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Jimmy Sharman’s Boxers

Australia's legendary travelling boxing troupe

(3 customer reviews)
Authors: Stephen McGrath
Australian history, boxing
153mm x 230mm

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Jimmy Sharman is a conundrum. Raised in a large poor catholic family, becoming a tent boxer at age eleven. He blinds another boxer and is racked by guilt for the rest of his life yet develops an extremely profitable and popular showground fixture. We learn about Sharman’s boxing tent spruiking, his unconventional business habits, his furious temper, his leadership and diplomacy. Sharman was twenty seven and medically fit when the war started.

We learn the real life stories of several indigenous boxers who were openly defiant against the intense racism they encountered. We meet clumsy Billy Grimes (the flat foot kid) who went on to win several Australian titles. We see an unlikely friendship develop between Rud Kee a Chinese boxer and Sharman.

As losses at Gallipoli and the Western Front grow, townspeople begin to question why a troupe of young men is fighting for profit while others are dying. Soon there are few men left, Sharman struggles to find challengers, recruitment propaganda and white feather campaigns intensify. The conscription plebiscites’ bitterly divide Australia. Then great personal tragedy visits Archie and the troupe. This story is the result of a remarkable new discovery in Australian history, a true story about how Jimmy Sharman navigated his Boxing Troupe throughout the First World War despite; the war fervour, the conscription debate, pressure to enlist, accusations of cowardice and the tragic loss of so many to the war itself.

Based on extensive research of real people and real events, this story tells how Jimmy Sharman managed to continue to tour throughout the war and created an unbeatable boxing troupe of White, Chinese and indigenous boxers, training them to be the most famous of all the Australian Travelling Boxing Troupes. This is an incredible, true and uniquely Australian story, it is beautifully told, giving us deep insight into the struggles of extraordinary people in extraordinary times.

“Stephen McGrath’s tireless research underpins this reanimation of a key chapter in Australia’s social, cultural and sporting history. Much can be learned from revisiting the rollicking days of Jimmy Sharman’s troupe, traversing geographic, racial and social frontiers.’ –  Micheal Winkler, Author of “Grimmish”, short listed for the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2022.

Stephen McGrath

Stephen McGrath

Stephen McGrath won the prestigious The Age Short Story Award, he was also runner up in the same competition. He has won several other National story awards. He grew up in New Zealand before moving to Melbourne where he lives with his wife and 2 children. In 2005 at the Mitchell Library NSW he found […]

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3 reviews for Jimmy Sharman’s Boxers

  1. This is such a good read. It is more than just a book about the travelling boxing troupe but a real insight into Australian history and social commentary around World War One. The characters come to life and you can almost smell the liniment and sawdust of the boxing tent. Really enjoyed the book!

  2. This is a ripper yarn that I devoured over a couple of days.

    The characters come to life beautifully on the page; this story tells us about a different side of Australian history during WW1.

  3. Eight books: A gothic novella and a passionate memoir of the `80s (
    u might know the Midnight Oil song Jimmy Sharman’s Boxers, which claims that Sharman exploited the Aboriginal men who worked for him. This meticulously researched novel tells a more nuanced story of struggle and camaraderie (and in the case of one Aboriginal character, open defiance of racism). The diverse troupe is desperate for work, but keeping a boxing show on the road is gruelling in wartime. Conscription referendums divide the country. White feathers are sent to men fighting in the ring, as others are dying on the battlefield half a world away. Stephen McGrath reimagines history through a diaristic, almost pointillist prose style, the image of the times assembled from fragmentary musings on the troupe’s progress.

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