'A great Australian': Wallabies legend and ex-SBS chairman Nicholas Shehadie dies

Former SBS chairman and ex-Wallaby captain Sir Nicholas Shehadie has died at the age of 92.

Barbarians captain Phil Waugh, left, and his Wallabies counterpart Stirling Mortlock shake hands as Sir Nicholas Shehadie, center, looks on in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, June 4, 2009 ahead of their clash Saturday, June 6. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

Sir Nicholas Shehadie (centre) stands between the Barbarians captain Phil Waugh (left) and the Wallabies captain Stirling Mortlock in 2009. Source: AP

Former Sydney lord mayor, Wallabies rugby captain and SBS chairman Sir Nicholas Shehadie has died at the age of 92.

Sir Nicholas was the husband of former New South Wales governor Dame Marie Bashir.

Sir Nicholas was an instrumental figure in the formation of SBS and during his chairmanship from 1981-1999, oversaw pivotal moments including the introduction of the Special Broadcasting Service Act (1991) and expansion of SBS's in-language services.

SBS chairman Dr Hass Dellal AO said Sir Nicholas "was one of the early pioneers who contributed to the development of the national agenda for a multicultural Australia. He was a great Australian who was pivotal in the formation of SBS and a great supporter of multiculturalism for all Australians."

SBS managing director Michael Ebeid said Sir Nicholas left a lasting legacy for the broadcaster.

"Over his years, he always championed multicultural issues, because he understood how Australia was really being built on immigration. And that was a key legacy of his in promoting everything that he did."

Sir Nicholas was born in Sydney in 1926 to a pious, yet pioneering, Lebanese family. Sir Nicholas's father was the second Antiochian Orthodox priest in Australasia.

The talented footballer first played for the Wallabies in 1947 at age 20 and, for decades, held the record as the most capped player.

Sir Nicholas was president of the Australian Rugby Union Board for most of the 1980s, using his influence and power to help establish the Rugby World Cup.

He was honoured for his dedication to the sport with induction into the International Rugby Board Hall of Fame in 2011.

He lobbied for changes to scrummaging laws for schoolboy rugby, making it safer, something he regarded as one of his greatest achievements.

Journalist and former national rugby player Peter FitzSimons said Sir Nicholas was hugely respected.

"Remarkably intelligent, forthright, universally respected. I tell you what, in 30 years, I have never heard a bad word said about Sir Nicholas Shehadie."

"He was universally respected, universally loved, because he'd done it all. He'd started out as a grade player, captained the Wallabies, played against the Lions, played against the All Blacks and then had gone on to be this revolutionary administrator."

In 1973, after a decade as an alderman on the Sydney City Council, Sir Nicholas became Lord Mayor.

During his tenure, he oversaw such historic events as the unveiling of the Sydney Opera House, green bans around the city's heritage sites and the launch of the Sydney Festival.

Sir Nicholas was appointed a knight bachelor for his service as Sydney's lord mayor between 1973 and 1975.

Current Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said he was always supportive of his wife's achievements.

"He was very proud of Marie Bashir ... I observed him being a wonderful support to her, and she's going to be quite devastated, I would expect."

He was also appointed a companion of the Order of Australia in 1990.

Sir Nicholas and Dame Marie have three children.

Additional reporting: AAP

3 min read
Published 12 February 2018 at 10:08am
By Peggy Giakoumelos