• Tony Mundine and Jeff Fenech from I'm Your Man. (SBS/I'm Your Man)
"To map Australia’s boxing legacy is to also map the history of some of our country's most socio-economically disadvantaged. To these men boxing is not just a sport it’s a shot at respect, fortune and a better life."
By
Alyssa Braithwaite

2 Jun 2017 - 11:09 AM  UPDATED 2 Jun 2017 - 3:59 PM

When a theatre maker gained access to the "hyper-masculine" world of professional boxing she was surprised by what she found there.

Interested in investigating acts of courage, Roslyn Oades found herself drawn to the very physical and visceral courage it takes to be a boxer.

She spent 18 months hanging out at boxing gyms and going back stage at fights to learn all she could about that world and the people who inhabit it.

"One thing is certain in the hyper-masculine world of professional boxing, no matter how high you fly you will eventually lose in a very public way – that takes guts."

"I found them to be some of the most generous, vulnerable and caring people I’ve met," Oades tells SBS.

"I was completely humbled by their courage. One thing is certain in the hyper-masculine world of professional boxing, no matter how high you fly you will eventually lose in a very public way – that takes guts."

Oades turned that investigation into into a theatre production in 2012/13 called I'm Your Man.

Now SBS has produced an innovative digital adaptation of I'm Your Man, which utilises interactive technology drawn from gaming to encourage viewers to learn how to master the art of boxing along with the Australian heroes in the ring.

The history of boxing in Australia reveals a democratic journey towards prosperity for the fortunate and talented few who have reached the upper echelons’ of international success and fame.

"To map Australia’s boxing legacy is to also map the history of some of our country's most socio-economically disadvantaged. To these men boxing is not just a sport it’s a shot at respect, fortune and a better life."

Having grown up in the culturally diverse area of Bankstown, in western Sydney, Oades was struck by cultural diversity represented in Australia's boxing greats, including Indigenous legends like Tony Mundine and Lionel Rose, pioneer Les Darcy, Maltese-Australian Jeff Fenech, Russian-Australian Kostya Tszyu, French-born Johnny Famechon and Arab-Australian Billy Dib.

"To map Australia’s boxing legacy is to also map the history of some of our country's most socio-economically disadvantaged. To these men boxing is not just a sport it’s a shot at respect, fortune and a better life," Oades says.

"Billy Dib is a bit of an exception to this rule as he comes from a very secure, established family – but I know growing up as a young man from an Arab-Australian background has had it’s challenges for him in terms of experiencing racism and wanting to be a role model for his community.

"I’ve found successful boxers often have a deep-seated hunger, or else genuinely believe they have nothing to lose - like Wale Omotoso who grew up on the streets of Nigeria - which can make them fearless opponents in the ring." 

Oades was instantly intrigued by the noise, rhythms and smells of the boxing gyms she visited, and calls them "places of dreaming".

She was also impressed by the sense of community and mentorship she observed in boxing gyms. 

"I know trainers like Billy Hussein and Tony Mundine snr. have often taken troubled young people under their wings – and provided them with structured alternative options," she says.

"When I first met Tony he was putting up a talented young boxer from NZ that needed a bit of guidance in his own house. This was someone he didn’t know “from a bar of soap” - to quote to Tony - at the time."

Mundine is one of Australia's most accomplished Indigenous fighters, and the only Australian boxer to compete professionally in four weight divisions. 

He took his first swing in 1969, and paved the way for countless aspiring boxers, including his own son, Anthony Mundine, who followed in his father’s footsteps becoming a former world champion boxer. 

Mundine says the allure of boxing is about challenging yourself.

"It's a hard sport, a really hard sport," Mundine tells SBS.

"Doing all the training, seven days a week, twice a day, it's a hard sport if you want to make it to the top.

"All my muscles on my body are all tight, tight like a rattlesnake."

"I think it's a challenge for yourself. Challenge yourself to climb that ladder slowly, and try to make it to the top and try to be the champion of Australia, or champion of the world. I was very lucky, I made it to the top. I went and fought six times in Paris, fought twice in Rome, fought in Yugoslavia, South America, Argentina, I boxed in Noumea, Fiji, New Zealand, New Guinea, all around to South Africa. Back in the 70s, to travel around the world was just unbelievable."

Celebrating his 66th birthday in June, Mundine is still very involved in boxing. He punches the bag every day for one hour non-stop - a tough workout that he says makes him feel like a 20-year-old boy: "All my muscles on my body are all tight, tight like a rattlesnake."

He's just started training an 18-year-old Indigenous boy who he believes could make it big.

"He could be a world champion, so I'm working on him now," says Mundine.

"We've got to keep the youth in tight with our mob."

I’m Your Man explores the diverse history of some of Australia’s best-known boxing legends, using innovative technology to create a fully interactive and immersive experience.

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