Most of my ‘allowance’ for the Show or the Carnival, during my mis-spent youth would go towards admission fees to the Boxing Tent.
Always situated near the old peppercorn trees on the Ovens River side of the Showgrounds, I would be drawn to it by the thump, thump, thump of banging drums. Boxers paraded on a platform in front of a bright mural depicting some of the legendary fighters of the past, as Roy Bell or Bill Leech challenged some of the local boys to ‘take a glove’.
It was always great theatre. Eventually blokes would emerge from the crowd, engage in a bit of repartee and be given a huge roar, as they climbed onto the platform to be matched with a sneering, hard-bitten usually-Aboriginal Troupe member.
One bloke would occasionally put up his hand and get involved in the mandatory sledging and goings-on. I couldn’t wait to get inside and see him belt one of these brash outsiders. As I joined the throng filing into the tent, the drums would start beating again to the accompaniment of : “Your local hero ‘Bryany’ Archman fights this session”……….
Bryan Archman’s father, was arguably Wangaratta’s greatest-ever wicket-keeper/batsmen. His mum was a Canny and dad, Frank worked as a driver for Canny’s for a few years prior to the war.
Bryan played junior footy and cricket, but the first seeds of a love-affair with the noble art were sown when a fellow called Steve Last urged him to have a go at the boxing bag that was set up in his back-yard.
Soon after, his dad bought him a pair of boxing gloves and he began having work-outs at the local Youth Club, run by well-known book-maker Ray Parkinson and an old blacksmith, ‘Sooner’ Jones. He had regular sessions with the likes of Ralphy and Eric Tye and reasoned that he was pretty good with his fists.
So a boxing career was born.
He had one of his first bouts at the age of 12, on a program at Benalla, organised by the Youth Club and was outpointed by a Shepparton youngster called Carlos . The same Maxie Carlos, of course, was destined to become a famous Australian lightweight champion.
From that point on he was smitten, much to the disappointment of his mother, Mary, who had visualised him following in his father’s cricketing footsteps.
Bryan eventually moved to Melbourne in his employment as an apprentice with the Railways and continued with his boxing.
He won amateur Golden Gloves titles in Under-Age divisions, then turned pro, soon after he had finished National Service.
And just to keep the peace with his mum, who he knew would be horrified to know he was fighting professionally, he decided to change his his name.
That’s when he became Archie Bryant.
In those days Festival Hall was the regular boxing venue on a Friday night, followed by a wrestling-boxing program on a Saturday night. ‘Archie’ won his first three-rounder on points on a Saturday night, won by a cut-eye decision the following Friday , and the next night won again on points.
“So I had my first three fights in eight days and got 7 pounds per fight. At the time I was earning 10 quid a week as a boilermaker “, he told author Jack Finlay.
Between 1957 and 1961 he had 31 fights and earned a ranking at one stage, as Australia’s sixth- ranked middleweight.
Archman was one of 25 former boxers whom Finlay interviewed for his book, ‘Fighters’. I spoke to him earlier this week.
“Archie was tall for his weight and trained hard. He was a fine counter-puncher and good on his feet. He reckoned he boxed like a dancer and danced like a boxer!”
“But his moment of truth arrived when one his workmates, ‘Curly’ Muir, who was an unofficial bookmaker at Festival Hall set him straight. ‘Curly’ told him …’As long as your backside points to the ground, you’ll never be a champion. You haven’t got the killer instinct and you don’t punch hard enough”….
“Archie said: …’Here was a bloke who’d seen every fight in Melbourne for the last 20 years and knew all there was to know about the caper, and he’s telling me this…”
Archie joined the Police Force in 1959 and continued in the fight game until 1961, when he retired from pro boxing.
So Archie Bryant reverted to Bryan Archman.
He continued his active involvement by putting on police boxing and wrestling events throughout the state.
And, of course, he still had plenty of unofficial fights.
He showed boxer dogs and toured around the country Shows with them. To earn his petrol money home he would saunter over to the tent and have three or four fights, cheered on by the parochial home crowds.
With his dog-exhibitor’s tag on his lapel, people were sure that he was fair-dinkum and they’d get very excited when he approached the canvas tent.
“Of course it was all arranged and we pulled our punches, but everyone seemed to have a good time”, he recalled.
Now long-retired, Bryan Archman lives in Camberwell. Fighting is in his blood and his pulse stirs when he sees a good ‘stoush’.
It brings back memories of the days when he was ducking and weaving at Festival Hall and even when he was belting that old punching-bag in Steve Last’s backyard………