From Stolen Generation to champion boxer: John Patten was also a handy league player

BY CURTIS WOODWARD 
@woodward_curtis 
 
Boxing historians know him as former Australian bantamweight champion Johnny Jarrett. So dominant he was in his own division, very few pugilists would challenge him. In fact, even the featherweights wouldn’t fight him.

Jarrett was a rare talent. So rare that he often had to give up his own purse just to get an opponent into the ring.

But there’s much more to this story than meets the eye.

Jarrett – real name John Patten – was just as good a rugby league player but we will never know how good he could have been.

We’ll get to the footy in a moment.

This story however begins years before.

Patten was born to parents John (Jack) and Selina Patten. His father, a boxer himself, was an Aboriginal rights activist, soldier and writer who co-founded the Aborigines Progressive Association and later met with Prime Minister Joseph Lyons. He and friend William Ferguson presented the PM with a report titled ‘Aborigines Claim Citizenship Rights’ with Patten outlining a citizenship plan for Australia’s Indigenous people. Around this time, his son John was born.

In 1939, John’s father returned to his home at the Cummeragunja Mission on the Murray River. He met with his father and other elders regarding the State’s plan to relocate Aboriginal children which we now call the Stolen Generations.

John junior was taken from his parents in Grafton as a small child and sent to a boy’s home in Nowra.

It wasn’t long however before he was found by his father who took him from the facility and fled to the border and went into hiding in Victoria – close to the Cummeragunja Mission.

Upon returning to Sydney, young Patten met retired Australian International and premiership-winning South Sydney centre Pat Maher. A naturally-gifted playmaker, Patten faced off against a touring New Zealand Maori outfit earning himself selection in South Sydney’s President’s Cup team which he led on a country tour of New South Wales.

Unfortunately, Patten was already under contract as a boxer and was forced to give up rugby league.

In 1958, fighting as Johnny Jarrett, he claimed the Australian Bantamweight Title against Dick White – knocking White out in the 10th round.

A newspaper clipping at the time reported the following:

“North coast boxer JohnnyJarrett to-night stopped Australian bantam champion Dick White in the 10th round of a 15-round championship contest at Sydney . Stadium. Jarrett proved too speedy and classy for White, who never took a round. The referee, Vic Patrick, looked like stopping the contest at the end of the ninth round because of the severe punishment the champion had taken throughout the contest. White’s face was battered and he was tiring badly, but he gamely fought on. When Jarrett met White in Brisbane last year, he was leading on points, but was knocked to the canvas with the referee crowning White in a disputed verdict. To-night Jarrett left the issue beyond doubt.”

He held the title undefeated for four years but due to lack of competition was forced to relinquish the belt.

A poem titled ‘Australian Bantamweight Boxing Champion JOHNNY JARRETT’ written by R. Sherry mentions his playing days in northern NSW:

 

In the past Australia has produced some mighty fighting men

And mighty fighters in world class show up now and again

Jim Carruthers proved he was the best, a fighter of renown

When he beat the best the world could find and won the Bantam Crown

Les Darcy and Ron Richards fought the best from other lands

Ambrose Palmer and Jack Carroll and also David Sands

They were mighty fighters, all those men, to mention just a few

All proven fighters every one when they had a job to do

And now another star shines bright to help the boxing game

Hard fighting Johnny Jarrett from Grafton seeks his fame

He is fighting hard to reach the top and I think his future’s sealed

All Kempsey folk remember him out on the football field

He played as Johnny Patton on the wing for C.Y.M.

His footwork on the field was good, his speed you can’t condemn

But he gave his football boots away for a set of boxing gloves

And won himself a title at the boxing game he loves

Now John has one ambition as through this fighting world he’ll roam

He loves his Dad and Mother and wants to build them both a home

Johnny Jarrett is a sportsman, friends, as a fighter he should go far

He can fight and doesn’t smoke or drink, that’s a fighter’s guiding star

Now I take this opportunity to wish young Johnny well

Some day 1’11 write some more of him when there is some more to tell

So keep your gloves up high, John Jarrett, have faith in what you do

And wish for fame and fortune that may one day come to you

So I close this little poem, friends, for there’s not much more to say

But I know that Johnny Jarrett will reach the top some day

 

A champion boxer but how good a league player was he?

We will never know.

He is a descendant of the Yorta Yorta and Bundjalung people.

@woodward_curtis 

Catch Curtis Woodward and The81stMinute Call Team this Saturday from 1pm on steelesports.com.au for Mounties against the Jets!

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