Lionel Rose - Lest We Forget

Lionel Rose 1948 - 2011

World Champion Boxer, Gentleman, Tireless Campaigner against Racism and a Great Bloke

Those who know boxing will tell you there was nothing sweeter than watching Lionel Rose, the first Aboriginal to win a world title, throw his own unique combination of triple left hooks.

Lionel Rose was a teenage prodigy, a 19-year-old who beat Japan's Fighting Harada for the world bantamweight title on Japanese soil in 1968. Barry Michaels, a devastated former world champion, called for Rose to be awarded a state funeral in honour of what he did for indigenous Australians.

It is sadly ironic that on the day Australia crowned its latest indigenous world champion, Daniel Geale, the first and greatest passed away. No Australian boxer ever achieved the sort of popularity and affection that greeted Lionel Rose's world bantamweight title win in 1968.

Early life

Born and raised at Jacksons Track near the Victorian town of Warragul. Lionel grew up in hardship, learning to box from his father, Roy, a useful fighter on the tent-show circuit. According to boxing historian Grantlee Kieza, Rose "sparred with rags on his hands in a ring made from fencing wire stretched between trees".

At 10, Lionel struck up a friendship with press photographer Graham Walsh who encouraged him and bought him his first pair of gloves. Aged about 15, he went under the tutelage of Frank Oakes, a Warragul trainer (whose daughter Jenny he later married). He won the Australian amateur flyweight title at 15.

Boxing career

After missing selection for the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Lionel began his professional boxing career on 9 September 1964, outpointing Mario Magriss over eight rounds. This fight was in Warragul, but the majority of Lionel Rose's fights were held in Melbourne. Along the way he was helped by Jack and Shirley Rennie, in whose Melbourne home he stayed, training every day in their backyard gym.

After five wins in a row, on 23 July 1965, Lionel was rematched with Singtong Por Tor, whom he had beaten in a 12-round decision. Por Tor inflicted his first defeat, beating him on points in six rounds. On 14 October of the same year, he had his first fight abroad, beating Laurie Ny by a decision in 10 rounds at Christchurch, New Zealand.

Over his next nine fights, Lionel had a record of eight wins and one loss, with one knockout. The lone loss in those nine fights was to Ray Perez, against whom Lionel split a pair of bouts. Then, on 28 October 1966, he met Noel Kunde at Melbourne for the Australian bantamweight title. He won the title by defeating Kunde in a 15-round decision.

Lionel won one more belt in 1966 and eight in 1967 (including a thirteenth round knockout win against Rocky Gattellari to defend his Australian championship) before challenging Fighting Harada for the world bantamweight title on 26 February 1968 in Tokyo. Lionel Rose made history by becoming the first Aboriginal Australian to be a world champion boxer when he defeated Harada in a 15-round decision.

This win made him an instant national hero in Australia and an icon among Aboriginal Australians. A public reception at Melbourne Town Hall was witnessed by a crowd of well over 100,000 Victorians (Some estimates are up to 250,00). On 2 July of that year, he returned to Tokyo to retain his title with a 15 round decision win over Takao Sakurai. Then, on 6 December, he met Chucho Castillo at the Inglewood Forum in Inglewood, California. Lionel beat Castillo by decision, but the points verdict in favour of him infuriated many in the pro-Castillo crowd and a riot began: 14 fans and fight referee Dick Young were hospitalised for injuries received.

On 8 March 1969, Lionel retained the title with a 15-round decision over Alan Rudkin, but five months later he returned to Inglewood, where he faced Rubén Olivares on 22 August. He lost the world bantamweight title to Olivares via a fifth-round knockout.

Lionel continued boxing after his defeat against Olivares, but, after defeats against practically unknown fighters, many believed he was done as a prime fighter. However, he was far from finished: he upset future world lightweight champion Itshimatsu Suzuki on 10 October 1970 in a 10-round decision, and once again, he positioned himself as a world title challenger, albeit in the lightweight division, 17 pounds over the division where he crowned himself world champion.

Despite having lost to Jeff White for the Australian lightweight title, Lionel got another world title try when he faced WBC world junior lightweight champion Yoshiaki Numata, on 30 May 1971 at Hiroshima. Numata beat Rose by a fifteen round decision, and Rose announced his retirement soon after.
In 1975, he came back, but after losing four of his next six bouts, including one against Rafael Limón, Lionel decided to retire for good. He compiled a record of 42 wins and 11 losses as a professional boxer, with 12 wins by knockout.

Singing career

During his time off from boxing in the 1970s, Lionel 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 Rugby League State of Origin, and other sporting events by the comedic sports commentators, Roy Slaven and H.G. Nelson.


I Thank You - Summit (SRA 250 033) (1970)
Tracks: Please remember me, Sea of Heratbreak, Act naturally, I thank you, Last train to Clarkesville, Guitar Pickin' Boy, Wildwood Flower, Pick me up on your way down, Bycilce song, Good old country song,
Little ole you, Old Pinto
- Produced by Johny Young

Singles"I Thank You"/"Pick Me Up On Your Way Down"
Festival (FK-3425) (1969)

"Please Remember Me"/"Good Old Country Song"
Festival (FK-3575) (March 1970)

* Discography details Incomplete


In retirement, Lionel became a successful businessman. He was able to manage his money and make good financial decisions, and he enjoyed the monetary benefits his career brought him. He was showcased in 2002 in the The Ring section 'Where are they now?'.

In 1996, Lionel presented young burns-attack victim Tjandamurra O'Shane with his world-title belt, hoping to speed the youngster's recovery. O'Shane, also an Aboriginal Australian, had been the victim of an horrific attack in Cairns the previous year.

In 2007, He suffered a stroke that left him with speech and movement difficulties. Nevertheless, he enjoyed much of his next 4 years before passing away on Sunday 8th May 2011 after an illness which lasted for several months.


Lionel was Australian of the Year in 1968, the first Aboriginal Australian to be awarded the honour. The same year he was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).

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

Lionel's boxing gloves featured in a 2005 Australia Post stamp issue.

In 2005 Lionel was awarded the Ella Lifetime Achievement Award for Contribution to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sport.

Documentary film

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 28th November 2008

Circe Films - Directed by Eddie Martin .


AUDIO Audio file Lionel's World Title Fight in Tokyo mp3
The final minutes of the fight: Radio announcer Ron Casey calls the closing minutes of the bantamweight world title fight between Lionel Rose of Australia and 'Fighting' Harada of Japan on 26 February 1968.

The fight call was broadcast live down the telephone line from Tokyo.

I Thank You - Lionel Rose

AUDIO Audio file Lionel: 'I Thank You'
mp3 Festival Records
AUDIO Audio file Lionel: 'Pick me up on your way down' mp3
Festival Records

Sources: Wikipedia, Courier Mail and etc (Edited by Treaty Republic) 9th May 2011


Thanks for that

... will fix this
Cheers Sub-Editor

Edit 2 - Edits: Checked

would love to hear the final minutes of the fight!

anomymous user comment

hi thanks for all of this info regarding the late great Mister Rose.
I enjoyed listening to his tracks. AUDIO Only the first one where i clicked the title : "Lionel's World Title Fight" It has the wrong download. It is "Pick me up on your way down" what a lovely song...

Comment viewing options

Enter the characters shown in the image.
Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.