Tommy Burns (left) trains during his boxing prime.
Tommy Burns (left) trains during his boxing prime.

Burns will be remembered

BOXER Tommy Burns, who helped put the sport on the map in Australia, is best remembered on the Northern Rivers as an instructor at Lismore Gymnasium in the early 1940s.

Born at Mullumbimby, Burns died at the age of 88 in a Sydney nursing home last week.

Burns went on to win the Australian welterweight championship in 1947 and attracted a cult following.

He spent 18 years as a professional trained by Alby Grahame.

Born Geoffrey Murphy in 1922, he took the ring name Tommy Burns so that his mother wouldn’t find out he was a boxer.

He moved into a flat in Magellan Street, Lismore, in the 1930s, honing his craft and training as a lightweight.

Lismore boxing legend Arthur Maloney said Burns was one of a kind in the sport and well ahead of his time.

“Tommy (Burns) had a big following, a bit like the Anthony Mundine of the era, you either loved him or hated him,” Maloney said.

“He always had the good looks and I remember meeting him at a tournament in Casino in the 1970s after he had retired.

“One of his stories was about how after every fight he would go home and rub Vaseline over the blisters on his ears and face ... he really looked after his appearance.

“He also told me that he had started out as lightweight and never had an amateur fight before going pro.”

Burns went on to win 30 straight fights in Brisbane, with his strong left hook and dominant punching power in both hands.

He broke the mould for boxers to make their mark in Hollywood when he appeared in screen tests and films.

Burns appeared in the 1949 Charles Chauvel movie Sons of Mathew.

The glamour boxer then took the moniker “the handsome hero with hammers for fists”.

Lismore boxing identity Allan Robinson remembers Burns for his charisma.

“I saw him fight in an exhibition bout in 1947,” Robinson said.

“He was happy to let everybody know that he was Tommy Burns.

“Tommy (Burns) was tough, though, he could take a lot of punishment.”

After defeating Melbourne boxer Mickey Tollis in a title defence in the late 1940s, the crowd booed the decision.

The angry welterweight champion grabbed the microphone and stunned the crowd by replying.

“I’m the fighter, not the referee,” he said. “I have always given you good fights, you wouldn’t come to see me if you didn’t like me.”

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