own, it was Sydney’s.