For a nation founded as a gaol and whose favourite son is a bushranging cop-killer it might be thought a challenge to discuss the concept of “Law” with regard to Australian sensitivities, especially those to do with faith. Australians haven’t liked the beaks since our ancestors traversed several seas as guests of Her Majesty’s pleasure, and the God-bothering (flogging) parsons were part of the same system. But what if the Law is Love?
Paul Kelly, who also sings about footy and Ned Kelly, paraphrases I Corinthians 13 in “Love is The Law”, a song he released in 1981 as the theme track for the Australian (car thieving) film “Midnite Spares”. The song was re-engineered by Kelly and re-released in 2001 with a music video showing Paul graffiting a wall before running along an inner-city street and engaging unhelpfully with people along the way. He is pulled away from the one person with whom he does want to engage, and finally disappears in the back of a van driven by men in white coats.
The thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians is a popular text to use at weddings. It’s also one of the key texts adorning a vast array of Christian kitsch from plaques and photo frames to coffee mugs and tea light candle holders available from Australia’s Christian bookshops. Many Christians cannot get enough of the words of this chapter, and it seems that non-Christians feel safe around this particular quote from scripture. After all, what’s not to love about love? But is there more to it than that; are these words just something nice to hang on the wall, or some Bible to use when you and your unbelieving bloke/sheila tie the knot in church because nana’s a Catholic and she’d like that”?
Paul Kelly makes direct use of scripture and Biblical themes in many of his songs and videos; his “If I Could Start Today Again” is offered as a type of confessional hymn for when love is neither patient nor kind. When Missy Higgins sings it too it’s not just the men who fail their partners. Kelly describes this song as precise, a song which asks for a miracle and is itself one in its structure and orderliness. The love Paul of Tarsus describes is orderly and unforced; exactly the way Paul of Norwood describes this song.
As his angel lies broken in the street beneath the front bumper of a Kingswood GTS , Kelly is drawn to the message of love. Colour fills his vision as the full picture of what God’s love is like is revealed to him. The law of love is the lore of forgiveness. Australia’s foundation stories of taking stock and getting up from being knocked to the ground are the stories of a tough love that never envious or puffed up with pride. Paul’s the love of God is Anzac love; the way Australians like to operate. Diggers stand by their mates, scoff at the tall poppies among them and the stuff-shirted pommy officers behind them, and never dream that they might fail. Love is the law of the outlaw.
 Paul Kelly, How To Make Gravy (Camberwell: Hamish Hamilton, 2010), 244.