Les Darcy And That Urban Myth.

I do have a basic understanding of the sport of boxing having been raised by a father who was an A Grade sportsman in his day: cricket, golf, football, swimming, tennis, and even Pennant lawn bowls in his dotage. It peeved him no end that neither of his daughters had any athletic flair nor interest though he did try to instil in us an appreciation of the athletic animal.

Not sure how that did either of us any good. Looking back to my teenage years I was enraptured not by the athlete but rather how they wore their uniform.

So I was aware of the name Les Darcy, a boxing legend from the early 1900’s, a young man who went to America to find fame and fortune. Myth has it Darcy was poisoned by Yank boxing promoters, just as Phar Lap, the racehorse that captured Australia’s attention during the Depression, was murdered.

Les Darcy is one of the Hunter Valley’s favourite sons, having been born in Maitland. He is honoured with a Highway named after him, a bronze statue in a local reserve, memorabilia in a sports club, as well as being featured on the outside wall of the *Maitland Art Gallery.

So I just had to read Peter Fitzsimon’s , The Ballad Of Les Darcy, and guess what? Darcy wasn’t murdered at all – he died of septicaemia following a dental issue caused in a fight two years previously when his front teeth were knocked out. I know. SO disappointing, hey…….

Darcy was the Australian middleweight champion, and at twenty years of age also captured the heavyweight title.

There was a glitch in his “good lad” reputation in that he was vocal in his antipathy towards enlisting in WW1 citing the needs of his eleven dependants. Thus his journey to America as a stowaway to make some big dollars on the boxing circuit to set the family up at home before agreeing to participate in the war effort.**

So much for the best laid plans. Darcy died at 21 years of age. No such conspiracy theories. He just didn’t take care of his gums. There’s a LIFE LESSON in that!

One of my father’s favourite movies, was Somebody Up There Likes Me, based on boxer Rocky Graziano’s autobiography which he used to make me sit and watch with him. Thank God there were no movies featuring lawn bowls.

*Maitland Art Gallery is most certainly worth a visit and make time for coffee and cake.


**This is where it became messy. Les enlisted in the American Army on the basis that he could have two months off for Boxing tournaments and to make big money, and to encourage American civilians to enlist also. He was made a Sgt and after the two months was up was supposed to be transferred to the Australian Army. Didn’t happen. He just wasn’t into dental hygiene.

The Scandalous Freddie McEvoy by Frank Walker : Book Review

“Swashbuckler, daredevil racing-car champion, Winter Olympian, gambler, smuggler, scoundrel and suspected spy – this is the fascinating story of scandalous Freddie McEvoy.”

Who?

The first sentence of the Prologue threw me with “ Freddie McEvoy was many things: the first Australian to win a medal at any Winter Olympics…..” Hey, was Zaria Steggall chopped liver?

It was only after delving deeper that we learn that Freddie McEvoy was indeed born in Australia but emigrated to Europe with family at the age of six following his father’s death, and represented the United Kingdom in a medal winning bobsled team in the Winter Olympics of 1936. Slightly different connotation………

McEvoy returned to Australia in his late teens where he became friendly with a young lad with similar interests and personality by the name of Errol Flynn, though returned to Europe within 3 years.

A quote from Flynn about McEvoy, as well as a photo of the two men together some twenty years later when they renewed their friendship in Hollywood in the 1940’s, graces the front cover. The author frequently comments that the two men look very similar, something else that I don’t get. Tall, dark and with a moustache. That’s it. All other photos within the book are so grainy and unflattering that you can’t tell. McEvoy doesn’t even wear his trousers well…truely…..

So Freddie is well educated, plays the ladies on the French Riviera, is athletic and a risk taker. He chases wealthy women to fund his lifestyle, and mixes with the “in crowd”, with lots of European Society and Hollywood names being bandied about, as well as the odd fling with known Nazi spy’s.

Always chasing money, McEvoy smuggled diamonds and guns on his yacht between California and Mexico and he too was targeted by the FBI as a Nazi spy. He died when his yacht crashed into a reef and in the process of rescuing his latest wife, though the circumstances were somewhat mysterious.

This is an easy read that goes in one ear and out the other. “Australia’s daredevil Lothario” whose mantra was “ Pleasure is my Business”.

Who? And does anybody care?

One Crowded Hour by Tim Bowden

One Crowded Hour, by Tim Bowden, details over twenty years, from the early 1960s, when Australian photographer and war correspondent, Neil Davis, brought images of the full horror of war directly from the battlefront to the world’s television screens.

Davis is best remembered for the years covering the conflict in Indo-China. He was the only western cameraman to film within the South Vietnamese army and actually managed to cross over battle lines to film with the Viet Cong. He also covered the war in Cambodia and Laos, and in 1975 scooped the world’s press by filming the taking of Saigon’s Presidential Palace.

This is an absolutely fascinating read, once again because it covered a period not mentioned by the Education Department at that time. (One daughter studied Modern History in the late ‘90’s. Ask her about the Korean conflict and she’ll talk for hours.  Not so this one. An aside : she actually met her future husband in a debate about Korea. Funny how things work out, hey…)

Davis must have been an interesting character, coming from a pioneering farming family in Tasmania. He was an athlete and had a quick brain, and from all accounts, had a fondness for the ladies.

This recount of his life is from his diaries, conversations with friends, newspaper cuttings, and some delightful letters to and from his Aunt Lillian from which he comes across as genuine and down to earth, despite some of his derring-do tendencies.

He has an artist’s eye when describing the beauty of Balinese women in the rice fields and the ancient temples and I just loved his commentary about Australian Government Officials before they had any power.

From 1967 in Saigon:
The Australian Minister for the Army, Malcom Fraser, is here at the moment – young and impressive looking but really a dreary bore with little intelligence to look further than he is officially shown. Which is in contrast to another young MP, Andrew Peacock, who recently visited at his own expense.

Fraser. Boring ? Can’t believe that, can you?

Like a lot of men that like to live on the edge, Davis had varied interests. He was a partner in a nightclub on the Mekong River and availed himself of the beautiful “dancing” girls, and had cards printed that said “I think I could fall in love with you. Ring me on xxxxxxxxx. Neil,” which he had on his person at all times. Sounds like a bloke you want to tip a glass of water over or what! But wait, there’s more….

He also set up and supported an orphanage.         Sigh…….

Davis’ personal motto, which he inscribed to the front of each of his diaries was the last two lines of this stanza :

Sound, sound the clarion, fill the fife,
Throughout the sensual world proclaim,
One crowded hour of glorious life
Is worth an age without a name

Thomas Morduant

In September 1985, having survived so much war, Davis was killed while filming an attempted coup in the streets of Bangkok. Incredibly his still-running camera captured his own death.

There is a music version of these events called An Ode To Neil Davis if you are interested. Go to : https://youtu.be/kLZ_K51yZLM.