The love of a fight

Train hard or go home the lifelong mantra for former Brophy's tent boxer

Life & Style
Brian Darby, once the other half of Moy and Darby, in the sports gym he helped fund at Dorrigo.

Brian Darby, once the other half of Moy and Darby, in the sports gym he helped fund at Dorrigo.


From ring ropes to bucking broncs, livestock agent Brian Darby loved the sport of boxing, especially when the bout was under a canvas tent.


Brian Darby is well known for his auctioneering prowess, working with partner Mick Moy when they were at Dalgetys before they joined forces and, for 31 years, serviced the Clarence districts up to Dorrigo and along the tablelands past Hernani and Ebor.

But, did you know he was better recognised for his ability to fight? In fact, he first strapped on a pair of gloves at the tender age of 10.

"There were six in the family with an older brother, two younger ones and two sisters," he recalled. "Dad bought gloves and bags and let us slug it out."

Brian's father certainly held an influence on the young men growing up in that family, and his love for a lashing was well known.

"They reckoned he was a bit of a strapper. He could fight a bit," Brian said.

The young bloke's first fight was a year later, aged 11, at the Maclean Pro-Am. When he won they asked him: 'Do you prefer 10 bob or a trophy?'

"I took the money," he said. "And that made me a pro."

More fights followed, at his home city of Grafton, and Ulmarra where boats used to stop at the wharf and pick up cream; then Woolgoolga, the timber port. There was a regular gig every three months and plenty of inspiration.

As a 17 and 18 year old he fought main bouts against opponents from Brisbane and Sydney, like Australian lightweight title holder Darcy Carr, regarded as a well-travelled pugilist. The pair slugged it out one night at Grafton, and the next evening Darcy was in Roma.

For cross-training Brian preferred a bit of bronc or bull riding. One old injury to his upper thigh rattles him today, as does the memory of being rolled three times by his horse while still stuck in the stirrups.

Training hard was a mantra this retired boxer adhered to all his life. He continues to train and coach young contenders.

Training hard was a mantra this retired boxer adhered to all his life. He continues to train and coach young contenders.

"We hit a barbed wire fence and my foot was hooked up and I got away with that," he said. "I didn't even go to the doctor. But I'm paying for it now."

When Brian entered National Service at the age of 18, soon after his birthday on New Year's Day, he travelled to Houldsworthy, where he impressed the commanders by winning a Brigade championship, a fair effort given the number of soldiers from which to choose an opponent.

The coach was impressed with this lightweight athlete and later convinced the prized fighter to lose pounds and challenge a fleet-footed fellow in the featherweight division.

"It's worth the effort," his coach said. "There' s a trophy in it, and a fine travelling bag for the winner of the better bouts."

"I told him I'm here to build myself up, not tear myself down," Brian said, who expressed a keen revulsion to dehydrating and starving before a match.

Nevertheless, he put on the large woolen trench coat, beanie, and heavy boots and ran around a track with the sweat running out of him like the everlasting springs of Dorrigo and when the coach rubbed him down like a flensed whale he made the weight and feasted on steak until it was time.

All that vigorous preparation made Brian cranky. When the bell rang he went out and knocked that handy southpaw cold, unconscious, in the first round.

"The coach said to me: Why didn't you just carry him for three? You would have won the bag!"

The last great fights of Brian's career occurred under canvas and the tent experience was an elixir, with the tight crowd, most already on their feet and pressed close, loud and heated. There was only the front row sitting down.

One bout against George Fleming, who only died in recent weeks, was memorable for the fact the smart boxer got around Brian's left guard and right hook.

"We became great mates after he wanted to punch my head off," he recalled. "I met him three times in the ring and I held my own - to a point."

Birdsville would have to be the most wonderful stage for his very last bout, the 53 year old shaping up in a Fred Brophy tent, with a 300-strong, deafening crowd feeding his adrenalin.

Brophy called all his fighters by a nick-name and Brian got "Uncle Fred".

"I was fit then," he said. "I still trained three times a week. I did push-ups ... ball and bag. I put myself through a fitness regime."

In 1966, during the week pounds and pence went to dollars and cents, Dalgetys purchased the agency in conjunction with Elders, whose senior officers threatened Brian with the sack if he continued to make a spectacle of himself in a canvas covered Brophy fighting tent.

"I was threatened with dismissal if I didn't forgo tent boxing," he said, shaking his head at the thought of it. "But I kept it up, I just didn't say much about it at all."

Discipline and a strict training regime gave him a fitness edge in his fighting days, which he maintained through the times he ran a back-room gym in the Grafton Royal Hotel and long after he arrived at Dorrigo, 60 years ago.

The Octogenarian still keeps fit by coaching kids three afternoons a week, at the sports centre, for which he helped raise some of the funding.

"I say to the young kids that I coach, if you don't want to train then go home."


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