Boxing has long been a sport associated with Flem Ken, with local competitions, gyms and successful boxers like Billy Russell.
Born as Russell Horsburgh, and part of the Horsburgh family who lived in Kensington from the late 1890s to 2010, Billy Russell was widely accepted in the boxing fraternity as the man who had more professional fights than any other fighter in Victoria. Billy Russell lived his whole life in Kensington, captained the Kensington Juniors Football Club and trained at Bill O’Brien’s Athletic Club in Flemington.
The following is the complete text from the article “Billy the boxer foiled ‘Squizzy’” by Joslin Matthes, Northern Advertiser, 15 June 1972 (page 5) forwarded by Billy Russell’s granddaughter, Vicki Gordon.
Billy the boxer foiled ‘Squizzy’
“Squizzy” Taylor, Victoria’s Al Capone, wasn’t one of Billy Russell’s keenest fans – Billy lost him a small fortune in bets at one stage of his career.
That was in 1928, when Billy outpointed Tommy Crowle over 10 rounds at the West Melbourne Stadium.
Taylor, Crowles sponsor for the fight, had backed him heavily – and lost badly.
Billy is accepted in the boxing fraternity as the man who has more professional fights than any other fighter in Victoria.
He was 15 when he took up what he calls “the best game in the world,” and 36 when he had his 500th match.
Billy, born Russell Horsburgh, has lived all his 67 years in Kensington and now runs a boxing gymnasium at the back of 35 Brougham Street.
“I love the boxing game, and I’m the quietest fellow in the world. I don’t hold with these people today who are always knocking the sport,” he said.
“And it is a sport – you never hear fans running down football, but more people get injured in footy, than in boxing.
“Players get a broken this or that every Saturday – it’s part of the game.
“No-one forces a bloke to box, it’s his own decision. If he gets hurt he has to learn a little more skill.”
Billy began boxing in 1920, “to bring home a bit of money for mum.”
He began an apprenticeship as a coach-painter when he left school, but the wages were low.
“We weren’t the most financial family in “Ken”, and I wanted to help a bit – 10/- a week at my trade was no fortune.
“I’d had eight fights before Mum knew about it. She’d always thought I’d been going to football training. She didn’t approve of boxing.”
Billy went on to win the £500 Bantamweight Tournament of the 1920s, and met and beat three Australian featherweight titleholders: Crowle, Llew Edwards and Cocoa Jackson.
He never fought for an Australian title – he was always too fond of family and home – but boxing contemporaries adamantly assert he could have won a national crown.
Billy began his Kensington gym in 1930 as a hobby, and trained, among several successful boxers, Jack Rennie.
“I still have the gym, and it’s still a hobby. I like to give the local lads a chance at the game I love,” said Billy.
(Photograph c.1927-1932 part of the Arnold Thomas boxing collection, held by the National Library of Australia).