The most famous of Australian tent boxing troupes, are Roy Bell’s, Jimmy Sharman’s and, Fred Brophy’s, which today is the last surviving tent boxing troupe in the world. Fred Brophy, who owns the Cracow Hotel in Queensland, still travels with his troupe across Australia with his wife, Sandi, and son, Fred Brophy Jnr- the world’s only fourth generation tent boxer.
Only Jimmy Sharman’s troupe travelled for longer, starting his famous boxing troupe in Wagga Wagga in 1911 and touring the shows and country towns for six decades.
Tent boxing, an amusement commonly seen at agricultural shows throughout Australia between the 1920s and the 1960s is an old Australian tradition that is barely kept alive today. Born in England, now banned in America, the outback is today the only place such an attraction can survive.
A crowd gathered to watch Jimmy Sharman 's Boxing Troupe at the Ballarat Show
Jimmy Sharman's Boxing Troupe followed the show circuit through four states for six decades of working 11 months a year. In each town and city Sharman snr charged spectators to watch young black boxers teach half-cut local challengers to fight.
"Who'll take a glove?" and "A round or two for a pound or two" were famous Sharman catchcries.
Sharman jnr inherited what was "a bloody good business" a decade before his father died in 1965. He continued touring until 1971, when regulations barring boxers fighting more than once a week knocked the business out. In later years he reminisced about the show life. "They had so many freaks it wasn't funny," Sharman said. "There used to be Zimmy the Legless Wonder … Used to eat bananas under water … Zandau the Quarter Boy, Tam Tam the Leopard Man."
Jimmy Sharman jnr with some of his boxers in 1971
Australian Champion George Bracken's career started at Sharman's tents, he later progressed to professional boxing and went as far as contender for the British Empire Lightweight title.
George peaked his career in boxing when he beat Johnny Van Rensburg Aug 1959 after he had lost the British Empire Welterweight title to Aussie George Barnes in 1958.
Like his father, Sharman had one son, called James. Jim Sharman went into showbusiness but not the boxing tent. The Sydney theatre producer won world acclaim when he co-wrote and directed The Rocky Horror Picture Show in 1975.
Fred Brophy insists he will continue travelling with his tent boxing troupe, until he dies, even though the sport was banned in 1971 by the government, due to health concerns.