According to legend, hunted outlaw Ned Kelly turned up to watch Australia’s last bare-knuckle championship boxing match on the banks of the Murray River.

Story By Ian Heads

There is no plaque, no hint of the place where the blood of two famous fighting men stained the fallen gum leaves on the banks of the Murray. Thursday, March 20, 1879 it was, 20 kilometres or so down the river from Echuca, Vic, on a right-angle bend known as Dead Horse Point. Just after dawn, Sydney’s Larry Foley shaped up to the English-born Melburnian Abe Hicken in what was to be Australia’s last big bare-knuckle championship fight.
It was just six weeks after the Kelly Gang’s raid on Jerilderie (170km north of Echuca), during which the gang had robbed the bank of £2000, and the troopers were hot on Ned Kelly’s trail. But – legend has it – despite the police presence, Kelly and gang member Joe Byrne turned up to watch Foley and Hicken thunder away at each other.
The story of the fight and Ned Kelly’s attendance has been handed down through generations in the Echuca district. “It’s part of the folklore around here,” says Echuca Historical Society researcher Heather Rendle. “Older people here grew up with the story and passed it on. These days we get younger people coming in, fascinated with the tale and looking for more information – having first learnt the story from within their families.”
One local story was written down in the 1980s by journalist Geoff Waters. “An elderly lady living alone in a cottage near McIntosh’s Mill (Echuca) met two young men who came to her door,” he wrote in the Riverine Herald. “Well dressed and courteous, they asked for a billy of boiling water to brew their tea. They were camped close to her house with two excellent horses … and explained they did not wish to light a fire in the very dry bush. Very early the next morning the men came to the door again with the same request. Thanking her for the water, they added: ‘Don’t tell anyone … we are the Kellys’.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #76

Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2011