Ghosts of Memphis…Friday Fictioneers.

The stench of raw sweat and the blood of a thousand broken dreams permeated the decaying walls of the old boxing gym, and Hope Unlimited Church had bought it for a song.

This was where Australian boxer, Les Darcy, had fought his last fight. The grim reaper might’ve claimed his body. The Lord had claimed his soul. Yet, all the boxers knew that a part of Les Darcy still lingered in the ring and wasn’t giving up.

There must’ve been something about Memphis, because Les Darcy wasn’t the only king, who’d come back from the dead to haunt the living.


Les Darcy 1910

Australian Boxer Les Darcy in 1910.

James Leslie “Les” Darcy was born on the 28th October, 1895 at Stradbroke, near Maitland, NSW, Australia and he had all the makings of a folk hero. His remarkable ring record—he lost only four professional fights and was never knocked out—was associated with a quite extraordinary physique: a muscular body apparently impervious to the heaviest blows and a reach 7 ins (18 cm) greater than his height of 5 ft 7 ins (170 cm). He neither smoked nor drank, and spent most of his income on his family; he attended Mass most mornings, one of his closest friends being the local priest. His decision to leave Australia secretly, in breach of the War Precautions Act, provided the controversy (and the enemies in high places) without which no hero-figure is complete: his lonely death in Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 21, gave him an aura of martyrdom. So powerful a legend did he become that fifty years after his death flags flew at half-mast, and a memorial at his birthplace was unveiled by Sir William McKell, former governor-general. When he had been dead for two generations, he was still inspiring the pens of Australian nationalist writers- Australian Dictionary of Biography

Australian author, D’Arcy Niland, had a life long interest in Les Darcy and spent many years compiling notes and stories and even traveling to America and interviewing those who knew him back in 1961. However, Niland died suddenly and was unable to complete the story. However, later in life his wife author Ruth Park took on that challenge. Using the extensive material they had collected over many years, Park wrote Home Before Dark: the story of Les Darcy. It was published in 1995 by Penguin Australia.

As a personal aside, my grandparents were close friends with D’Arcy Niland and Ruth Park. Indeed, the night before D’Arcy Niland passed away, my parents met for the very first time when my grandmother held a soiree in their Lindfield home for upcoming young pianist, Gerard Willems. My grandmother was teaching my mother the piano at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music at the time, and my father was sent up to the station to pick her and Gerard Willems up. So, it seems that night marked more than one line in the sand.

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. You are more than welcome to come and join us either as a writer or a reader. Simply click Here to go through to the linky.

33 thoughts on “Ghosts of Memphis…Friday Fictioneers.

  1. aliceaudrey

    I thought since he lived such a heroic and legendary life that he might have an interesting death. Septicemia from dental work from teeth knocked out in a fight. It’s kind of like a Viking dying of pneumonia picked up from a battlefield.

  2. Sascha Darlington

    Rowena, great deal! With the amount of damage that is done to the brain in a boxing match, I am surprised that there haven’t been more very young deaths. 21 is far too young.

  3. Rowena Post author

    Thanks, Sascha. Yes, it was such a tragedy. I have that book about Les Darcy on the shelf here somewhere and i’ll have to read it soon.
    xx Rowena

  4. Rowena Post author

    I hadn’t thought about the smell of a gym until I was researching Les Darcy and an a parent of a 14 year old boy, I rang true. I used to pick my daughter up from the station and there was just this wall of stench as the high school kids passed by. They should set up a deodorant shower to decontaminate them as they leave.

  5. Rowena Post author

    I was very lucky with the way this came together, Dale. Decided to write about Les Darcy before I knew he’s died in America. I saw his grave at some point in Maitland, back here. Who doesn’t associate Elvis with Memphis so it was just a stroke of luck.

  6. Rowena Post author

    Thank you very much, Lynn. It was also great for me to learn more abut him too and I’ll be reading his biography very soon.

  7. Rowena Post author

    Alice you put that so well. No doubt things would’ve been very different for Les Darcy if antibiotics had been available.

  8. Rowena Post author

    You’re welcome Iain. I didn’t know much about him before I researched this post. I had to swat on this.
    Best wishes,

  9. Rowena Post author

    Thank you very much, Rochelle. I enjoyed researching the story very much and plan to read his biography very soon.
    Best wishes,

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