THERE are rumoured to be seven men to every woman in Mount Isa, but on this particular Saturday night I’m interested in one woman and one woman only. I’m in the Queensland Outback on a mission to meet a sheila called Beaver. I’d first heard about Beaver only weeks ago, in fact, I was invited to fight her. And this wasn’t any old catfight, meet-you-after-school scenario. You see, Beaver is a boxer and a good one at that. Unfortunately, for the crowds at the Mount Isa Rodeo where Beaver is to box, I’m more of a lover, than a fighter, and I decline the invitation graciously. Hell, I’m someone who weeps when they get a paper cut, such are the perils of my profession.
It’s day one of the rodeo when I first meet Beaver, boiling a kettle at her camp behind the Fred Brophy boxing tent. Beaver is the only woman in Brophy’s troupe, Australia’s only surviving travelling boxing show. I expect Beaver to be like Queen Bee from the 1970s Australian television drama Prisoner and when I see her with that steaming kettle my imagination goes into overdrive, half expecting her to throw hot water over me while giving me a Chinese burn. Turns out Beaver is simply making her lunch and she politely gestures for me to sit in the shade while she does so. While Beaver may be bigger than the average woman, she’s also huge of heart.
When we met last weekend Beaver, or Brettyln Neal as she is sometimes known, was about to notch up her 150th fight. She first met Brophy about five years ago when she was doing security work out at the Birdsville Races.
“I played Rugby League for Australia and Rugby Union for England and I wanted to test myself as an individual and decided to do boxing,” Beaver says.
“Out in Birdsville we were sitting around and someone said something about Justin Bieber and I misheard and I thought they said Beaver. They said ‘you need to get this Beaver as famous as you can’. So when I got up to fight I said Beaver instead of my real name and it’s stuck ever since.
“I’ve got a little furry Beaver mascot and sometimes Fred will get up and say ‘show us your Beaver’ and I’ll have it in my pants.”
But there’s more to Beaver, and boxing, than meets the eye. The 30-year-old owns gyms in Townsville where she runs youth boxing programs.
“Boxing is a big part of my job. I’ve been given an opportunity through my life and through Fred and I feel giving other people the same opportunity is the right thing to do,” she says.
“I grew up in a broken family but I’ve had quite a good upbringing. I don’t really have a sob story. My contribution is more the fact I am willing to give back to those who haven’t got everything.
“I love life and I get joy of out putting a smile on people’s faces. I strongly believe in doing one good deed a day.”
We spend the afternoon sparring, and by sparring I mean I watch Beaver cook lunch while I stand back as far as is safely possible and ask her questions about her chosen sport, of which I understand little.
“To be a good boxer you need to be very disciplined and fit and mentally tough. I’ve got the mentally tough down, fitness not so much,” she says.
“Here there is no weight class. I think the people who say that women shouldn’t box are normally scared we’ll be better than them. The more negative people are the more I succeed. My drive comes a lot from that.
“The most powerful weapon anyone has is the power of speech. I don’t think you should inflict harm on anyone. Boxing is a sport and it has to be one of the most friendly things.
“I never intend to hurt people. At the end of the day we want to put on a good show and hopefully both of us will have a drink together and no one is hurt.
“Boxing is addictive, once you start, you can’t stop.”
Participants who take on Brophy’s boxers earn $30 for each minute they are in the ring. Beaver is coy about how much she earns but admits what she does make, she donates to not-for-profit youth boxing programs. Convinced she is my new best friend I ask Beaver what her secret manouevre is. At this stage she pauses the interview, takes two gloved hands, and pretends to simultaneously smack me around the head. “That’s the buffalo,” she grins. I think I’m going to faint from fear. I decide Beaver and I will be mates for life. I will never, ever upset Beaver.
I ask Beaver to dress in the outfit she’ll be wearing for her fight. Beaver puts on a skirt over her boxing shorts, which is part gladiator, and part like she’s shredded a local miner to pieces.
“You’ve got to bring a bit of fashion into the sport. Fred likes to say I’ve got hairs on my legs that would spear a rat,” she says.
“Lots of men love me. Everyone loves a Beaver.”
The next night Beaver steps into the boxing ring, but there’s no woman courageous enough, even in the Queensland Outback, to take her on. My friends tug at my sleeve, urging me to take one for the team. “Are you insane,” I hiss with venom dripping from my voice. I’ve seen the buffalo. I know what the buffalo can do. Fred calls a man, who is either extremely brave or very stupid, into the ring to fight Beaver. I’m filled with an equal blend of repulsion and fascination as I watch the bloke box Beaver. In the first round the poor fellow is full of hope. But that doesn’t last long and Beaver easily wins the match before she storms off into the dark night, with a rumoured three broken ribs. Beaver looks as mad as hell. “I love you Beaver”, I shout, my words trailing her like a cloud of dust. Just to be sure.
The Global Goddess travelled to the Mount Isa Rodeo as a guest of Tourism and Events Queensland – http://www.queensland.com. To book a ticket to next year’s rodeo go to http://www.isarodeo.com.au