Arnold Thomas (b. 1937) was born in Melbourne, where he has lived all his life. After leaving school, he worked for a short time in a factory and then in the Post Office, before becoming a carpet layer. He has owned and managed a carpet-laying business for about 50 years. Although not a boxer himself, he acquired a passion for boxing at an early age and first started going to fights at the West Melbourne Stadium in 1946. It has remained his great interest all his life. He was one of the founders and the second president of the Australian National Boxing Hall of Fame at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
As a schoolboy, Thomas started keeping scrapbooks on boxing, but he did not return to collecting until the 1980s. In 1991 he bought a large part of the photographic collection of the boxer, journalist and television commentator Merv Williams (1902–1980). They formed the core of his collection. He soon acquired a reputation as a collector and acquired by purchase and exchange both original photographs and copies from many sources. He also took some photographs himself, mainly of memorials and graves of boxers, both in Australia and overseas.
Thomas is the author of Heroes of the Fancy: A History of Australian Boxing (1999).
The collection was purchased by the Library from Thomas in 2003.
The Arnold Thomas Collection contains 17 albums of photographs and 169 loose photographs, totalling about 1161 images. It documents the history of boxing in Australia from the 1870s, when the Queensberry rules were first adopted, until the 1990s. Of particular interest are the many original photographs from the ‘golden age’ of boxing (1908–27). The majority of items are studio photographs of boxers or photographs of fights, but there are also a few photographs of training sessions, weigh-ins and group photographs. Among the Australian boxers depicted are Albert Griffiths, William Miller, Larry Foley, Abe Hicken, Joe Goddard, ‘Snowy’ Baker, Les Darcy, Jerry Jerome, Bert Spargo, Mick Dooley, Ambrose Palmer, Dave Sands, Jimmy Carruthers, Jimmy Sharman, Rocky Mattioli, Jeff White, Lionel Rose, Tony Mundine (senior) and Jeff Fenech, while overseas fighters include Clarence Reeves and Jack Johnson.
Many of the photographs provide detailed records of the stadiums, especially in Sydney and Melbourne, and other venues, including outdoor matches in country towns. There are also photographs of the gravestones of several boxers, including Larry Foley and Les Darcy, and memorials to Dave Sands, the British Empire middleweight champion who died at the age of 26 in 1952.
The earliest work in the collection is a watercolour painting by C.H. Hunt of Larry Foley, who was undefeated in prize fights and exhibition matches in the 1870s.
The collection contains several journals, two books, souvenir programs, match day cards and flyers. The journals include:
The Fist (Sydney, 1991–2000)
Fighter (Melbourne, 1968–2002)
Boxing and Sporting Judge (Sydney, 1917)
Australian Ring Digest (Sydney, 1951–66)
Square Ring (Sydney, 1982–87)
The match cards mostly date from 1914–15 and among the boxers featured are Les Darcy, Eddie McGoorty, Tom McCormick and Jeff Smith.
The pictures in the Arnold Thomas Collection are kept together in the Pictures Collection at PIC/8395. Most of them have been individually catalogued and the older photographs have been digitised and can be seen on the Library’s website and Picture Australia.
The journals have been integrated into the Australian Collection. The match cards and other printed ephemera are kept together in the Boxing files in the General Ephemera Collection.
The Merv Williams Boxing Collection, mostly comprising cutting books, is held in the Manuscripts Collection of the Library (MS 6862).
Goodwin, Eleanor, A Knock-out! The Arnold Thomas Boxing Collection, Gateways, no. 85, February 2007.