Fred Brophy, Australian icon and fourth generation showman, steps onto the stage in his trademark red silk shirt and bangs on a drum to introduce his fighters and call for local challengers.
“This is where boxing champions are discovered,” he tells the crowd that he holds in the palm of his hand.
Originating in England, tent boxing took off in Australia in the late 1800s, with professional boxing troupes following shows and carnivals in mining and outback towns. There they would erect big top tents and take on all-comers for cash.
Fred Brophy’s is now one of only three remaining boxing tents in the world. Despite this, Fred remains passionate about the importance of keeping such traditions alive. His tent continues to travel around Outback Queensland and is a major drawcard of the annual Birdsville Racing Carnival.
“We need events like this, and others like races and rodeo. It’s a social outing for the locals in remote areas, not to mention the benefits for tourism,” he said.
Fred started boxing at five years of age, continuing in the sport for 20 years before crossing over to run his own troupe. His dedication to boxing has now spanned 40 years, during which time he has written a book (The Last Showman, published in Australia by Penguin), been inducted into Queensland’s Boxing Hall of Fame, and awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in 2011 for services to charity and to the entertainment industry in keeping old-style tent boxing alive.
But despite his many accolades, Fred says that it’s the love of the Outback and its people that motivates him more than any award.
“We are a big family and we do it for the people. You know you’re in the outback when people wave to you when you’re driving; they stop and help you when you need it. This is the outback spirit that we love being a part of.”
Fred’s colourful life – which has involved surviving rounds with venomous snakes, poisonous spiders, shotguns, baseball bats?and knives – has seen him as the subject of a two-part documentary about his boxing tent, Outback Fight Club, which shows regularly on Qantas flights domestically and all over the world.
As well as touring with his troupe, Fred and his partner Sandi run the Cracow Hotel in Central Queensland, which is the base for the Fred Brophy Boxing Troupe.
“It’s an Australian thing,” he says, when asked to explain the appeal of tent boxing, “Australian’s are tough!”… and with no plans on retirement, and insisting he will continue travelling with his Boxing Troupe until he dies, this is certainly true of Fred Brophy.