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

by Mervyn Bishop

gelatin silver photograph (sheet: 50.7 cm x 40.5 cm, image: 40.0 cm x 26.5 cm)

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