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Vale Lionel Rose MBE, Australian of the Year 1968
The National Australia Day Council is saddened by the death of boxing great Lionel Rose MBE at the age of 62.
Rose was named Australian of the Year 1968 after he became the first Australian indigenous world boxing champion that same year. It was also the first time an Indigenous Australian had been honoured with the Australian of the Year award.
The eldest of nine children, Lionel Rose grew up in an Aboriginal settlement near the Victorian town of Warragul. His father was an amateur boxer and introduced Lionel to the sport when he was fourteen years old. Rose won his first major fight at Melbourne’s Festival Hall in 1963 the day after his father died; by the end of the year he had claimed Australia’s national amateur flyweight title. To help support his family Rose turned professional in 1964 under legendary Australian trainer Jack Rennie. After a string of successful bouts he won the Australian bantamweight title in October 1966. He made history in Tokyo on 26 February 1968 when he defeated Japan’s Masahiko Harada for the World Bantamweight Title.
His victory catapulted him to icon status, both within the Aboriginal community and across the broad Australian population. Hundreds of thousands of people turned out to welcome him home on his return from the fight.
Rose came close to another world title several times over the following years before retiring in 1971. While he made a short comeback in 1975, he retired permanently with a proud record of 42 wins from 53 fights and 12 knockouts within those wins.
Lionel Rose is one of only four Australian-born boxers to win a world title overseas.
A humble man, whose life had its challenges and complications, Rose will be remembered not only as a champion of his sport but a champion of his people - his success at a time when Aboriginal people did not even have the right to vote gave Indigenous Australians a hero and, more importantly, hope.
The National Australia Day Council extends its sympathies to the family and friends of Lionel Rose, a man who will always be remembered as an inspirational Australian.