Harry Johns was a boxing and wrestling entrepreneur who toured the agricultural shows of Australia's eastern states between the 1930s and 1960s. The Harry Johns Boxing Trouple Collection was donated to Museum Victoria in 1996 by Harry Johns and Francesca Rose.
Boxing troupes toured agricultural shows in eastern Australia between the 1920s and the 1960s. Travelling boxing troupes can be traced to the late 1800s and are linked earlier to travelling carnivals. But it was not until road transport improved that troupes became a regular feature of country shows. At least half of these fighters were Aboriginal men. Boxing was an important aspect of Aboriginal culture in the 20th century and a large proportion of tent boxers were Aborigines. Boxing was seen as a way of escaping mission life and as a vehicle for political and social change and development.
The Harry Johns Boxing Troupe Collection comprises 77 objects, including a tent, tressle tables, loud speakers, spotlight, tickets and clothing. The centrepiece of the collection is a red boxing truck. It reflects Harry Johns' lengthy involvement in the business: the cabin and chassis, from the International AR 160 Series, were purchased new by Johns around 1954; the rear section was grafted from his previous truck. Instead of relying on rail and local transport, Johns' troupe could travel direct from show to show, his truck a travelling advertisement carrying several tons of set-up equipment. This included the tent in which the boxing was staged; a drum and a sound system so that the spruiker Johns could drown out the showground competition; a 'line-up board' on which a dozen fighters would be paraded and matched with local hopefuls ('C'mon - who'll take a glove, who'll take a glove?'); and the general supplies of a life lived rough. On top of all this travelled the fighters themselves. Many were recruited along the way after showing promise against a Johns fighter. At least half of these fighters were Aboriginal men as tent boxing was one of the only ways a young man could break out from 'the Mission'.
Material from Harry Johns' Boxing Troupe is also held at the National Sports Museum.
Aboriginal People, Agricultural Shows, Boxing, Boxing Troupes, Community Organisations, Entertainment, Entertainment Industry, Entertainment Workers, Indigenous Peoples, Itinerant Work, Recreation, Rural Victoria, Sport, Sportsmen, Working Life