A young Brian Darby (left) steps back from his opponent?s right uppercut and counters with a solid left jab.
A young Brian Darby (left) steps back from his opponent?s right uppercut and counters with a solid left jab.

Fighting the good fight

BRIAN DARBY is a triple winner in life, a proven sportsman, particularly in boxing and rugby league, a top boxing instructor and in the workplace a respected and popular agency manager in the stock and station industry.

In the fight game Brian had to learn to box early in life.

When he put on the gloves to spar it would generally be against older and bigger brother and talented fighter the late Neil Darby.

An even younger brother, Bob was also into boxing and the trio gave great service to what is generally considered as the toughest of sports.

"I was just seven when Dad bought Neil and me a pair of boxing gloves," Brian told me.

"Every afternoon Neil and I would spar, or more correctly we slugged it out.

"We must have fought a million rounds all up, with no beg-pardons.

"It wasn't that we were enemies or such ? we were brothers and good mates ? but we believed a spar was the same as a fight and we set to it.

"Neil was older and bigger so I had to learn to how to box to stay with him."

Brian became a devastating counter puncher and crowd pleaser.

There were four brothers in the family, Neil, Brian, Bob and Chris along with sisters Janet and Sue.

The older three boys were into boxing and it was not rare for them to fight on the same program.

Their father, Frank, was a railway officer so the family shifted around a bit, until settling in Grafton.

Both parents, Frank and their mother Nina (nee McTaggart), taught the six offspring how life was good, taught them manners, how to behave and respect other people and it showed in their conduct.

Brian was born at Muswellbrook in January 1937 and the family had moved to Casino when school time came around, so he received his early education at Casino Public. Later his father was transferred to Grafton where he became control officer and in 1949 Brian attended Grafton High where in 1952 he gained the all important Intermediate Certificate.

For sport at school he played some tennis and a lot of rugby league, always at five-eighth.

During his three years at Grafton High Brian played for and captained the schools 5stone 7 lbs side and then in turn the 6.7s and the 7.7s.

"Science teacher Frank 'Thunder' McKenzie was our coach each of those years and we beat every other team in school and rugby league carnivals," Brian said.

Later Brian played for the Grafton All Blacks Club and in 1954 was five-eighth for the Under-18 side which went through the season unbeaten in the Upper Clarence competition.

Then in successive weeks in challenge games the team knocked off the Under-18 premiers of both the Richmond and the Group Two Southern Zone competitions.

After leaving school at the end of 1952 Brian was employed by the Rural Bank, but knew he wasn't suited to an office job.

He left the bank and worked at Schaeffers Hardware Store for 12 months and then gave up that job and went into something right to his liking, in the saddle on droving stints, in between helping out around the stock saleyards of the district.

He had learned to ride when young, saving up to buy a grey horse, a horse he loved, and rode it when and wherever he could.

After the droving and saleyards work he accepted a job with the stock agency Dalgetys in Grafton, coming under the guidance of Mick Moy.

Like the droving, it was a job that suited Brian greatly and he has remained in the industry.

Brian, although young, had done any amount of sparring when he had his first fight in the ring.

He was just 11 years old and took on a fighter he remembers as Soupy Ressock.

"The fight was at Maclean and I won," Brian said.

"The promoters asked me if I wanted a trophy or prizemoney.

"They were offering 30 shillings a win and that seemed like a fortune to me, so I took the cash and somehow was declared a professional fighter."

Brian recalls that around 1951 he won a fight at Coffs Harbour against Neville Noble with the former Australian dual lightweight/welterweight champion Vic Patrick as referee.

"Vic and I became firm friends, a friendship that continues," Brian said.

Brian continued with many fights around the North Coast and interstate including bouts against Australian number two featherweight Darcy Carr for a loss and a draw in 10 rounders and a fight against Australian lightweight champion George Fleming at Ulmarra.

"George was a class act and beat me, but we have been long time friends ever since," Brian said.

Brian was also involved in an exhibition bout at the Grafton Drill Hall against Australian champion Bobby Sinn.

Although it was a no decision bout both boxers went flat out and the crowd loved it.

Brian was called up for National Service in 1956 and as well as the army training he was involved in the camps boxing programs.

There were good fighters around but he proved superior in his weight division winning the brigade and battalion lightweight championships.

As well as something like 50 registered ring battles Brian Darby had around 100 tent fights.

He was involved with many of the promoters and in particular Selby Moore, a man Brian greatly respected.

Tent fights were exceedingly popular in Australia for more than 100 years and were at their peak during the depression years of the 1920s and 1930s.

And they still enjoyed periods of success during postwar years of the second half of the 1940s as well as the 50s and 60s.

There were always tent shows on tour during city and country Shows and carnivals, such as Harry Johns's and Jimmy Sharman's boxing troupes, Sandy McNabb's House of Stoush and the colourful fight tents of Selby Moore and his brother Sandy Moore.

Each tent had its own boxers who would line up on a raised platform out front with one or two of the fighters clanging bells and another beating a bass drum to attract attention.

The head honcho did the spruiking and challenged onlookers to take a glove, earn 10 bob or a quid a round, show your mates or your girlfriend what you're made of.

Inside the tents, which were always packed, there was no ring or roped off area, just sawdust on the floor purporting to be a ring where the battles took place.

Generally each boxing tent had a real good fighter or two, such as the former world light heavyweight champion who fought under the nom de guerre of The Alabama Kid for Harry Johns.

In fights there was usually a flood of punches thrown, blood spilt and the boisterous crowds loved it.

Brian Darby started in tent fights at Grafton when he was just 13, having three fights for Harry Johns and getting five shillings (50c) each bout.

However, he had not fought from many years and was aged 53 when he made a short comeback in 1990 to help out a good friend, Fred Brophy, who is regarded as the last of the boxing tent entrepreneurs.

Brian had gone to Birdsville for the horse racing and met up with Brophy who was running a tent there for the week.

Brophy had been let down by a few of his regular fighting staff so Brian volunteered to help out.

He had three fights for his old mate and each time the tent was filled with satisfied fight fans.

Brian formed the Dorrigo Amateur Boxing Club in that unique town not long after his transfer there..

Then in 1966, Brian and Mick Moy formed a partnership in the break-away firm of Moy and Darby that stood for 31 years until becoming part of the Elders Company, although still trading as Moy and Darby with Brian still Dorrigo manager.

Members of the boxing club with Brian as the enthusiastic leader helped raise the money to build the Dorrigo Gymnasium.

Brian has always been one of that district's leading workers and was honoured with the award of Bellingen Shire Council's 2003 Australia Day Citizen of the Year.

As well as teaching youngsters how to box and the noble art of self-defence he has always tried to instill in them how to be solid citizens and be of value to their community.

Members of his troupe have won numerous awards including a NSW featherweight title for Max Burley, a feat almost repeated 26 years later by Max's son Damien.

Damien also fought in a State final but was beaten in a controversial decision, a decision Brian has never accepted.

"We have had some good fighters represent the club over the years," Brian said.

"We are still going strong here and there are a number of good kids coming on."

Brian has been married twice, firstly to Ann Mulherin and they have a son Greg and daughter Catherine.

Greg has a great love of football and looked promising as a 16- or -17-old when playing centre for the Dorrigo Rugby League Club until injury forced him to give up the sport.

Brian's second marriage was around eight years ago to Laurie Langham and the pair live at Braeburn in North Dorrigo.

Laurie is an accomplished horsewoman, as shown by her winning one of the peak events in camp drafting, the Warwick Ladies Draft, some years ago and is still active in the sport.

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