Episode 1: The Build-up

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Black as Jack ... the fight that challenged a nation

Episode 1 ... The Build-up

In 1908 Australia found itself playing host to two very different boxers in two very different circumstances. One was Tommy Burns, the white Canadian heavyweight champion of the world. The other was Jack Johnson, a black American, whom some thought was good ... for a ‘nigger’. Every time Burns defended his title in Australia he drew big crowds and grew richer. Every time Johnson fought in Australia he made little money but got better. It was the best any black boxer could hope for. But Johnson wasn’t any black boxer and he was in a country that might just give him a chance.

December 1st 1908, Tommy Burns retired to the Hydro Majestic as befitting a world champion. He could well afford such luxury. But he did not merely sink into the expensive armchairs of a first class hotel, he ran miles on mountain tracks and displayed all the determination and dedication of a title holder. While Burns continued to train in splendid isolation, Johnson stayed in a modest guest house. He behaved in a manner unbecoming of a would-be champion, making jokes and offensive speeches when he should have been training. He was a good musician and entertained his entourage with selections of popular tunes played on his double bass.


Produced by Produced by Blue Trumpet for Radio 2RRR, Sydney, Australia
Researched by Ray Rose
Adapted for radio by James Benn
Voices in order of appearance…

  • Will Scott
  • Kiaran Green
  • Virgil Canaway
  • Hardy Scott
  • Brett Dark
  • David Biltmore
  • Kelvin Haisman
  • Silvio Ofria
  • Gerry O'Sullivan
  • Kambiz Afrachteh
  • James Benn
  • Ray Rose
  • Tony Gilmartin
  • Marty Waters
  • Phil Coventry
  • Johnny Boxer
  • Sue Thompson
  • Guy Dutton
  • Kirsten Shaw
  • Becky Mendham
  • Wayne ‘Mac’ McDaniel
  • Chris Virtue
  • Peter McAllum
  • Jamie Thompson
  • Paul Steckler
  • Terence Priester
  • Teddy Doyle

Introductions and credits by Amie Maguire
Special thanks to Sue Liolio for support, talent scouting, costume AND set design.