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Ernest Edward (Ern) McQuillan (1905–1988)

by R. I. Cashman

This article was published:

Ernest Edward McQuillan  (1905–1988), boxing trainer and manager, was born on 16 May 1905 at Newtown, Sydney, third of eight surviving children of locally born parents Thomas Albert McQuillan, carter, and his wife Eva Alice, née Madden.  While training to be a cabinet-maker, Ern took up boxing after a trainer, Yank Pearl, spotted him fighting on the street.  McQuillan lost only two professional bouts out of twenty-two before a bruising twenty-round encounter against George 'KO' Campbell at Leichhardt prompted him to become a trainer instead.  He married Alice Kathaleen Elizabeth Slack, a machinist, on 6 February 1926 at St Paul’s Church of England, Redfern.

In 1933 McQuillan produced his first national champion when Pat Craig won the bantamweight title.  McQuillan trained and managed thirty-eight national champions (who won fifty-one titles) and another six Commonwealth champions (who won seven titles).  He had a keen eye for spotting ability and, with Stadiums Ltd, for setting up attractive bouts.  His loyalty to that organisation enabled him to secure the services of the most talented boxers.  In that era boxing was big business and attracted large audiences.  He was a brusque and tough negotiator, who helped his star boxers to secure handsome returns and made a comfortable living for himself.

For three decades McQuillan and an Irish working-class trainer, Bill McConnell, dominated Australian boxing.  They had a bitter feud and their verbal taunts and exaggerated bluster assumed pantomime proportions, degenerating into fisticuffs on four occasions before they finally shook hands and made up.  Ern may have been jealous that McConnell trained a world champion, Jimmy Carruthers, because it was a matter of deep disappointment to McQuillan that he could not match this feat though he came close on two occasions.  War denied his favourite boxer, Vic Patrick, the opportunity to contest a world title.  Patrick won his first national title in 1941 and lost only four of his fifty-five professional fights, winning forty-three by knockout.  Tony Mundine fought for a world title in Argentina in 1974 but was beaten by Carlos Monzón.  Some of McQuillan’s other boxers were Bobby Dunlop, Jack Hassen, Ron Richards and Clive Stewart.

McQuillan’s gym, successively on various sites at Marrickville and Newtown, was adorned with boxing photographs taken by his son Ernie.  McQuillan was at the gym seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.  He recruited and managed boxers, supervised their training, and massaged and seconded them as well.  A journalist, Phillip Derriman, described him as 'the sport’s most outstanding personality--a sharp, smartly dressed man with a reputation for toughness and colourful language'.  McQuillan loved to gamble on horse racing, greyhounds and two-up.  During the 1940s he trained greyhounds and achieved success at Harold and Wentworth parks.  In addition to a stint as a bookmaker at the greyhound tracks, he was, for a time, an SP bookie.  He had little interest in politics or religion.  Travel in the service of boxing was one of his few diversions.  He rarely drank alcohol but had a sweet tooth that saw his weight increase to 16 stone (102 kg) by the 1970s.

Because he was such a dominant figure in boxing, McQuillan had his share of enemies and suffered threatening phone calls and home burglaries (two in one weekend).  Litigation, involving boxers and rival promoters, was commonplace because most contracts were verbal.  He fell out with Tony Mundine after taking him to a world title.  McQuillan was involved in a car accident in 1963 and his Newtown gym burnt down in 1967.  While he was a hard man and a disciplinarian, he was also generous.  He organised functions to raise money for pensioner Christmas parties and when his arch rival Bill McConnell faced hard times he organised a fund-raising event.

The closure of Sydney Stadium in 1970 symbolised the end of the boxing world as McQuillan knew it.  Although he later staged boxing matches in League clubs such as South Sydney, he became disillusioned with the sport.  In 1984 he was awarded the OAM.  After the death of his wife Alice in 1983, his health deteriorated and he died on 16 July 1988 at Petersham and was cremated.  His two sons survived him; Ernie was awarded the OAM in 1998 for his photography.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Corris, Lords of the Ring, 1980
  • G. Kieza, Australian Boxing, 1990
  • People (Sydney), 6 August 1958, p 45
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 July 1983, p 1
  • N. Bennetts, interview with E. McQuillan (ts, 1980, National Library of Australia)
  • private information

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

R. I. Cashman, 'McQuillan, Ernest Edward (Ern) (1905–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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