Alice Keath with music by Slava and Leonard Grigoryan, produced by ABC Classic, 2021
ALICE KEATH: Objects and stories from Australian life.
MULTIPLE VOICES: This is us.
LEONARD GRIGORYAN: A gold locket.
ALICE KEATH: When you hear the name Les Darcy, what comes to mind? Is it the smell of leather, gloves and bodies crammed into a boxing ring? Or maybe you think ‘Les Darcy, I know the name, but what is it he did again?’
James Leslie Darcy was a second son born in 1985, into a struggling and poor family in Maitland, near Newcastle in New South Wales. He went to work young, finding any and every way to make money to give to his family. He wasn’t the tallest kid or the largest kid, but he was one of the toughest.
He made his first money boxing when he was just 14. His reputation grew, people loved to watch him. When he competed in Sydney there were so many people from Maitland, his hometown, who wanted to come see him, they travelled in two special trains. In his professional career he barely lost a fight and he was never knocked out.
He might have been more of a household name if things hadn’t gotten complicated.
Darcy had left Australia in the midst of a highly charged debate about conscription. He was a symbol to other young men, so there was all sorts of pressure on him to pick a side.
According to some historians, Les was ready to sign up. But first his plan was to go to America, win some fights, send some money home to his family and then figure it out. But the Australian media turned on him. All of his previous promoters in Australia joined in, branding him as unpatriotic — as a shirker. It was the end of Darcy’s reputation.
At age 22 [sic], after training for fights in America, he collapsed. He had blood poisoning and an infection in his heart. He died in Memphis. By his side was his fiancé, Winnie O’Sullivan.
She had a gold locket and I’m looking at that locket now. It’s a small, oval object around three centimetres wide and inside on the left is a tiny black and white portrait of a young, healthy, vibrant Les. On the right hand side is a lock of his hair.
Winnie died in 1974 but she’d kept that locket for over 50 years. The back of the locket is worn with the imprint of her thumb. She was Les Darcy’s first and last love.
The locket shines a different light on Les Darcy, a young man ready for what he hoped would be a sterling future. Where he could take care of this family, play his sport and marry Winnie.
Here is ‘Love and Forgiveness’ by the Grigoryan Brothers.
[‘Love and Forgiveness’ played by Leonard and Slava Grigoryan]
ALICE KEATH: ‘Love and Forgiveness’ written and performed by the Grigoryan Brothers. I’m Alice Keath and This is us: A musical reflection of Australia was commissioned by the National Museum of Australia to mark their 20th anniversary. Head to the ABC Classic website to view the objects, find out more and buy the Grigoryan Brothers album featuring all of the music in the project.
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This is an edited transcript typed from an audio recording.
The National Museum of Australia cannot guarantee its complete accuracy.
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Date published: 09 March 2021