‘The local boxer who reached the top…’ by KB Hill



It’s the mid-thirties…….The sporting persuasions of most of the young lads around Wangaratta and District lean towards football, cricket and tennis……..

Cliff Bowen shows a keen interest in all of them, but it’s the ‘Noble Art’ of Boxing that particularly piques his imagination.

He has become absorbed by the careers of Australian pugilistic luminaries, such as Les Darcy, Jack Carroll, Ambrose Palmer and Ron Richards, and can hardly wait to don the gloves and test himself against the best of those around here…….

Raised in Moyhu, he has attended the Byrne Primary School without aspiring to any great academic heights……To be blunt, education is not his ‘forte’…..He leaves school at 14 just as the nation is climbing out of the Great Depression……..lands a job with a Glenrowan Butcher, has a crack at Plumbing, then diversifies to become a Painter/Decorator.

The regular Wangaratta ‘Fight Nights’ which are conducted at either the ‘Theatre Royal’ or St. Patrick’s Hall, attract strong crowds and provide the platform for local boxers, Reg and Mick Maroney, ‘Possum’ Lloyd, Dougie Powell, Joe Trimble, Jack Cavanagh and Claude Burns to exhibit their skills.

Bowen is in his mid-teens when Powell takes him under his wing and begins to educate him on the Sweet Science.

This leads to a handful of bouts…….a few of them unofficial encounters against travelling Tent-Boxers at the Wangaratta Show……Another is on the undercard at a packed St. Pat’s Hall….

The main event features Wangaratta footballer Tommy Maguire, who hangs on for a draw against Steve Last…….Earlier in the evening, Bowen and another enthusiastic local, ‘Skeet’ Jackson, draw generous applause from the crowd after a veritable slugfest……

Five years later, Cliff Bowen is fighting for the vacant Australian Middleweight title…….


Cliff Bowen




He’d moved to Sydney and continued to box; rapidly moving through the Middleweight rankings after chalking up seven straight wins in a sequence of four-rounders.

People in ‘Sin City’, starved of entertainment during the War years, flocked to either Sydney Stadium in Rushcutter’s Bay, or Leichhardt Stadium in the city’s inner-west, to watch the heavily-promoted Boxing stars of the day.

Bowen was one of them…….On his journey, though, he had suffered a jolt to his confidence when he was matched against a rising 17-year-old aboriginal, virtually unknown outside of his home town of Newcastle…..

Dave Sands was his name….. He was one of six brothers who took up boxing, to try to emulate the deeds of his father – and a great-uncle, who was a noted bare-knuckle fighter……By the end of 1942 Sands had knocked out a dozen opponents at Newcastle Stadium .

Hailed as somewhat of a cult hero at home, he was a fierce counter-puncher, and won emphatically, on a TKO against Bowen, who had no answer to his ‘educated left hand’……

In the aftermath of his victory, Dave Sands continued to enhance his reputation, move up the weight classes and onto the international scene………Many others, of no less stature than Cliff Bowen, were to find Sands more than a handful throughout his magnificent 11-year career, which was to include 87 wins – 54 by knockout………

(Sadly, a month after his last fight, a truck that Sands was driving overturned at Dungog, near Newcastle, and he died of head and internal injuries……..He was later adjudged as one of the greatest fighters never to have won a world title………..)


Tommy Colteaux 


 Hockey Bennell




Meanwhile, controversy raged, in 1944, over the rightful claimants to the National Middleweight crown.

The holder, Hockey Bennell, was stripped of the title after incurring a broken hand in a Welterweight fight, and had been unable to commit to a couple of suggested match-ups within the permitted time-frame.

Another leading contender, Alan Westbury, had been forced onto the sidelines for many months, which also took him out of calculations..

Boxing politics clouded what was a rather murky situation..……New Zealander Tommy Colteaux became the seemingly rightful owner of the Belt when he defeated George Elliott…………He then outpointed Cliff Bowen in his first defence.

Five months later, in late December 1944, Bowen reversed the result, overpowering Colteaux on a TKO in the 11th round………He was the new Australian Middleweight Champion…..

Even then, debate continued about the claimants to the title…….

“Westbury is recognised as the champion by Stadiums Limited – and by fight followers – except perhaps, those who attend Leichhardt Stadium…..There, Cliff Bowen is held to be the title-holder…” trumpeted the Sydney papers.

“Bowen inherited whatever recognition he now receives when he defeated the Kiwi Tommy Colteaux a few months ago…..Colteaux was regarded by some sections in Sydney boxing circles as the National Champion,…..”

“If Bowen, Colteaux and Hockey Bennell would again agree to take part in an elimination series, with boxers nominated by Stadiums Limited, the position could be straightened out…..There would not be the absurd situation of two Stadiums in the one city claiming to have National Title-holders under contract….”




Cliff Bowen’s first defence of his title was against the cagey Hockey Bennell……He lost on points in a gruelling 15-rounder, at Leichardt Stadium.

The loss took a heavy toll on the boy from Wangaratta…..

A couple of heavy defeats followed, and he subsequently hung up the gloves for good, eight months after he’d surrendered his crown.

But his fascination for the boxing game never dissipated…….When one of his four kids, Jimmy, decided to follow in his footsteps, Cliff was there to lend a hand……

He played a key role in the lad’s development……..Jimmy unsuccessfully challenged for the Australian Bantamweight Championship in 1972 when he was outpointed by the dour campaigner Paul Ferrari, who dominated the division.

After a hiatus of five years, Jimmy returned, stepping up to the heavier Super Bantamweight division, and captured the Belt from Bimbo Morris.

He defended his Title five times before retiring, aged 32, after 72 pro fights.

Last year, four decades after his last bout, the 70 year-old Jimmy Bowen made a comeback, to compete in the Pacific Masters Games (60 to 80-year Division) on the Gold Coast.

Along with the Tszyus (Kostya, Tim and Nikita) and the Mundines (Tony and Anthony), Cliff and Jimmy Bowen share a rare distinction as father-son National Boxing Champions…………



This story appeared first on KB Hill’s website On Reflection and is used here with permission.
All photos sourced from KB Hill’s resources unless otherwise acknowledged.

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