Life On The Job

Indigenous Famous Person's Story

LIONEL EDWARD ROSE (21 June 1948 - 8 May 2011) - Sportsperson (Boxer)

Lionel Rose posing
(Source: ABC)



Eldest son of Regina and Roy Rose. (Source: This is Your Life)

Lionel Rose was born at Jackson's Track, a bush settlement near Warragul, Victoria, on 21 June 1948. Lionel grew up with a large family that lived in a hut with a corrugated iron roof, packed floor dirt, no electricity and no running water.

Lionel Rose was best known for his athletic achievements in the sport of boxing. He was a sublime exponent of the noble art. Lionel learnt to box from his father, who was also a boxer. It is said that Lionel saw boxing as an escape from poor living in the country. He sparred with rags on his hands in a ring made from fencing wire stretched between trees. At the age of 15 he won the Australian flyweight title. (Source: NSW Parliament - Tribute to Lionel Rose)

Jackson's Track
Jackson's Track

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.

Lionel Rose aged 5
Lionel Rose aged 5 from the Documentary film called "Lionel"
The Australian)

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. (Source: Australian of the Year)


Lionel hardly went to school. He spent a lot of time sparring in the make-shift ring.  (Source: This is Your Life)

Did You Know?

Rose was the first Indigenous Australian to be named Australian of the Year. When accepting the award, he noted: ‘One hundred and eighty-two years ago one of my mob would have been a dead cert for this.’ (Source: Australian of the Year)

One of Lionel's greatest achievements was winning a world title. Although he was not the first aboriginal to win a world title he was the first boxer to do so. Rose won the Bantamweight title in 1968 against Harada from Japan. He was also only the second Australian to win a world title while still in his teens. After Lionel missed out on the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, Rose turned professional. He was trained by a Melbourne trainer named Jack Rennie.

Rose entered in a fight against Rocky Gattellari at Sydney stadium everybody was behind Rocky Gattellari but when Lionel Rose knocked him out in round thirteen the fans had a new hero.

When Lionel went to Japan to fight Harada. Harada already had five successful title defences to his credit. Harada was given advice that if he hit an aboriginal in the legs he would fall immediately. He ignored the advice and hit him in the head, this had no effect. In the ninth round Harada had dropped to his knees with a short left punch to his chin he then opened himself to more and more punishment. (Source: Kooriweb)

When Lionel Rose, at age 19, stepped into the ring for his world title bout against Japan's 'Fighting' Harada, his manager Jack Rennie believed his boy would need to overcome a lot more than an unbeaten opponent. Three of the judges for the fight in Tokyo were Japanese, and Rennie hoped they hadn't seen what was being written about the fight in Australia.

"Australian newspapers were saying we'd get robbed," Rennie said. "It wasn't all that long after the war and we didn't know if they were still crook on us."

It turned out that the Japanese judges gave the verdict to Lionel, making him the first Australian Aboriginal to win a world championship in any sport.

For his efforts in that 1968 fight, Lionel earned around $7,500 against Harada's $70,000. But for the kid from a Victorian bush settlement that barely existed, it was the beginning of a life that had almost everything - including a personal chat and photograph with Elvis Presley.

Lionel Rose and Elvis Presley
Lionel Rose and Elvis Presley meet on the set of The Trouble With Girls 1968.
(Source: Elvis Australia)

He was named Australian of the Year in 1968 in recognition of the world championship achievement, becoming the first indigenous Australian to be awarded this honour. That same year, he was also made a Member of the Order of the British Empire. (Source: Australian Geographic)

Did You Know?
Australia Post

Australia Post: Stamp Issue Date: 8 March 2005 (PDF)


In retirement, Rose became a successful businessman, and he enjoyed the monetary benefits his career brought him. Rose was showcased in 2002 in the The Ring section 'Where are they now?'.

In 2007, Rose suffered a stroke that left him with speech and movement difficulties.

Rose died on 8 May 2011 after an illness which lasted for several months.


Rose was featured in Australian author: Wendy Lewis's book of "Australia's Greatest People" in 2010.

In 1970 he won the Australian Amateur Flyweight title

In 2003 he was an inaugural inductee in the Australian National Boxing Hall of Fame.

In 2005 he was featured on the list of people to appear on stamp (part of the 2005 edition).

In 2005 Rose was also awarded the E9 title of 'King of the Ring'.

TV and film

The TV miniseries "Rose Against the Odds" was produced in 1991 - a period drama of Rose's life story starring Paul Williams and Telly Savalas. It was released as a feature film in 1995.

Rose Against the Odds
(Source: IMDb)

In 2008, after nearly three years of conducting interviews with Rose, his family and friends, Melbourne filmmaker Eddie Martin premiered his feature-length documentary Lionel at the Melbourne International Film Festival. After a brief theatrical run, a shorter version of the film premiered on SBS television on 28 November 2008. (Source: Wikipedia)


Did You Know?

During his time off from boxing in the 1970s, Rose embarked on a modest singing career in Australia having hits with "I Thank You" and "Please Remember Me" in 1970.

The song "I Thank You" was a nationwide hit, produced and written by Johnny Young and engineered by John L Sayers; it was played as a substitute to the Australian National Anthem during radio broadcasts of the State of Origin series, and other sporting events by the comedic sports commentators, Roy Slaven and H.G. Nelson.
(Source: Wikipedia)


Australian of the Year - 1968

Australian of the Year 1968
SMH: Lionel Rose Dies aged 62


Tribute to Lionel Rose - NSW Parliament

Tribute to Lionel Rose
SScreen Australia: Audio of Call of Fight in 1968

Screen Australia
Sport Australia Hall of Fame

Sport Australia Hall of Fame

The Australian - Photo Gallery

The Australian Photo Gallery Lionel Rose

Deadly Vibe
Koori History - Photographs of Lionel Rose

Koori History
The Guardian: Lionel Rose obituary

SMH: Photogallery (22 photos)

SMH Photogallery of Lionel Rose
AM - Lionel Rose dead at 62

Australian National Boxing - Hall of Fame

Hall of Fame


 Online: Create a Newspaper Story about one of Lionel Rose's matches

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1. Read Lionel Rose's story.

2. After reading Lionel Rose's story imagine you are a newspaper journalist watching one of his fights and are lucky enough to interview Lionel after the match.

3. Write up interview questions and any comments on the match. 

4. Produce an article for the newspaper's front page.

5. Use Printing Press (free online newspaper tool) to create your front page headline and article.

Printing Press

Material sourced from 

Australian Geographic

Australian of the Year

 NSW Parliament - Tribute to Lionel Rose

The Guardian: Lionel Rose obituary



Life on the Job

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Evonne Goolagong Cawley

Evonne Goolagong Cawley
Michael Milton

Michael Milton

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