Tuesday, July 16, 2013
After I left Barneys' sideshow I got pretty friendly with the Aborigines who worked for Jimmy Sharmans' Boxing Troupe. I got a couple of bucks a day, for a start, to help with the putting up and pulling down of the tent.
One of the Abo fighters was called Sally. He said he'd teach me how to 'show fight', and then I could get a job with the troupe fighting instead of laboring. There were about eight Abo boxers and one white wrestler in Jimmy Sharmans' troupe, plus myself.
Every evening, after the show was closed, Jimmy Sharman would bring four half-gallons of brown Muscat wine and a packet of fags each for all the boxers.
Sharman was an ex-boxer himself but he was pretty old when I met him. He had a medium build and had a dark complexion. His clothes, although old-fashioned, were always neatly pressed.
"How ya going, Yorky?" he said, when he came in the tent. "Sally teaching ya the moves is he?"
"Yeah, I'm picking it up pretty well, Jimmy."
"Hey Sally, grab the gloves mate. Let's see how well he's going."
After a couple of minutes of sparring around with Sally, Jimmy Sharman said, "All right mate, that's good enough. It's about showmanship, see. Ya swing the arms wide. That lets Sally know where they're coming from. He'll catch the punches and take the dives. He's real good at that, is Sally."
"What if he misses one?" I asked.
"That's not your problem Cobber. Anyway, these bungs have got heads as thick as a brick wall. Ya can punch 'em around all day and they won't even feel it. Isn't that right Sally?"
Sally just gave Sharman a big toothless grin and said, "Whatever you say, Boss."
"Start tomorrow Yorky. When the boys walk out on the platform, you hang around with some of the local Yobos. Make out ya one of 'em. It's good for business, mate. Now when I start sprookin' about Sally and call for someone to fight him, you stick ya hand up high and I'll call ya up on the board and we'll make a real good show out of it. The next session we run, I'll call ya back for a grudge match. That way we'll sucker a few more of those local yobos in. All right?"
"All right Jimmy", I said.
"Oh yeah, and don't drink too much of that cheap plunk. It wasn't made for white fellers!"
The rest of the evening was spent drinking the Plunk. I only took one mouthful out of a flagon as it was passed around the circle. I donated my share to the boys. Most of the boys were half-cast Aborigines and two of 'em were full bloods that came from the Northern Territory.
They'd tell me some of their tribal stories once they got to know me but I was made to promise not to tell any mens' secrets to another white fella. I learned about the Kadaicha man who is the tribal executioner. All talk of him was conducted in the lowest of whispers, in case he heard and came after us with his weapon of choice, which was known as 'The Bone'.
The Abo boxers I lived with had no concept whatsoever of ownership, so if I wasn't first out-a-bed, someone would be wearing my good shoes or one of my best shirts inside out. I never had to ask them for anything because whatever they had, which was not much, was shared equally amongst us.
Jimmy Sharman had a really large tent. Of a nighttime we would sleep in it. Of a day we would fight in it. Outside the tent was a tall, wooden platform, which we would all stand on as Jimmy 'sprooked' to the crowd. At each side of the tent hung large posters of well-known ex-champions that, according to Jimmy Sharman, all got their start in the boxing world at his fathers' tent, which was now his.
At one end of the tall platform was a large bell, which was suspended from the steel scaffolding, and at the other end was a bright red, double bass marching drum. Jimmy would stand in the middle with the boxers on each side of him. He'd start by saying, "Ring that bell! Beat that drum! This is what you've all been waiting for! The highlight of the day! The most exciting thing you'll see on this Showground! This is where ya git ya moneys' worth folks! This is where ya see some of the best boxers in Australia! Have a look at those posters there folks. They all started out like this, at Jimmy Sharmans' World Renown Boxing Troupe! Some of the best prizefighters you'll ever see got there start right here. Have a good look to my right and left, folks. These are some of Australias' up-and-coming future champions! Now, this is what we're gonna do folks. We're gonna match up my fighters to some of your local boys. So, if there's any of you local louts out there who think ya pretty good and handy with fists, now's the time to speak up. Not after we're gone! If ya wanna do a bit of of bragging and skiting in the bar tonight, you blokes, this is the place to make a name for yourself. Ya see that tall black feller of mine, down the end? He's called the Northern Territory Tiger. He'll take on all comers, no matter what size ya are! He's 6 foot tall and weighs 180 pounds. Any of you local footballers think ya good enough to stand on ya feet for three rounds with him and I'll give ya 6 dollars. Come down here to the center stage Tiger. Let these local louts see ya muscles! Look at that!" he says, as he felt Tigers' thin biceps.
"Six bucks to anyone who can knock him out or go the distance with him! What about you young feller?" he'd say to one of the crowd. "You look like ya can handle yourself. You're a pretty big bloke for ya age. Ya wanna make ya-self six bucks or have ya no guts unless ya with a bunch of ya mates? Ring that bell, beat that drum, here he comes Ladies and Gentlemen. This is one of your own local blokes. Give him a big round of applause!"
Once Jimmy got one of the local blokes up on stage, all his mates wanted to follow so as not to be outdone. When Jimmy called for a match to Sally, I stuck mi hand up in the crowd. Most times he would match me up with Sally first because I was not that big, so he'd say, "If this little bantam rooster from the back-blocks of New South Wales has got the guts to fight, what's wrong with all you strapping big footballers down there? Don't tell me you're a bunch of puftas'?"
This little challenge to their manhood was usually enough to make them climb up the 15-foot ladder onto the platform. Once the tent was full of local people the fight would start. Jimmy was also the referee, so he'd give the local blokes a large 16-ounce pair of gloves to wear and he'd save the thin 12-ounce gloves for us. That way if any one of the locals were Police Boys Boxing Club trained, which some of them were, we'd still have a good advantage over them. Most times Jimmy told us not to hurt them unless they got smart because if one of 'em got a bit roughed up, his mates would not come forward for a go.
I traveled all through New South Wales and into Victoria with Jimmy Sharman.
We stayed in Warrnabell for a few more days and then it was time to move on to another Showground. Everyday was show day for a 'showie' but for the locals it only came around once a year. "Thank goodness." I heard a couple of locals say as they walked out of the grounds a few dollars lighter.
All the 'showies' were making their way to Melbourne, which was one of the biggest events of the year. Just before we were due to do the Melbourne show, Jimmy Sharman said to me, "I'm putting ya out of the troupe, Yorky."
"Why?" I asked. "Aren't ya happy with my performance?"
"It's not that mate. Ya doin' fine. Melbourne is a real rough show for the troupe and I don't want to see ya get hurt."
"How am I gonna git hurt?"
" There'll be too many tough blokes there, that's why. A lot of those blokes are really hungry for the bucks and quite a few of mi boys got hurt last year. A lot of the ex-cons who can't git regular work show up at Melbourne, Mate."
"Well, couldn't I just try it, Jimmy?"
" No mate, I like ya too much to risk it. Ya can ride to Melbourne with us though and ya can come in the show anytime ya like Yorky."
"D'ya think I'll be able to find a job at the Melbourne Showground?"
"Find one? You'll have ya bloody pick of 'em mate. They're always short handed as hell at Melbourne. There'll be hundreds of thousands of people go through that place, not like these pissy little one-horse towns."
Jimmy was right. I was offered five jobs in as many minutes but they were all small stalls and I'd have no freedom. I could tell from talking to the bosses that they'd expect me to work the stall 16 hours a day.