‘ Ray of hope’ for is­land

Townsville Bulletin - - SPORT - BERNIE PRAMBERG

RAY Den­nis is an or­di­nary bloke lead­ing an ex­tra­or­di­nary life.

Hum­ble and self- dep­re­cat­ing, Den­nis has lived on Palm Is­land for the last 18 years where he has trained, men­tored and given his all to hun­dreds of indige­nous box­ers.

To Palm Is­lan­ders he is Un­cle Ray, a re­spected 80year- old knock­about who dragged him­self out of a hole in 1999 to work as a vol­un­teer in the Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity.

“I couldn’t get per­ma­nent work in Townsville, and a mate and I were mak­ing 100 bot­tles of home brew a week and drink­ing a lot of it,’’ Den­nis said.

“I had to get away from it all and de­cided to do some vol­un­teer work at Palm Is­land. A bloke I’d taught to box about 50 years ago in Townsville lived on the is­land so I went over and stayed with him.

“When I ar­rived on Palm, I wanted to do some good and all I re­ally knew was box­ing.”

Within 10 years Den­nis had been nom­i­nated as Aus­tralian of the Year for his un­yield­ing and self­less work in the com­mu­nity. To­mor­row he will be in­ducted to the Queens­land Box­ing Hall of Fame at a func­tion at Yatala.

Not long af­ter Den­nis ar­rived, box­ing be­came a beacon of hope for Palm Is­lan­ders.

As many as 50 boys and some girls at­tended af­ter school.

The Palm Is­land Box­ing Club estab­lished it­self as one of the strong­est in Aus­tralia and Den­nis went on to pro­duce about 50 na­tional cham­pi­ons.

“I teach them be­ing a good per­son is just as im­por­tant as be­ing a good boxer,’’ he said.

“The dis­ci­pline of box­ing can keep them off the streets and away from drugs and drink.

“Most indige­nous young­sters are nat­u­rally gifted ath­letes with very quick re­flexes. If you can get them to train con­sis­tently they can reach their po­ten­tial.’’

Den­nis spent most of his early life at Nanango where he re­luc­tantly at­tended school for just five years.

At 14 he was work­ing on a farm near Mun­dub­bera, play­ing rugby league and box­ing.

His bi­ble was a book on box­ing tech­nique writ­ten by Am­brose Palmer, a for­mer cham­pion boxer and AFL foot­baller of the 1930s and ’ 40s who later trained Johnny Fame­chon.

“I never had a proper trainer, but I learned all the right things from that book,’’ Den­nis said.

A rangy back- rower in rugby league, Den­nis played se­nior foot­ball in Nanango, Moree and Townsville.

“I played against Mal Meninga’s fa­ther when he was play­ing for Wondai and also ses­sions Gor­den Tal­lis’ fa­ther in Townsville,’’ he said. “I trained race­horses for a while in Nanango. I en­joyed the horses … we had a bit of suc­cess.’’

Den­nis was in his mid- 20s when he moved over the bor­der to Moree for foot­ball. Un­wit­tingly, he also started train­ing box­ers.

“I used to help a group of bike rid­ers with their fit­ness in Moree and I sort of got into box­ing from that,” he said.

He’s a bloke game to try most things, in­clud­ing mar­riage and di­vorce twice with the same woman.

They first mar­ried in 1962 and went their sep­a­rate ways about five years later. The cou­ple re­solved to have an­other try in the 1980s and re­mar­ried, but split again in 1994.

Af­ter work­ing in the dryclean­ing in­dus­try for many years he struck a tough pe­riod when un­able to gain full- time work in his early 60s. Palm Is­land was the cat­a­lyst for res­ur­rec­tion.

It wasn’t easy, but Den­nis rel­ished the chance. He worked over­time and con­trib­uted his pen­sion money to re­store a rot­ting box­ing ring and pur­chase gear for the gym.

“We’d only had the club go­ing three months when I took 11 boys to Proser­pine for a State of Ori­gin am­a­teur tour­na­ment against New South Wales,’’ he said. “Ten of them won and five went on to the na­tional ti­tles that year.’’

Den­nis, who will at­tend the Hall of Fame func­tion, will un­dergo surgery for a trou­ble­some leg in com­ing weeks.

“It’s slowed me down a bit, but one of my box­ers, Pa­trick Clark, is look­ing af­ter the gym while I’m away,’’ he said.

“Pa­trick fought Jeff Horn as an am­a­teur … we knew Horn was very tal­ented back then.”

PUTTING IN: Vet­eran Palm Is­land box­ing trainer Ray Den­nis will to­day be in­ducted into the Queens­land Box­ing Hall of Fame.

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