Darcy's fighting spirit lives on

LEGEND: Maitland boxer Jesse Catt prepares to train, as the image of Les Darcy looks on from the poster. Picture: Simone De Peak
LEGEND: Maitland boxer Jesse Catt prepares to train, as the image of Les Darcy looks on from the poster. Picture: Simone De Peak

AS a boxer, Les Darcy was reputed to have a long reach. But not nearly as long as his reach through history into the heart of the Hunter.

Wednesday marks 100 years since Darcy died in Memphis, on the other side of the globe from his family home in East Maitland. He was just 21.

Yet in those 21 years, the boy with the lightning fists and winning smile had fought his way from poverty to being a local hero then a national sporting champion, only to become a deeply divisive figure at a time when the world was at war. The extraordinary story of Les Darcy lives on.

In a souvenir eight-page supplement, to be published in the Newcastle Herald’s Weekender tomorrow, the life and legacy of Les Darcy are explored in words and pictures. Titled Fighting Spirit, the supplement includes an essay by Scott Bevan, who has spoken with family, boxers, historians and those whose own lives continue to be influenced by Darcy.      

SPECIAL: Don't miss the extraordinary story of the "Maitland Wonder" Les Darcy in the Newcastle Herald's Weekender on Saturday. #fightingspirit

SPECIAL: Don't miss the extraordinary story of the "Maitland Wonder" Les Darcy in the Newcastle Herald's Weekender on Saturday. #fightingspirit

His achievements in the ring are still applauded.  

“He was extraordinarily tough,” said boxing historian and past president of the Australian National Boxing Hall of Fame, Arnold Thomas. “He was like a brick wall coming at you, and the brick wall was throwing non-stop punches.”  

The essay explores what motivated Darcy to step into the ring, how his legend grew, and why he risked it all by stowing away to the United States in 1916. The Herald will take the reader to the home Les Darcy built for his family, share correspondence he wrote from the United States, and we will step into the ring. We also accompany a relative, Yanwyn Kirby, to Darcy’s grave site, where one of the biggest funeral services ever seen in the Hunter was held in 1917.

“He just feels very special to me,” Mr Kirby said.

REFLECTION: The statue of Les Darcy at East Maitland, which was unveiled in 2000 near his family home. Picture: Simone De Peak

REFLECTION: The statue of Les Darcy at East Maitland, which was unveiled in 2000 near his family home. Picture: Simone De Peak

And Darcy remains special to Maitland. A century on, his character still flows through Maitland, as surely as the Hunter River does. 

To navigate the life of Les Darcy, artist Peter Lewis has prepared a map marking key sites around Maitland, and chief photographer Simone De Peak has taken some beautiful and compelling images.

And from the weekend on theherald.com.au, you will be able to view a 20-minute documentary, directed by Scott Bevan and filmed by Max Mason-Hubers. You will also be able to explore a special online magazine presentation produced by Matt Carr. 

Fighting Spirit is available in your Newcastle Herald tomorrow.

This story Les Darcy’s long reach first appeared on Newcastle Herald.