Old Boy Don Stewart (1969) reflects on a life well lived.
“After nine years at Churchie I took up a cadetship with Borthwicks Meatworks in Merinda near Bowen. I lasted five weeks as a slaughter floor sweeper before returning to Brisbane; it wasn’t for me. I re-entered the workforce as a Santa’s Helper at Myer Chermside, eventually becoming a Boyswear manager. There I met Greg Norman, shopping with his Mum for shirts to commence golf lessons. I also studied Economics and Commerce part-time at the University of Queensland, unfortunately incomplete.
I played for GPS Rugby Club for years, even the occasional first grade match. I toured with them to Thailand in 1973; there I saw Muay Thai fighting for the first time, in a huge stadium packed to the rafters. Respect and obedience are necessary for success and whilst brutal, Thai fighters were extremely fit, seemingly oblivious to pain dealt out by their opponent. The attraction was immediate. In Australia the biggest crowds for my fights were during the Ekka, when challenging members of the Jimmy Sharman Boxing Troupe. I seemed to last the distance every time, probably because I was often in my school uniform – to them I would be a ‘walk in the park’.
Back in Australia I sought information regarding training in Muay Thai in Thailand. In 1979 after another fighter and I opened The Atlas Gym and Fight Centre in Stafford, I started training in Muay Thai on Koh Samui Island in Thailand over three years. I competed in many fights and won as many as I lost.
The Gym at Stafford became a popular training centre, used by some Brisbane rugby league teams prior to the formation of the NRL. Valleys under Ross Strudwick and Brothers under Tommy Raudonikis were frequent attendees to toughen up their players.
During the 80s I was recruited as security for various overseas bands including Kiss, David Bowie and the Eurythmics. I also worked on the doors at various inner-city nightclubs. In a twist of fate, a patron I assisted after an altercation one evening offered me a job. He was the CEO of a company handling the sales and marketing of Levi Jeans. My company vehicle was a Harley Davidson wide glide, so for many years I lived the iconic Peter Fonda Easy Rider lifestyle, covering a territory stretching from Coffs Harbour to Cairns.
My next job, with Australian Combat Equipment at Enoggera, was providing equipment and clothing troops being deployed to the Middle East. I also volunteered on Friday and Saturday nights for Nightwatch in Fortitude Valley. Working alongside police and paramedics was very confrontational and after two years I felt my own mental health was in jeopardy. After taking time out, I sought employment assisting rehabilitation of children from youth detention back into society. At night I continued to teach Muay Thai voluntarily at a gym that I had set up at my own home in Oxley. It was totally free to the street kids and gang members residing in the Inala, Goodna, Redbank and Ipswich area. Many of these children were sent to me by the local church and some suffered mental health problems such as Tourette’s, Asperger’s and anger management.
Recently, chronic shoulder injuries required reconstruction on both shoulders and a knee reconstruction. Due to my debilitating physical condition, I sold my Harley which had allowed me to live a life that I never imagined was mine to live. I have three beautiful children, Sonny, Althea and Jesse, and five grandchildren. My beautiful West Indian wife, Kodajo Marsha Belle, has been my rock, giving me her total support through this journey. Despite the worry and despair she may have felt at times, she has always encouraged me to do what I felt was best.”