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Lionel Edmund Rose (1948–2011)

Lionel Rose, by Hank Brusse, 1968

Lionel Rose, by Hank Brusse, 1968

National Archives of Australia, L71429

PUBLICATION: Lionel Rose: Australian, The Life Story of a Champion, as Told to Rod Humphries, Angus and Robertson, 1969.

NAME:  Lionel Rose

SEX: Male

BIRTH DATE: 21 June 1948

BIRTH PLACE: Jackson Track (Labertouche), South Eastern Victoria.



  • Jackson Track (Labertouche): Where Lionel lived in a one-room tin hut until the age of ten. (p.8)
  • Drouin: Where the family moved into a two-roomed weatherboard house, with the support of the Aboriginal Welfare Board, when Lionel was ten. (p.28)
    • 28)
  • Warragul: A “bigger, more lively town”, about seven and a half miles from Drouin, where Lionel used to spend time “knocking around” with his friend as a teenager. (p.29, 31) It was in Warragul that Lionel met Dave Proctor, who arranged his first amateur fight. (p.29)
  • Sale: Where Lionel had his first amateur fight, against a much larger opponent. (p.33) When he took up boxing again two years later, Lionel travelled with Franks Oakes to Sale, however there was never anyone in his weight division to fight. (p.33)
  • Melbourne: Lionel first visited Melbourne in 1958, on a trip sponsored by the Save the Children Fund. (pp.23-27)
  • After meeting Graham Walsh, Lionel frequently travelled to Melbourne on the weekends in his adolescence to stay with his family in Blackburn, and later with the Rennies in Essendon. Lionel moved to Melbourne to live with the Rennies in 1964. (p.47)
  • Melbourne had a special significance to Rose after he was greeted at the Melbourne airport by an ebullient crowd following his victory in Japan (p.1)
  • Tokyo: Where Lionel won the World Bantamweight Boxing title in 1968 (p.1)

Less significant localities:

  • Tasmania: Where Lionel won the Australian Boxing Championship (p.39)
  • Kilcunda: where Lionel and the Rennies bought a beach house, where they went to take a break from the “madhouse” that followed his world championship win. (p.95)


  • Lionel travelled to New Zealand for his tenth professional contest in 1965, (p.65) and to Tokyo in 1968 to participate in the world bantamweight boxing title. (p.1) He did not like the food in Japan, and became homesick. (p.109)


  • Lionel was enrolled at the Labertouche State School in 1956, when he was eight. (p.12) The school was a three-mile walk from the Jackson Track settlement, and, like the other children who lived their, Rose’s school attendance was sporadic. (p.13)
  • The Aboriginal Welfare Board supported the Rose families’ move to Drouin, in the hope that the children would attend school more regularly. However, Lionel was a defiant child, as he was opposed to the strict regimes and the crowded bus. (pp.28-29)
  • Even in Drouin, truancy was so common an occurrence in the Rose family that their father was twice fined, and had to spend 48 hours in prison. (p.29) Lionel embraced the opportunity to leave school at fourteen.
  • Despite being open about his opposition to formal education, Lionel rejects the suggestion that he is an “uneducated Aborigines from the bush”. (p.54) He points out that his education continued under Shirley Rennie’s tutelage, as she continually corrected his grammar and pronunciation, and enrolled him in correspondence English and Mathematics courses. (p.55, 70)


  • Lionel’s first job was at the sawmill near Drouin for nine months. (p.34) Lionel did not like the work, and admits to having little patience or perseverance with roles that he didn’t enjoy. However, when able to pursue his passion for boxing, he was committed and consistent.
  • When his father died, Lionel was forced to adopt a more responsible attitude towards employment, and temporarily to put aside his dreams of fighting professionally. (p.37)
  • Nonetheless, Lionel struggled to maintain a job for any prolonged period. (p.37) Franks Oakes found him a position working at a laundry, but he resigned after two weeks because he felt it was feminine work. (p.37) He then got a job at Right-Angle Welders. While Lionel proved to be an unreliable employee, the owners were lenient because they were fighting enthusiasts. (p.39)
  • After losing in the Olympic qualifications, Shirley Rennie found Lionel eight different jobs. Lionel admits that this turnover was largely because of his poor work ethic. However, he also felt that many employers discriminated against him: not offering him a job because of his colour, or making racial slurs. (p.51)
  • Lionel was able to give up unskilled work when he started to earn as a professional boxer.  After winning the world championship, Lionel charged a high fee for advertising and endorsements. (p.128)
  • In his autobiography, Lionel is keen to highlight his own financial prudence, which he contrasts with previous Aboriginal boxers. (p.54)


  • Education Department: Sent truancy officers to Jackson Track to enforce school attendance. (p.13)
  • Save the Children Fund: Funded Lionel and three other Aboriginal children to visit Melbourne in 1958. In was one this trip that Lionel met Graham Walsh and saw his first professional fight. (p.23)
  • Aboriginal Welfare Board: Rented some land near Drouin, and arranged for the Rose family to relocate from Jackson’s Track. (p.28)
  • Warragul Youth Centre: Where Lionel trained with Franks Oakes when he began boxing again as a teenager. (p.32-33)
  • Melbourne Stadiums Limited: Invited Rose as a guest to watch a professional match, upon the request of photographer Graham Walsh. (p.25) Melbourne Stadiums Limited also arranged Rose’s fights, (p.67) and dictated his opponents (p.88) Rose described Stadiums Limited as having a “virtual stranglehold on the sport in Australia”. (p.88)
  • World Boxing Association: Oversaw the world championship in Tokyo. (p.107)


  • In 1954 Aboriginal children were legally required by law to attend school. Technically this affected the children at Jackson’s Track, however Lionel was not made to attend school until 1956, when he was eight. (p.12)

PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH (causes and treatment):

  • Lionel claims that none of the children at Jackson’s Track ever had common ailments such as measles or chickenpox. (p.11) However, he suffered from a chronic cold as a child. (p.11)
  • Injuries were commonplace at Jackson Track, and, as the risk of tetanus was unknown, a deep cut was not considered cause for alarm. (p.12)
  • When he became a professional boxer, Lionel had to take supplements to make up for the vitamin deficiency he suffered in his youth. (p.58)
  • Rose was badly injured in his first amateur boxing match against a much larger and more experienced opponent. He subsequently ‘retired’ from boxing for two years and pursued Australian Rules. (p.30)
  • When he took up Australian Rules, Lionel played ‘ruck-rover’, which was a position for the ‘big, tall, strong men of the team’. (pp.30-31) His opponents were much larger than he, and Rose had a number of bad accidents: including being knocked unconscious for thirty seconds, and then continuing to play. (p.31)
  • Lionel took up smoking at an early age, but was forced to quit when it started to affect his boxing performance. (p.33)
  • Lionel developed a taste for alcohol, following the celebrations surrounding his Australian Championship win. (p.42)  His drinking became a problem when he was living with Shirley and Jack, and they threatened to throw him out if he continued. (p.52)
  • After his defeat in Sydney in 1966, Lionel had to take a break from boxing because of a stomach muscle sprain. (p.72)
  • Lionel injured his thumb in a high-school fight with Geoff Hourigan, the captain of the Drouin school football team. Lionel chipped the bone in his thumb again in his fight with Rocky Gattellari, during which he almost killed his opponent. (p.95) His thumb continued to cause him problems when he was in Tokyo for the World Championship, and Shirley had to spend ours massaging it. (pp.109-11) When he returned to Melbourne, he felt obliged to shake supporters’ hands, despites the fact that it caused shooting pains up his arm. (p.3)


  • Roy Rose was also a boxer, who brought a little extra money for the family by touring country shows in boxing tents. (p.18) Roy was proud of Lionel’s early success, and would carry newspaper clippings his wallet. (p.35) He was also defensive when people doubted Lionel’s ability, which was the cause of many fights. (pp.5-6, 17)
  • Roy drank heavily, and Lionel believes that this contributed to his early death from rheumatic fever. (p.42) However, Roy never encouraged his son to do the same, and the only trouble he ever had with the police was regarding the children’s truancy (p.19).
  • Lionel laments the fact that he has only ever witnessed his father in ‘unscheduled’ fights, (p. 18) and that Roy never lived to see his son’s success. (p.34) Lionel was reminded of this father after every major victory (p. 37, 42, 76) and he dedicated his autobiography to his memory.
  • Lionel’s mother has less of a presence in his autobiography. Regina (Jean) Rose’s had nine children: Ray, Lynette, Leonard, Michael, Graham, Herbert and Deidre. (p.8) Lionel mentions that Regina tried to get her children to go to school by using the truancy officer as a threat. (p.13) However, he also claims that generally her parenting style was relaxed and her control was stretched thin. (p.13)


  • None discussed.


  • None at the time of publication.


  • Mr and Mrs Buchanan (Aunty Pen and Uncle Bill): a generous non-Aboriginal family who lived near Jackson Track (p.14). In exchange for clothing, Mrs Buchanan asked the families at deposit money into a travel account. (p.15) These savings enabled Lionel to visit Portsea near Melbourne. (p.15) Lionel was also invited to visit Drouin with the Buchanans, which gave him the first “taste of the better things in life”. (p.15)
  • Mr Jensen: The Sunday school teacher who encouraged Lionel’s early interest in boxing, by collecting books and magazines about the sport for him. (p.13)
  • Graham Walsh: The photographer who covered Rose’s trip to Melbourne with the Save the Children Fund. (p.24) Graham was an ex-boxer, and gave Lionel a set of old gloves, and then took him to see professional boxing matches and training session  (pp.23-26)
  • Rose would often hitchhike to Melbourne and stay with Graham and his wife, Mary, in Blackburn. (p.26) Graham also introduced Lionel to Larry Nixon, who invited him to star on the “Make a Wish” television show. (p.30)
  • Walsh photographed Rose again, when he returned to Melbourne after winning the World Championship in Tokyo. (p.122)
  • Frank Oakes: The coach of the Third Grade Warragul Australian Rules team, who trained Rose when he decided to take up boxing again as a teenager. (p.33) Frank also organised Lionel’s first major fights, raised money for to travel to Tasmania (p.39), supported him when his father died, (p.36) and tried to find him employment (pp.37-38). When Frank decided that he could no longer develop as a boxer under his care, he introduced Lionel to Jack Rennie. (pp.43-44)
  • Jack and Shirley Rennie: Jack Rennie was an ex-boxer, and Lionel’s first professional trainer.
  • Lionel came to live with Rennies on the weekends in Essendon. (p.45) He was accepted and well cared for by the Rennie family, particularly Jack’s wife Shirley, who became a “second mother and guardian” to Rose. (p.5)
  • Eventually Lionel asked the Rennies if he could live with them permanently. Shirley accepted the proposal, as she was concerned about Lionel’s future as young Aboriginal man in Melbourne. (p.47)
  • Shirley helped Lionel to find employment, and threatened to kick him out of the house when he became a regular drinker at the age of 16.
  • Despite their own financial difficulties, the Rennies supported Lionel and his family. Later, when he started earning as a professional boxer, he was pleased to be able to return their generosity.
  • Following his world championship win, Shirley negotiated advertising and endorsements for Lionel.
  • Lionel resented and explicitly rejected the suggestion that he was being exploited by the Rennies. (p.54) He explains the nature of his “gentleman’s agreement” with his coach, which awards Jack 25 per cent of Lionel’s prize money. (p.54)
  • George Bracken: An Aboriginal boxer – the Australian lightweight champion – who had been an inspiration to Lionel from the moment that Walsh took him to see one of his fights in Melbourne. (pp.25-26)
  • Bracken later offered to become Lionel’s manager, however he turned him down because of his reliance on the Rennies. (p.64)


Changes in circumstances

  • Lionel begins his story with a vignette of a thousand people celebrating his victory in 1968. (pp.1-15)
  • With reference to this career highlight, Lionel retrospectively describes his rise from humble origins. He recalls the austere housing, a shortage of food, a lack of jobs (p.9-10), the vermin invasions, (p.11) and hunting rabbits for food at Jackson’s Track. (p.13)
  • Lionel points out that he only makes these observations in light of the material comfort and celebrity status he enjoyed later in life, and they did not concern him at the time.

Reasons for success:

  • Lionel speculates about the cultural and personal factors that he believes led to his sporting success. Lionel attributed his success partly to being member of a marginalized community.
  • Lionel also claims that violence was a common means of resolving disputes, and a source of entertainment, at Jackson Track and in Aboriginal society more generally. (pp.16-17)
  • Lionel also believes that Aboriginal people tend to have a calm disposition, which enabled him to keep calm during a boxing match. (p.7)
  • As well as they cultural factor, Lionel highlight specific incidents, choices and coincidences that led him to boxing fame. (p.112- 127) In particularly, he emphasizes the role of the Buchanans, Graham Walsh, Frank Oakes and the Rennies. (p.10)

The feeling and effects of sporting success:   

  • Lionel describes the joy he derives not only from fighting, but also from mastering a sport, in unequivocal terms. (p. 42, p.47)
  • Lionel is more ambivalent about the flow-on effects of sporting success. While Lionel enjoys the financial rewards, he claims not to appreciate the attention, particularly when it comes from disingenuous people.
  • Lionel also speculates about the political significance of his victory, and is ambivalent about the degree to which his Aboriginality amplified the attention he received.

Responding to racism:

  • Lionel criticized the preconceptions that he claims many Anglo-Australians have about Aboriginal people.
  • Lionel relates his own experiences with racial prejudice, and condemns Anglo-Australians who are intolerant of diversity. Lionel suggests that this discrimination is also connected with class, as he did not suffer from it when he became a world champion.
  • Lionel also outlines the strategies he, as a fighter, employed to defend himself against racism. (p.21)

MODE OF LITERARY PRODUCTION:  Lionel’s autobiography was transcribed and edited by Rod Humphries.

Source Project

This biographical entry was contributed by Australian Indigenous Autobiography Archive

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'Rose, Lionel Edmund (1948–2011)', Indigenous Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 28 May 2024.

© Copyright Indigenous Australia, 2012

Lionel Rose, by Hank Brusse, 1968

Lionel Rose, by Hank Brusse, 1968

National Archives of Australia, L71429

Life Summary [details]


21 June, 1948
Labertouche, Victoria, Australia


8 May, 2011 (aged 62)
Warragul, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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