By Peter Yates, Editor-in-Chief
From the HOPC Library – Our Australian ‘Down-Under’ Series
Another popular figure on the Australian wrestling circuit in the 1930s was TOM LURICH. Looking up Lurich’s nationality results in differing opinions, Polish, Russian and even American are given. However, if his claim to be the nephew of the great Wrestler and friend of Hackenschmidt, Georg Lurich is true, then he would have been Estonian. Granted at various points in history Estonia was ruled by the Russians, then that could also be accepted. Born in 1897 he claimed to have been taught Physical Culture and ring craft by Uncle Georg from an early age. The American claim may have been that he first emigrated to that continent before traveling to Australia and New Zealand as so many wrestlers from the USA did at that time.
While in Australia he fought the likes of Strangler Lewis, Brother Jonathon, Joe Dawson and Jim Londos. In 1933 he beat Bonnie Muir for the Australian heavyweight title and in 1934, in the Sydney suburb of Leichhardt, he fought to a draw Harban Singh another tough and well-known wrestler on the circuit. On entering the ring Lurich would tear a Telephone directory in half before the match.
In 1959 Lurich appeared in the Movie adaptation of the Australian play by Ray Lawler, Summer of the 17th Doll staring John Mills and Ernest Borgnine who play two sugar cane cutters named Barney and Roo respectively. Every year for the past 17 they have come down to the city [Melbourne in the play, Sydney in the movie] to spend their hard-earned money on their two barmaid girlfriends. Roo is a tough character and champion wrestler of the cane fields, Lurich plays Atom Bomb, a broken down wrestler in a booth at Lunar park which was Sydney’s equivalent to Coney Island. Lurich challenges anyone to go 3 rounds or pin him to win 10 pounds, a fair sum of money in those days. While siting in his corner a little girl asks Roo not to hurt her daddy as he his sick and only wrestling so he can take care of his family. Soft hearted Roo lets Atom win the match and forfeits the prize money. Later Roo sees the little girl puling the same carnival trick on another challenger. Roo bursts in on the Atom and his daughter having a meal, gives the Atom a belting and takes the 10-pound note.
Old time strongman/hand balancer Bill Harris met Lurich at Jim Armstrong’s Gym and he remembers Lurich clearly claiming “Training in a gym is a health bank.”++
Big thanks to our man in Sydney, Australia, LAURIE SMITH for supplying information and photographs for this article.