New generation brings self-esteem to Palm Island

Ian Gerard
21st November 2006

AS laughing children tumble from the jetty and splash about in the turquoise water, a determined group of young boxers ignore the scorching heat of the afternoon to pummel punching bags and lift heavy weights.

There isn't a lot to do on Palm Island, but a committed group of teenagers have found solace in the ring.

This week, they will compete in the national boxing championships in Tasmania, but for many in the Queensland Aboriginal community, these 11 young boxers are already winners.

They have chosen to stay away from trouble and follow a different path to the destructive one often taken by the island's bored youngsters.

"They learn to be good sportspeople and to behave themselves," trainer Ray Dennis told The Australian.

"It's a good influence on the kids - they change so quickly, their behaviour gets a lot better and then they train regularly, wear themselves out and don't get into trouble."

Dennis runs sessions with the teenagers three times a week. He says it give them "a bit of confidence and self-esteem" that many island kids do not have.

His 11 hopefuls will be representing Queensland in Hobart, and will be proudly wearing the state's colours.

Palm Island, which has been plagued by troubles in recent years, has a boxing tradition that is being passed on to today's crop of talented young kids.

The trip would not have been possible without the backing of a corporate sponsor - News Limited, which publishes The Australian. But money is still needed for the group's accommodation.

Palm Island Mayor Zac Sam, whose brother Douglas once fought for a world boxing title, praised Dennis. "It's a good influence - Ray must have more than 50 young people now who want to take it up," he said.

For most of the young boxers, it will be the first time they have travelled further than Townsville, just 40km away. Selwyn Seaton, 14, has been boxing for about 12 months and idolises Aboriginal boxer Anthony Mundine. He cannot wait to represent Queensland at the tournament and try out his skills against other young boxers from around Australia.

"I'll keep it up for a couple of years," he said.

"My friends run around and play touch football, but I would rather be training - that's all right for me."

Nathan Cookwell, 14, recently beat a two-time Australian champion at a tournament on Palm - the first held on the island in about 20 years. "It's good, I like punching the bag," he said.

The group will include a couple of girls, Donnaleece Obah, 17, and Kalani Geia, 16.

Dennis said the kids could not go to the national championships last year because the troubled community did not have the money to send them away.

"This will be good for them, really good," he said. "They would never go on a trip like this, maybe for the rest of their lives."