“Ringside in the middle of the Pacific Ocean”

On the 6th June 1968, almost 50 years ago Otago made her way across the Pacific Ocean to Midway and Guam. On a calm fine afternoon sailors began rigging up a boxing ring for what was to be the centre stage for one of the best sporting entertainment ever to be held onboard one of our war-ships at sea. Hours before the event started ships company were seated all around the quarterdeck and up on the waist or mezzanine level in anticipation of the nights event. Fluid refreshments were the order of the day as the hot weather was evident.

The three independent and impartial judges, Graham Cooke, Alby Tiriana and “Rosie” Hawthorne were specially selected as they were recognised as “honest” RNZN veteran sportsmen who had “been there and done that” Incidentally they were the last ones to arrive having had lengthy and beneficial fight briefings in the Aft CPO’s mess.

The boxing bouts were sanctioned by the CO, Captain R.T. Hale and refereed by Gary Pettis. There were 12 bouts of two, two-minute rounds. The announcer that night has been forgotten in the annals of time, hopefully someone may remember?

The full program was as follows:
ORDN CW Heath Defeated O/S C Fletcher
O/S RA Girbin Defeated ME2 GS McLean
J/S WE Mitchell Defeated O/S JP Hinaki
L/S SO Draper Defeated PO RW Wood
J/S LD Balderston Defeated O/S TJ Gaiger
ME1 WR Brown Defeated LWM JJ Mathieson
ASG SA Keith Defeated O/S TM Proctor
O/S RT Broughton Defeated O/S W R Pittams
O/S NC Beaman Defeated O/S BR Moratti
O/S B Ridgeway Defeated O/S AM Cutts
A/CK GD McConville Defeated ME2 IL Williams
O/S P Le Bas Defeated ME2 SA Thompson

Two communicators who were both triumphant on the day took part in the event  Ordinary Radioman Carl Hector Heath and Able Signalman Stu Keith who later became a Jossman.

Most scientific boxer on the night was awarded to ME2 Willie Brown, best sportsman awarded to ME2 GS McLean.

The main event was an exhibition wrestling match between “Big Bad” Gary Mowatt who weighed in at 252lbs and the big red headed maori, Bob “The Biscuit” Kake at 224 lbs. It was a side splitting, non-stop action from bell to bell, there were ‘drop kicks’ belly flops and even the odd punch, but in the end the judges could not decide on a winner so it ended in a well-earned draw!!

Sporting events like this have long gone, but this occasion was unique in many ways due to the creativity, initiative and vision of Gary Pettis (RIP) who was the best PTI that I had the privilege of serving with and alongside. Thanks Jack for the memory, I remember it well.
(An extract from book….SAILORS AGAINST THE ODDS- 1941-1980 Re – Otago 1967-68 commission.)

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