In 1984 Graeme “Porky” Brooke acted in the Australian feature film Street Hero, but in real life he was a Flemington boxing hero.
On 2 November 1984, at 21 years old, the then long-term Flemington resident took out the Commonwealth lightweight boxing title at Festival Hall in Melbourne.
Beating former world champion Claude Noel, it was the 19th straight win for Porky since his first match at Dallas Brooks Hall only 3 years earlier. At that time, having barely turned 18, Brooke was voted Victorian Prospect of the Year.
A 1985 article in the Australasian Post describes how, as a child, Porky watched his close relative Lionel Rose train in a fibro-cement shed in an Essendon backyard:
“His eyes glazed as he stood in awe of Lionel Rose – and he dreamed.
He too wanted to be a champion, to travel the world, to do what Lionel Rose had done. They were the dreams of a seven-year old, a chubby little fellow who hadn’t even had a scrap with his mates in the Flemington schoolyard.
One day he would return to Jack Rennie’s backyard gymnasium to begin his boxing career, just as Rose had done a decade before. Perhaps he too would be watched by hundreds as he trained.”
Graeme Brooke did indeed return to be trained by Rennie and watched by kids while he trained. Rennie said, “Look at those moves: he’s got them alright. Look at the way he uses his feet.”
Anyone who talks to Porky would find that, despite his success, he was – and remains – a shy, polite and self-effacing man. “Confident in the ring he may be,” stated one journalist. “But mighty shy when it comes to talking. An Ali he is not.”
Where did his name come from? Brooke says he was a chubby baby. His mother’s aunty grabbed him by the cheeks and called him “Porky”. The name stuck. Everyone called Graeme “Porky”; even his teachers at school.
His father, Graeme Snr, was a labourer and a boxer who fought the prelims on TV Ringside under the name of Graeme Douglas. Porky’s mother Gwen is a Gunditjmara woman, who grew up in Frangliham, near Warrnambool, and worked as a public servant in the Aboriginal Health Service and Commonwealth Employment Service.
Porky’s parents settled in Flemington after they married. Their early days were at 93 Princes Street, which was purchased for about $14,000 when Porky was about ten. The family outgrew this home before moving to 66 Victoria Street.
Porky started school at Flemington Primary. In 1974, along with many others at the time, he transferred to the newly opened Debney Meadows. It was while studying at Debney Park High School that his boxing career took off.
Porky grew up in a Flemington that was changing, with an influx of new migrants and working families into the adjacent high-rise estate. He saw no problems in a young Aboriginal growing up in Flemington with friends from many different backgrounds (recalling in particular new Australians from Turkish, Greek, Spanish and Vietnamese families). He remembers good times with lots of great mates.
He rode his pushbike around the Flemington flats and caught tadpoles and frogs from the Moonee Ponds Creek. “The kids had a ball in those days.”
Porky’s connection with Flemington and Kensington continued with his marriage to a Smith Street resident. In 1981 the young couple also moved into a house in Rankins Road, Kensington.
There was no café culture in Flemington in those days. Porky used to hang out at the old hotels: the Centennial and Bayview (no longer there or pubs) and the Doutta Galla, Hardiman’s and the Palace (now the Quiet Man Irish Pub).
In 1986 Porky moved out of Flemington, like many people at the time to a larger house further afield, but in his case still in the west.
But Porky has maintained a connection with the area. He also continues to keep in touch with many of his neighbours and friends. And to us in Flemington and Kensington, he’ll always be a local hero.
Newspaper clippings from the National Archives of Australia:
“Brooke comes out fighting”, Australasian Post, 31 January 1985 (pp6-7)
“Brooke now the idol in a new boxing era”, The Age, 5 September 1984 (p.30)
Ackman, Phil, “Kid Contender: All’s Rosey ringside for Lionel’s KO cousin”, People, 26 March 1983 (p.64)
Other newspaper articles:
Bolt, Andrew, “Boxer who won’t run out of puff”, The Age, 29 April 1982
Bolt, Andrew, “Brooke pounds to easy victory”, The Age, 12 August 1982
Bolt, Andrew, “Brooke wins on points”, The Age, 14 March 1983
Photograph of Graeme Brooke with his father Graeme Brooke (who also boxed under the name Graeme Douglas), from YVB (Victor Young’s Boxing website).
Other photo from unknown source via the Graeme Porky Brooke Fan Club.
Conversations with Graeme Porky Brooke