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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)

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
© Mervyn Bishop

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Mervyn Bishop (age 23 in 1968)

Lionel Rose (age 20 in 1968)

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)
The Sands Brothers (group photograph)
The Sands Brothers (group photograph)
The Sands Brothers (group photograph)

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.

Lionel Rose, World Champion Bantam Weight Boxer before departing to the USA to defend his title
Lionel Rose, World Champion Bantam Weight Boxer before departing to the USA to defend his title
Lionel Rose, World Champion Bantam Weight Boxer before departing to the USA to defend his title
Lionel Rose, World Champion Bantam Weight Boxer before departing to the USA to defend his title

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.

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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 past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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