BIRDSVILLE, Australia. A sea of noisy people in flannel shirts and cowboy hats clutching beer cans huddle in the near darkness at Fred Brophy’s feet. The Australian outback icon, in his customary red shirt, faded blue jeans and dark brown boots, sits on a raised platform and thumps his bass drum. He pauses for a moment before barking; “Who wants a fight!?” His legendary performance draws raucous applause as one by one, overly ambitious players, emboldened by varying levels of intoxication, raise their hands to the sky in acceptance of his challenge.
Each brave amateur boxer is then escorted up a rickety wooden staircase to join Brophy and answer his series of quick personal questions as the drum continues to pound and the tension builds. This “rallying cry” begins every Brophy show, and once half a dozen volunteers have been found, the rest part with A$45 and pour into his cauldron for a truly unique Australian experience.
The Fred Brophy Boxing Troupe – a traveling circus offering every Joe the opportunity to punch and get hit, all in the name of entertainment – is the last remaining legal boxing tent in the world.
“We fight anyone,” Brophy tells Sportzshala in his serious, white-haired tone. “We don’t care who they are or what reputation they have. Pros they or someone else, we do not care.
“But if they do cage fights… if these UHFs or HICs, Kentucky Fried Chicken, as I call them,” he says, referring to the UFC, “if they do this to my guys, them.”
Brophy lived a hell of a life.
Born in Perth to a hot-air balloon performer and circus operator father, Brophy was hustling for cash by the time he could stand on his own two feet. He developed a taste for violence at a young age, fighting other local children in his father and uncle’s boxing tent, which toured Queensland as a warm-up for senior fights. He was “shot with a double-barreled shotgun” over 100 times, had spears thrown at him, cut off parts of his own fingers in a failed attempt to escape from prison, he received an OAM (Order of Australia) and ran several times. pubs and, of course, the famous mobile boxing tent.
“It belongs to Australia,” Brophy says, pointing to the red earth beneath his feet. “Boxing in a tent is an Australian tradition. A show that celebrates all things outback and I’m proud of it.
“Here you get flies, you get dust and rain and wind. But you get a lot of friends for life. It’s a real, 100% Australian experience.”
When you step into Brophy’s boxing tent, you can jump into Doc Emmett Brown’s DeLorean. It’s a throwback to a time in Australia when the term “political correctness” had no meaning. The men smoke cigars and drink brown liquor, and the women are called “Sheilas” without irony. For some, Brophy’s experience is a reminder of what the nation once was, while for others, it’s a history lesson highlighting how far society has come.
WITH JOHNNY CASH Ring of Fire blaring from retro tin plastic speakers, Brophy steps out to the center of the battle mat and calls for Beaver.
“She comes from Kings Cross, where the women are tough and the men are handsome. She’s got hair on her legs that would go through a rat, that’s how cool she is,” Brophy warns his opponent, a modest 25-year-old carpenter from the countryside. N.S.W. After a few minutes of Brophy’s theatrics, the pair touch the gloves and begin to dance in the ring. It all starts out pretty banal, but quickly escalates into a fight where every blow landed causes a roar of approval from the crowd.
Beaver, also known as Brettlin Neil, was a regular on Brophy’s boxing list for 12 years. She works in tandem with the likes of “Digger,” a six-foot-six army veteran, and “Chopsticks,” a Taiwanese immigrant, bringing Brophy’s slogan “The Bush Boys are back.” We fight with everyone.” which decorates their bright green tent.
“In 2010, I was working as a security guard in Birdsville. [Hotel] pub and I saw this amazing front lit tent with drum beat. I wanted to be a part of it,” Beaver tells Sportzshala. I walked over and raised my hand. [to fight]. I drew one and then won one. On the third night I came back and Fred said, “Now you’re fighting for me.” I have been with him ever since.”
Beaver barely broke a sweat, while her opponent looks like he just went 12 rounds with Mike Tyson. He hurts. Even the wild support from his environment cannot open a second wind. Beaver pretends to leave before stunning him with a vicious right hook, earning him a second knockdown in as many minutes. “That’s enough,” Brophy yells, running back to the mat to check on the battered carpenter. With a thumbs up, Brophy triumphantly raises Beaver’s left hand, and the tent rejoices again.
“I love fighting guys,” Beaver tells me. “They never win when they interfere, do they? If they hit you, then they are wife-criminals, and if you beat them, then they are pi-ns. by day we are here to give people an experience and make sure the crowd enjoys their night. This is entertainment. It is so simple”.
You ask, what can make someone voluntarily endure beatings and bruises? I was determined to find out and asked the man who had just grabbed Beaver.
“It’s an experience,” he says. “When will you get another chance to do something like this?” It turns out that the few who can beat their experienced opponents battling for the tent can earn a cash prize of A$30 for every surviving minute.
Brophy’s tent travels through the outback of Queensland, the only Australian state or territory where strangers are still allowed to box semi-professionals. But once it’s outlawed, it could spell the end for boxing tents around the world. However, until that day comes, Brophy has no intention of retiring.
“I will do this until I can climb this ladder,” he says. And I’m not changing for anyone.