On the rare occasions I return to my childhood hometown of Gladstone, it is not uncommon for me to be lashed with a loathed, ancient nickname: “How’s it goin’, Punchy?”
Returning to Gladstone is akin to how I imagine a high school reunion would feel, if the very mention of your name sparks sniggers.
I’ve become pretty good at untethering myself from the past. But this foul nugget of erstwhile excrement keeps getting stuck to my shoe.
However, it wasn’t a sojourn back home which caused me to step in itagain; it was the Australian cricket side’s performances this summer, and the upcoming Ashes series in England.
To understand how that happened, journey with me back to a time of youthful wonder in Gladstone, Queensland’s Riviera. Anything had seemed possible, until the world turned on me like Clive Palmer when I stupidly took a chip off his plate.
My life changed when I put on boxing gloves and was identified as a natural, which my then trainer, Tommy “The Ferret” O’Sullivan, proclaimed loudly while carrying me on his shoulders around the ring following a debut-fight KO. “The kid’s a natural,” he told a Gladstone Observer hack after my record had improved to 2-0 with two knockouts.
Another three contests and three knockouts later, I was ready to fight the Central Queensland champion, whom I dispatched in round one with a right hook.
Soon I was a Queensland champion, then a national champion. I was so good it was hard getting me fights – my only loss coming against my ego. I didn’t see it coming: the night I was felled by a lightning-fast, four-punch combination. “The Gladstone Gladiator KOed” screamed the Observer’s back-page headline.
I lost my next two bouts against top-ranked opponents – the rot stopping when The Ferret presented me with a guaranteed cakewalk, whom I beat mercilessly and then left the ring captivated by myself again. But it was a deceptive high, which, in my next bout, led to humiliation: my mother racing to the ring and throwing in the towel 19 seconds into round one.
I continued to box for about a year, but had turned into the loser handpicked to give fighters a confidence spike. By the time I finally hung up the gloves, at age 12, I had been rebranded.
The Aussie cricket side, having beat up Sri Lanka after being schooled by India this summer, may be in for a sobering Ashes experience. I sure hope they don’t become a Punchy of international cricket.
Mark Bode is an ACM journalist.