• Remembering Vale Lionel Rose (NITV)Source: NITV
Ramahn Allam remembers boxing legend Lionel Rose.
Ramahn Allam

Living Black
12 May 2011 - 10:00 AM  UPDATED 18 Jun 2015 - 4:27 PM

It’s 1968 in Australia.

Aborigines have just been accepted by a majority referendum, in their own country, to become citizens.

There are close to 200,000 people at Melbourne’s Essendon Airport waiting for an Aboriginal teenager, who grew up in a humpy in the Victorian bush, to arrive.

That teenager is Lionel Rose.

He’s just defeated the national hero of post-war Japan – Masahiko ‘Fighting’ Harada, in a bruising 15-round battle for the IBF Bantamweight World Title.

Upon seeing the roaring throng, Rose asks: “Are the Beatles on board?”

That question the young man from Jackson’s Track asked came to typify the relaxed manner and easy way with people that would characterise him for the next 43 years.

"He’s just defeated the national hero of post-war Japan – Masahiko ‘Fighting’ Harada, in a bruising 15-round battle for the IBF Bantamweight World Title"

Lionel Rose, so much more than ‘The Champ’, died last Sunday, aged 62.

Boxing is commonly known as the sweet science, and Rose was one of its sweetest practitioners.

He was one of just four native-born Australians to win world titles on foreign soil, along with Jimmy Carruthers and Jeff 'The Hitman' Harding. 

In an eerie coincidence, the fourth, Tasmanian Danny Geale, claimed the IBF Middleweight title on the day of Rose's passing.

Rose’s legacy is not lost on two-time WBA Super Middleweight and IBO Middleweight champion Anthony ‘Choc’ Mundine.

“I believe that Lionel was the pioneer, he was the first, he's the best. There is no other Australian fighter better. That's including myself, that's including my old man, that's including all the greats that came out of this country. There is no-one that comes close,” he told Living Black.

Other accolades were bestowed upon him, with Lionel Rose both named Australian of the Year and awarded an MBE in 1968, a mere twelve months after the 91 per cent ‘Yes’ vote.

His versatility was apparent both in the ring and out of it. He turned his hand to music:  a collaboration with Johnny Young saw his tune 'Thank You' reach number one in three Australian capital cities.

Yet the sweet science is also known for its brutality, and the countless pugs who've lost their way.

Rose fell on hard times, battling alcoholism, yet Jeff 'The Hitman' Harding, who fought the same demon – albeit in a different era - fondly recalls Rose's easy way with people and fame.

"Yet the sweet science is also known for its brutality, and the countless pugs who've lost their way"

“We went on the Martin show and they said to Lionel 'what do you think, you've been world champ and done all these great things, but you drink a bit much and smoke cigarettes', and he said: 'Hang on Ray, I'm here for a good time, not a long time', and we all looked at Lionel, and we said: 'Yeah we know that’, but a fantastic bloke, great bloke, never say no to an autograph,” he told me.

In 1996, whilst playing at school in Cairns, six year old Murri boy Tjandamurra O’Shane was doused in petrol and set alight, leaving the youngster with burns to 70 per cent of his body and no expectation of survival.


"Rose gave the boy his title belt in the hope that his recovery would be hastened"


Lionel Rose will be remembered as a boy who rose out of extreme poverty to conquer the world at the age of just nineteen.

He transcended sport, and will not be forgotten by those who knew the man with the unbelievable balance and lightning-quick hands, nor those who knew him by reputation only.

Prominent Australians paid tribute to him this week.

“Watching him become world champ at a tender age was just a fabulous effort and he certainly inspired a lot of future champions,” said Rugby great Mark Ella.

“We do remember him, especially his ‘never say die’ attitude which will always be an important part of the Australian character,” said Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

“One of Australia's greatest ever sporting icons. You can talk about the Don Bradmans and so on, but Lionel Rose was up there with all of them,” said former world title holder, Jeff Fenech.

And Prime Minister Julia Gillard observed a minute’s silence in parliament this week.“He also made a point of refusing to fight in South Africa, even though the money was tempting, making Rose one of the first sportsmen in the world to stand up to the disgrace that was apartheid,” she said.

"I'm not going to become an honourary white, just for the big bucks,"

Rose said at the time.Rose was once asked how he’d like to be remembered.

“As a good guy, and not a bad guy, that's all.  Just to retain the respect and that's enough for me,” he said.

Vale Lionel Rose, you'll be sadly missed.