OPINION: Stories with punch ... Geraldton’s rich boxing legacy

Peter FiorenzaGeraldton Guardian
File image.
Camera IconFile image. Credit: Getty Images

Boxing is a big sport around the world.

Over the years, Australia has produced many champions — from Jeff Fenech and Kostya Tszyu to Anthony Mundine and Jeff Horn in more recent times, stretching back to Lionel Rose and Johnny Famechon in the 1960s and 70s.

Australian boxing can also claim champions such as Les Darcy, who at just 21 attained an incredible 52 wins (32 knockouts) and only four losses.

Darcy defended the world middleweight title 10 times.

He died from septicaemia in the United States in 1917.

Apparently, this was the result of bad dental work he received after losing teeth in a bout.

Just side-tracking for a moment, I find it very interesting that two outstanding Australian champions, Les Darcy and Phar Lap, both died under controversial circumstances in the US at the height of their careers.

There is no doubt Australia has a great boxing heritage, and the Geraldton area is certainly not immune to this.

In recent times, we have seen boxers such as Justin Crudeli and Anthony (Blue Boy) Little rise through the ranks, but they are, simply, the latest in a long line of talented pugilists who call the Mid West home.

Arthur "Sharkey" Ryan.
Camera IconArthur "Sharkey" Ryan. Credit: Letitia Busniak/The Geraldton Guardian

Recently, I had the chance to chat on radio with former boxers Arthur (Sharkey) Ryan and Dennis Marsden.

Both men grew up sparring at the local Police Boys Club, now known as the PCYC (Police and Citizens Youth Club).

According to the men, that was the place to be in the 1950s, and it was a hive of activity on the corner of Marine Terrace and Lester Avenue, where KFC sits.

Today, many know Sharkey as a boxing coach (still at the PCYC), but according to good friend Gary Clark he was unlucky to miss out on representing Australia at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

In fact, he sustained a broken jaw only months out from the Games and was not able to recover in time.

Today, Dennis Marsden is more widely known as a champion rifle shooter.

He was captain of an Australian team and has also taken out the prestigious, individual honour of the Queen’s Prize as part of a much-decorated career.

But he, too, was known for his boxing as a youngster.

“I remember winning my first fight,” he said.

“Funnily enough, I received more of a belting when I came out of the ring from the fella’s mum. She was so upset, she came at me with her handbag, and wouldn’t let up.”

Dennis told us he and Sharkey would roam the countryside for bouts, and often travelled down to Perth for some big fights.

“I don’t even remember who paid our way. I think it might have been well-known people like Dick Guscott and Charlie Mildwaters (former mayor).

“If not, they should have, because I know those fellas won a bet or two alongside the ring,” he chuckled.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails