Aboriginal boxer Lionel Rose dies at 62 | Connect Asia

Aboriginal boxer Lionel Rose dies at 62

Aboriginal boxer Lionel Rose dies at 62

Updated 18 January 2012, 16:15 AEDT

Australia's first Aboriginal world boxing champion, Lionel Rose, has died aged 62.

He's recently suffered from a number of heart attacks and a serious stroke. Lionel Rose was just 19 when he won a World Bantamweight Championship by beating Japan's Masahiko "Fighting" Harada in Tokyo.

Presenter: Meredith Griffiths

Speaker: Anthony Mundine, Aboriginal boxer; Brad Vocale cousin of Lionel Rose

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: It was more than 40 years ago when Lionel Rose made history in Japan but his legend remains strong today.

Aboriginal boxer Anthony Mundine.

ANTHONY MUNDINE: I believe he is the best Australian fighter to ever come out of these shores.

I have an immense respect for the man and what he's done for Aboriginal culture and what he's done for Australia.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: It was 1968 when Lionel Rose became an international star, beating Japan's Masahiko "Fighting" Harada in 15 rounds.

(Crowd cheers)

COMMENTATOR: Terrific last round. And the crowd in terrific voice.

Left and right to the head by Rose.

Caught right to the body by Rose and Harada was definitely holding on.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Lionel Rose had become the first Indigenous Australian to win a world title.

(Crowd roars)

COMMENTATOR: And Rose is champion of the world! Lionel Rose is champion of the world in the bantamweight division.

Jack Rennie's embraced him in the corner.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: He was just 19 and on his return to Melbourne tens of thousands of people lined the streets for a tickertape parade.

LIONEL ROSE (archival audio): To come back home and have a couple of hundred thousand people pour in the streets, and never seeing that before and I don't think we'll ever see it again.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: It was long way from the small Aboriginal settlement of Jackson's Track where Lionel Rose was born in 1948.

His father had toured with a tent boxing troupe and Lionel Rose watched and learned so by the time he was 15 he'd won his first amateur flyweight title.

His cousin Brad Vocale says Lionel Rose had an incredible career.

BRAD VOCALE: His professional record was he had 53 fights, 42 wins and 11 losses.

And the 11 losses, you know, he had a few of those losses towards the end of his career when he was just sort of probably really just fighting for the love of fighting more so than after his world championship days were well and truly over.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Not many have been able to match his record.

Anthony Mundine, who's also held world boxing titles, says it was Lionel Rose's phenomenal coordination, speed and power that set him ahead of the rest.

ANTHONY MUNDINE: I think he, he really is the pioneer. Being an Aboriginal boy, especially back in them days, you know, he had to put up with segregation, put up with being put on missions and to do what he's done, especially then as a 19-year-old kid, it was very significant.

He sort of paved the way for fighters like my dad and fighters like myself and people like that. He was one of my shining lights. He was one of my idols and you know, he's a big reason, a big inspiration in my career.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Lionel Rose was the first Aborigine to be named Australian of the Year and was also made a Member of the Order of the British Empire.

But he also battled alcoholism and spent time in jail for petty crimes.

Lionel Rose retired from boxing in 1975 but went on to have success as a country music singer.

(Excerpt from Lionel Rose's song, "I Thank You")

LIONEL ROSE (archival audio): Let me thank you for just being you.

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