YMCA Boxing

Heavyweight Championship of Karragullen

Written in 2016

Imagine a Karragullen around 1943, in the grip of World War 2, with many second generation young men either in military training or serving overseas for Allied Forces. Also imagine a growing population of Italian migrants, many fleeing a homeland political environment they found repugnant, trying to establish their families into a community using skills they had perfected for generations in Italy. Occupations in fruit and vegetable growing, timber cutting, charcoal making and stonework attracted these immigrants.

Unfortunately, if anyone was suspected of anti-Allied sentiments at this time, you were interned as an alien in a Prisoner of War camp at Marrinup near Dwellingup. Some immigrants were forced to register at a police station before any travel. A trip to Perth would entail registering at either Kelmscott or Kalamunda police station, and again at a Perth station before the return journey.

Now imagine, in this climate of no Television, Internet or even telephones, a tournament, a night of boxing matches in the Karragullen Hall. this is the old Hall on O’Meagher Road, which was also used as a church for both Protestant and Catholic services. District halls were the centre of social interaction like the monthly dances. Complaints had been raised about conducting pugilistic pursuits in the House of the Lord.

The Original Boxing Gloves Used in this Match

During the tournament, a young Royal Australian Navy sailor, Ken Smailes, happened into the hall, having just come home on leave from his ship at Fremantle. Before the War, Ken had been a keen member of the YMCA Boys Club, set up in Pickering Brook and Karragullen, by WW 1 soldier settler in Pickering Brook, one Jack Mavor. Ken had excelled at boxing and now the crowd was keen to see him in action against an Italian opponent. The crowd chanted “Ked and Peter”, seeing Peter Ghillarducci as a worthy opponent. It is not certain who refereed the match. It could have been Bert Beard from the Pickering Brook Store, as he was known to have officiated other bouts, or maybe Mario Tonusso, a prominent Canning Mills identity. Before the bout, statements were made about how well the Fascists were doing on the War front in Europe. The scene was set for a grudge match. The result? Millions died as a result of the war, the Italians, thankfully became the backbone of our community with many later marriages between Italian and English/Irish families, The boxing gloves worn at this tournament are still in excellent condition and are on display at the Pickering Brook Heritage Group.

The Original Boxing Gloves Used in this Match

Because the Heavyweight Championship of Karragullen was over 70 years ago, there are few left alive who were actually present. Anyone who has any information about the YMCA Boys Club at Pickering Brook and Karragullen, or boxing matches in the district,would be most welcome to share their stories with the Pickering Brook Heritage Group.


References; Article: Don Smailes

Images: 1 Pickering Brook Heritage Group
2, 3 Gordon Freegard