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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Lionel Rose, World Champion Bantam Weight Boxer before departing to the USA to defend his title, 1968 (printed 2008)

Mervyn Bishop

gelatin silver photograph on paper (sheet: 50.7 cm x 40.5 cm, image: 40.0 cm x 26.5 cm)
Image not available (NC)

Lionel Rose MBE (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 to the sport by his father, Roy, a tent-show fighter. He won the Australian amateur flyweight championship, aged fifteen, in 1963, a day after Roy Rose’s death. The eldest of nine, Rose went professional to help support his family, taking out the national bantamweight title in 1966. Aged nineteen, Rose accepted an opportunity to contest the world bantamweight belt in a bout against Mashiko ‘Fighting’ Harada in Tokyo in February 1968. Rose defeated Harada on points after a fifteen round fight and returned to Melbourne a national hero. Having twice defended his world title, Rose was named Australian of the Year (the first Aboriginal person 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 fifty-three of his sixty-four fights, twelve 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. Rose died in April 2011 and was accorded a State funeral in Melbourne.

Mervyn Bishop (b. 1945), Australia’s first Aboriginal newspaper photographer, commenced a cadetship with the Sydney Morning Herald in 1962. Named Press Photographer of the Year in 1971, Bishop became staff photographer for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in 1974. In 1975, Bishop took the iconic photograph of Gough Whitlam pouring soil into the hand of Gurindji elder, Vincent Lingiari, during a ceremony by which Lingiari’s people acquired title to thousands of square kilometres of traditional land. After another stint at the Herald, Bishop became a freelance photographer. His work has been included in major exhibitions, such as Aratjara: art of the first Australians (1993), and is represented the collections of many galleries.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2008

Accession number: 2008.38

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Mervyn Bishop (age 23 in 1968)

Lionel Rose (age 20 in 1968)

Subject professions

Sports and recreation

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

The Sands Brothers (group photograph), (n.d.) an unknown artist
The Sands Brothers (group photograph), (n.d.) an unknown artist
The Sands Brothers (group photograph), (n.d.) an unknown artist
The Sands Brothers (group photograph), (n.d.) an unknown artist

Seeing stars

Magazine article by Joanna Gilmour, 2013

Joanna Gilmour explores photographic depictions of Aboriginal sportsmen including Lionel Rose, Dave Sands, Jerry Jerome and Douglas Nicholls.

The champs

Magazine article by Dr Christopher Chapman, 2008

Two lively portrait photographs reflect the agility of their subjects: world champion Australian sportsmen Lionel Rose and Anthony Mundine.

Lee Kernaghan near Broken Hill, 2005 Ian Jennings
Lee Kernaghan near Broken Hill, 2005 Ian Jennings
Lee Kernaghan near Broken Hill, 2005 Ian Jennings
Lee Kernaghan near Broken Hill, 2005 Ian Jennings

Australian of the Year

Inspiring a Nation

Previous exhibition, 2010

The Australian of the Year Awards have often provoked controversy about who is selected and whether their achievements are remarkable.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.