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Lionel Rose

1948 – 2011

Lionel Rose (1948–2011) boxer, was the first Indigenous Australian to win a world sporting title. Born in Jackson’s Track, a small Aboriginal community in Gippsland, Rose took up boxing in his early teens, having been introduced by his father Roy, a tent-show fighter. He won the Australian amateur flyweight championship, aged 15, in 1963, a day after Roy Rose’s death.

The eldest of nine, Rose turned professional to help support his family, taking out the national bantamweight title in 1996. Aged 19, Rose accepted an opportunity to contest the world bantamweight belt in a bout against Masahiko ‘Fighting’ Harada in Tokyo in February 1968. Rose defeated Harada on points after a 15-round fight and returned to Melbourne a national hero. Having twice defended his world title, Rose was named Australian of the Year (the first Indigenous man to be so honoured) and ABC Sportsman of the Year for 1968.

Rose retired from boxing in 1971, having lost his world title two years previously, but later made a comeback. His boxing career came to a permanent end in 1976, with Rose having won 53 of his 64 fights, 12 of them by knockout.

During the early 1970s, Rose recorded several songs, two of which – ‘I thank you’ and ‘Please remember me’ – made it into the Top Ten. He struggled in retirement, with loss of direction, eventually overcoming this setback to regain his position as a much-loved hero. Rose died in April 2011 and was accorded a State funeral in Melbourne.

When accepting the Australian of the Year Award, Rose wryly noted: ‘One hundred and eighty-two years ago one of my mob would have been a dead cert for this’.

Updated 2018