Primary Sources 50 stories from 50 years of the Archives

Boxing and the Bishop of Coventry: Stadiums Pty Ltd

Throughout most of the 20th century, Festival Hall in Dudley Street, West Melbourne was the focal point for the city's entertainment business. The booking diaries for Stadiums Pty Ltd reveal an endless round of entertainers, sporting and political events. Inside its dark walls, Festival Hall would host the Bishop of Coventry followed by a boxing tournament the next night. Billy Graham vied for booking space with the Waterside Workers' Federation and the youthful, hedonistic festivals of early rock and roll.

Stadiums Pty Ltd was established in 1899 by notorious Melbourne entrepreneur John Wren and his associate Dick Lean to enter the lucrative sport of boxing. Festival Hall (originally named West Melbourne Stadium) was built in 1912 for boxing promoter 'Snowy' Baker and was sold to Stadiums Pty Ltd in 1915.

The Stadiums Pty Ltd collection holds a large amount of boxing memorabilia dating from the 1930s to the 1960s. There are many photographs of Indigenous boxers who broke through the constraints placed on them by the prejudices of the industry and society at large to become champions. Among these one can see the likes of Lionel Rose in full swing, autographed portraits of George Sands of the famous Sands family, and a cartoon poster advertising a fight with George Bracken.

Many Indigenous boxers, such as Bracken and Jack Hassen, began their careers as tent boxers. Tent boxing troupes, the most famous of which was Jimmy Sharman's, would tour rural shows where locals would pay to see and possibly to fight the troupe's boxers, until it was banned by government medical regulations in 1971. Some of the best tent boxers were lucky enough to be noticed by boxing managers and find their way to the more lucrative (but still potentially exploitative) world of professional boxing, as represented in the Stadiums Pty Ltd collection.

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