The Swag History

Back in 1968 a small group of priests began publishing and circulating a newsletter called Priest Forum which was sent initially only to priests who had expressed interest for the modest subscription fee of $2.00 per year.

An early issue contained two quotes:

  • One from an older priest in 1968 to his Sunday congregation: “How lucky we are to live in such stimulating and challenging times!
  • A second, from a young priest that same year, was a bitter complaint: “Where is all this change going to end?

In 1969, priests from many parts of Australia met in Coogee and gave support to the formation of a national association of Australian clergy and this was realised at a convention of nearly 400 priests at Hunters Hill in May 1970 when NCP was formed.

A newsletter with the news of its development Australia wide began to appear from September 1971 onwards.

The first “formal” Newsletter of the National Council of Priests of Australia appeared in 1973 in tabloid format. This Newsletter continued to be published quarterly and distributed to members and other priests across Australia for twenty years. From June 1993 onwards there was a new look magazine format and the Newsletter was given a new name - The Swag - with Bernie Thomas from the Diocese of Wagga Wagga appointed the first editor.

The past 20 years have seen further developments. Today The Swag is published in both print and online and is widely distributed throughout Australia, New Zealand and parts of Oceania to priests, religious and lay people.

The Swag has retained its focus on affirming and encouraging all ordained priests in their lives and ministry, but it also believes in and recognises the priesthood of all baptised people.

NCP Members receive The Swag as one of the benefits of belonging to our organisation.

Each year the Autumn edition is sent to all clergy (bishops, priests and deacons) in Australia except to those who have specifically indicated that they do not wish to receive any correspondence from NCP.

The NCP Executive and The Swag editors invite you to consider: 

  • Taking out an annual subscription to The Swag if you are not already an NCP member or current subscriber.
  • Forming a small group to share a subscription to The Swag. 
  • Promoting The Swag within your parish, religious congregation, school or college.
  • Sharing your thoughts, dreams, experiences through The Swag

Subscription costs:

  • Individual print subscription: $42.00 per calendar year.
  • Online subscription: $42.00 per calendar year.
  • Bulk subscriptions for parishes/schools: 20 copies or more $2.00 per copy (plus postage).

Please contact the NCP National Office for print subscriptions, or subscribe to he online edition here.

Why is it called The Swag?

Back in the Gold Rush days of the 19th Century in Australia, many men, and I’m sure many women, left home - such as it was - to seek new hope, new life, maybe a fortune on the gold fields. Later on, especially during the dark time of the 1890’s and during the deep depression years of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s many more left home to seek new hope and new life.

The travellers on the long country roads of inland Australia were often called “swagmen” or “swaggies”. They carried on their backs whatever was precious and dear to them in their swag, usually a canvas bag which was slung over the shoulder as they walked along.

Their lives became a long, long journey from place to place and often they added a new memento or a symbol of a new experience to their swag. Sometimes they left behind something that had lost significance. They were walking, walking in hope and often on unmade very rough tracks, and because it was a long journey they couldn’t carry a swag that was too heavy and cumbersome.

Back in the 1970’s reflection on the symbolism and significance of all this brought priests who were members of the NCP to name their national newsletter The Swag.

The “Australianness” of the title appealed. But the appropriateness of the title was deeper.

We were, and still are on a journey, filled with hope; in many ways we are constantly leaving home, taking with us only the things that really matter; we’re constantly re-assessing what needs to be set aside or left behind and what needs to be picked up and carried forward on the journey.

We priests are in so many ways “Swagmen”!

The Heart of the Swag

Oh the track through the scrub groweth ever more dreary,
And lower and lower his grey head doth bow,
For the swagman is old and the swagman is weary —
He’s been tramping for over a century now.
He tramps in a worn-out old “side-spring” and “blucher”,
His hat is a ruin, his coat is a rag.
And he carries forever,  far into the future,
The key of his life in the core of his swag.

There are old-fashioned portraits of girls who are grannies,
There are tresses of dark hair whose owner’s are grey;
There are faded old letters from Marys and Annies
And Toms, Dicks, and Harrys, dead many a day.
There are broken-heart secrets and bitter-heart reasons —
They are sewn in a canvas or calico bag,
And wrapped up in oilskin through dark rainy seasons,
And he carries them safe in the core of his swag.

There are letters that should have been burnt in the past time,
For he reads them alone and the devil it brings;
There are farewells that should have been said for the last time,
For forever and ever the love of her springs.
But he keeps them all precious, and he keeps them in order,
And no matter to man how his footsteps may drag,
There’s a friend who will find, when he crosses the Border;
That the heart of the man’s in the heart of his swag.

Henry Lawson 1905