Zac Garred and Tom Arthur have been friends since childhood.
Now adults, one is an actor of stage and screen while the other is an acclaimed musician.
Together they have embarked on a true labour of love to bring the story of Maitland boxing legend Les Darcy to the big screen.
A story, they say, that just has to be told. EMMA SWAIN reports.
Tom Arthur has no idea what poverty feels like, he has enjoyed the privilege of education and has absolutely no idea how to box.
So for the young Newcastle man to even contemplate making a movie about the legendary Les Darcy is somewhat obscene, so he thinks.
“It’s a daunting task to tackle because you’re always wondering if you are doing the right thing, if you’re going to do Darcy justice,” Arthur said.
Nonetheless Arthur – along with childhood friend and fellow filmmaker and actor Zac Garred – have dared to go where others have not.
“We’re just two young guys trying to make a film about this wonderfully stoic, princely person and it’s a bit obscene,” Arthur said.
“But it seems like we are doing the right thing.”
This year Arthur and Garred, both 26, launched a campaign to bring the story of the Australian icon and Maitland boxing legend to the big screen after they bought the screen rights to Peter FitzSimons’ book The Ballad of Les Darcy.
“The elements of the story are all there so it’s almost like cheating,” Arthur said.
“The story and the circumstances have really lent themselves to something to be speculated on, and it’s such a wonderful and important period of Australian and world history,” Arthur said.
Those unfamiliar with the Darcy story should know that the champion middleweight and heavyweight boxer was born in Maitland into relative poverty.
When World War I dawned, Darcy, then 19, refused to go into combat and Australia rejected the young blacksmith.
“When so many people were prepared to throw everything in and head overseas and fight a foreign war, Darcy was different,” Arthur said.
“He had this love of family and friends and a sense of duty to the people around him before his duty to the nation and, even today, that’s a controversial concept.
“For a man who was relatively uneducated by today’s standards, Darcy had a real sense of moral duty and that sense of morality really bucked the trend of the time.
“He comes across as a wonderful man with a lot of love who, in our eyes anyway, did the right thing.”
Garred – who is in training to play Darcy in the film – echoes his mate’s sentiments.
“Darcy did exactly what he should have done,” Garred said
“Had Darcy enlisted, gone to war and died or come back maimed or whatever, he would have become another statistic. He’d simply be another cautionary tale.
“Or a lost lamented soul.”
However, Darcy was vilified for his decision and forced to leave his home for New York City – a place that ultimately embraced him.
But he would never return from that journey. Darcy died on May 24, 1917, in Memphis Tennessee, aged 21.
The cause of his death is believed to be septicaemia and medical complications, and his embalmed body was returned to Australia where half a million people paid their respects.
But just because the story of Darcy has it all, it doesn’t mean it has been an easy sell for Arthur and Garred.
“It’s quite surreal,” Garred said.
“Even when we take it to people in the greater film industry it’s not that big to them and that’s the
surprising thing. We have to fight a little bit of a
battle to get Darcy in the door which, for this region, is really surprising.”
Despite this, the pair has raised more than $3600 in pledges through Pozible – a crowd-funding platform for creative projects and ideas.
Australian acting luminaries Peter Phelps and Anthony Hayes have donated to the cause and spruiked the movie’s concept on social media.
In January, Garred started training to play Darcy. He eats every hour and food is no longer enjoyable but a necessity.
“I’ve really stepped things up in the past few weeks,” Garred said.
“Darcy was born with such natural gifts, including his reach and his strength, but he had the head and the heart to back that up.
“He would box all night in Sydney, for 23 rounds, hop on a steam train and come back to East Maitland to work the next day in High Street.
“He did all this with no modern training or dieting techniques, nothing but steak and eggs. He trained in a gym called the House of Stoush in a pugilistic era where boxing was the rugby league of the time.
“How can a bloke who grew up in Pitnacree, in a shack, in total poverty do this?
“I’m just trying to get a feel of the body and to try to know what it took to feel like Darcy did.”
But, of course, Darcy is not the only character involved in the story of the boxer’s life.
There were his parents, his siblings, his manager, his fighting opponents and his sweetheart Winnie.
“We have such rich portraits of the characters in Darcy’s life and it’s the resilience of these characters that captivates so many people because it’s something you don’t see much of these days,” Arthur said.
“If the source material is scratchy you’re fighting an uphill battle, but this isn’t like that. And this film is not about boxing, this isn’t Rocky. This is a film about a man, it’s about war and it’s about love.”
At the end of last year Garred and Arthur formed a production company to produce feature films, short films and television content for Australian and
This month they will begin shooting a trailer for the Darcy movie to raise an estimated $10 million needed to make the film.
“The story is already out there, we just need help to make it happen,” Garred said.
“And we don’t want to do this for ego ... we just want to tell a good story. We feel lucky, but we also feel enthused and confident because we have such great work around us.
“We are yet to find a reason why this can’t be done.”
The Ballad of Les Darcy will be listed on Pozible until Tuesday.