Jimmy Sharman died this week. He was 94 and died in Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospice in a very unremarkable way, yet his passing marks a small
but significant shift of sand for this country.

Sharman’s Boxing Troupe is an Australian
legend and the genesis of many of Australia’s
most famous Indigenous boxing champions, from the time of the great Dave Sands
until the tent folded for the last time in 1971.

It was Sharman’s father, also Jimmy, who
started touring country shows with the tent, shortly after winning the Riverina
Lightweight Championship in 1910. His boxing troupe made
its debut at the Ardlethan Show in 1911, with the local farmboys invited to try
their luck in the ring against Sharman’s troupe of mostly Aboriginal boxers. They
could win money for lasting a round or two against Sharman’s men.

Good luck. Fuelled by amber liquid, many tried
and mostly failed against the hardened black fighters, many of whom had been
taught to fight at a very young age by their Elders (there is anecdotal
evidence

of Trevor Christian fighting in the tents at the age of ten) and all of
whom saw Sharman’s Tent, and the dazzling future prospect of main
event bouts in the big smoke, as their one and only way out of poverty.
Not
much changes in boxing when it comes to motivation.

Jimmy Sharman’s troupe would be announced
by the banging of a drum while the ringmaster spruiked: “Anyone wanting to
fight! … Pull on a glove and be paid! … Roll up! Roll up!” Incidentally, the
tents themselves, along with memorabilia including tent backdrops, the bell, drum, boxing gloves and photographs can now be
found at the Temora Rural Museum.

Nobody would
pay to potentially watch a human get badly hurt these days, would they? Well,
Chris Eubank, one of Britain’s better former middleweights, has just
posted a video for sale on his website for ten pounds a download. It’s of his
classic 1991 11-round fight against Michael Watson.

Both Eubank and
Watson agree it was the hardest, best fight of their careers – the thing is
that Watson was not only knocked out, he lapsed into a coma and emerged 40 days
later with partial paralysis from which he has never fully recovered. (Rick
Broadbent in The Times describes this download as “a snuff movie in silk
shorts”.)

The fighters are apparently splitting the
proceeds 50-50 and Broadbent argues that they
should have the right to cash in on their long ago performance, even if Watson
got badly hurt.

As they say,
only in boxing …

Peter Fray

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