This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988
Ranold (Ron) Richards (1910-1967), boxer, was born on 8 May 1910 at Deebing Creek Aboriginal Presbyterian mission near Ipswich, Queensland, son of Aboriginal parents Richard Richards, fencer, and his wife Florence, née Thompson. Ranold received some education at the local state school for Aboriginal children and by 14 began timber-cutting with his father; he became a superb axeman. His family was exempt from the Aboriginal Protection Act (1897) and moved around the Boonah district, partly as share-croppers.
Ron Richards began boxing at the Boonah and Ipswich shows because his father was a bare-knuckle fighter. At 20 he had a year of brilliant fighting around Gympie and in preliminary bouts in Brisbane; in 1932 he knocked out English middleweight Joey Simmons. He became State middleweight champion. Queenslanders became 'Richards mad' over his counter-punching technique, style and physique. He invested his earnings in four houses, one for his family. Richards married Dorothy Elizabeth Iselin in St Luke's Church of England, Brisbane, on 14 December 1935; her brothers temporarily helped to manage his financial affairs.
He won three Australian titles (middleweight, light heavyweight, heavyweight) and a British Empire (middleweight) title. Like his brother Maxie, a bantam-weight, Ron was a serious contender for world middle and light heavyweight titles with wins like the 55-second knockout against Ray Actis and the convincing twelve-round victory against Gus Lesnevitch, both in 1938, and his winning record of 34 of 50 contests against overseas stars. All offers to fight overseas fell through. Mismanagement and exploitation plagued his career. During the middle and late 1930s he averaged 13 fights a year. Altogether he fought 76 opponents in 142 fights.
A prime example of fighters being exploited to draw large crowds was the torrid ten-bout feud between Richards and Fred Henneberry between 1931 and 1941. It developed into foul-ridden 'brawls'. Richards' discontent with boxing management was evident as the outcomes of his fights became more unpredictable. Sometimes he outboxed opponents when promoters expected a knockout. Yet Richards fought hard, although his managers often accepted fights against boxers a stone or more heavier. Gambling damaged his reputation: one example was the well-publicized 'ring-in' known as the 'bowser boy affair' in 1936. By 1939 the Referee perceived Richards as a 'temperamental' boxer who sometimes experienced 'unaccountable lapses' in form.
After his wife died of tuberculosis in 1937, his career lost direction; his financial affairs were in chaos. By 1940 Richards was unfit and drank heavily. Uncharacteristically he asked for postponements and broke commitments to boxing and his family. His second wife Colleen Boyle, an Irish immigrant from Sydney, tried in vain to manage his finances. In 1945 he was outpointed by men whom he had previously beaten.
After a lucrative career with assets of up to £20,000, Richards had nothing by 1946. The native affairs branch of the Queensland Department of Health and Home Affairs was requested to place him under its jurisdiction when police in Sydney charged him with vagrancy in May 1947. Classified as a 'half caste', he was incarcerated at Woorabinda Aboriginal settlement, but was released after three years to look for work in Brisbane. He returned to Sydney briefly, was arrested for drunkenness and vagrancy and, under the provisions of the 'Queensland Act', was removed to Palm Island Aboriginal reserve where he spent seventeen years. He worked as a carpenter's labourer and managed a single men's home. He returned to Sydney when his daughter sent news of his estranged wife's illness.
Richards died of a heart attack at Dulwich Hill, Sydney, on 14 January 1967. Survived by his daughter, Richards was buried in Rookwood cemetery. The crowd at his Catholic funeral was almost like an Australian boxing hall of fame. In a society which then generally excluded Aborigines, his popularity and his skill as a fighter stood out as a testimony to his greatness.
Genevieve Blades, 'Richards, Ranold (Ron) (1910–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/richards-ranold-ron-8194/text14333, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 21 October 2016.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988