Sideshow Boxing on the Ropes in Outback Australia ; Australia's Last Touring Boxing Troupe Takes on All Challengers and Stretches the Boundaries of Political Correctness

By Donnan, Shawn | The Christian Science Monitor, August 23, 2001 | Go to article overview

Sideshow Boxing on the Ropes in Outback Australia ; Australia's Last Touring Boxing Troupe Takes on All Challengers and Stretches the Boundaries of Political Correctness


Donnan, Shawn, The Christian Science Monitor


Glynn Johnston - aka "The Friendly Mauler" - brings one fist down in front of his chest and the other back over his head. "That's the scorpion. And this," he adds, winding his right arm like a bare- knuckle boxer of yesteryear, "is the windmill."

At close to midnight, Australia's last touring boxing tent is officially closed for the day. But Mr. Johnston lingers at the edge of the stained canvas ring, showing off his moves. "Did you know that I've never lost a fight?" he asks.

These days, redneck Australia, as sometimes portrayed in movies and beer commercials, is mostly a remnant of the past. Still, venture far enough into outback Australia, and you can find the occasional relic of frontier culture.

Enter Johnson and Fred Brophy's touring boxing troupe.

In an age when political correctness and changing social standards have knocked out the sideshows of times gone by, Mr. Brophy's boxing tent is the last of its kind in Australia and arguably the world.

"Thirty to 40 years ago, if you'd come to a show here, there would've been this boxing tent here and then next door, there'd be the fat lady. Then next door to her, there'd be the tattooed pig with the golden tooth," Brophy recalls.

Brophy's tent is one of the few remaining elements of a sideshow subculture in Australia that dates back to the 1880s and grew up around small-town agricultural fairs, according to Richard Broome, a historian at La Trobe University in Melbourne. Dr. Broome recently co-authored a book about Australia's sideshow alleys.

"By the 1920s and '30s, there were a half-dozen boxing tents touring Australia's eastern states," he says.

But most closed down in 1971, when the state of New South Wales started a nationwide trend by regulating the same legal and medical requirements for tents as for other boxing venues.

"He [Brophy] is the last one left, as far as I can tell," Broome says. "He's been doing it long enough - it's been decades - that he's probably becoming a bush legend."

But Brophy, a fourth-generation showman, says the legendary line will likely end with him. …

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