The Lonely Hero
Lionel Rose was unaware of the National Pride that he had evoked. When the plane landed back in Melbourne in 1968, thousands of well dressed white people cheered from the tarmac and balconies to welcome home the Aboriginal Star. A convertible was parked awaiting his arrival.
” Who are all these people waiting for ?” Rose asked the Air-hostess. He thought that maybe a The Beatles had arrived at Essendon Airport.
“You” she replied.
Lionel Rose was a National Boxing Hero after he won the Bantamweight Title by beating Masahiko ‘Fighting’ Harada, the Japanese Champion in Tokyo.
People had sent gum leaves over to Japan in support of the young boxer.
Lionel Rose was propped up at the back of the convertible so that the roaring crowd could get a good look at him and shake his hand as he passed. A ticker-tape parade down Swanston Street had been arranged, and the street was lined with 100,000 Melbournians, cheering the Aboriginal man. He went on to become The Australian of the Year in 1968.
Aboriginal people had been granted Australian Citizenship in 1967 which meant that Rose could obtain a passport, buy land and obtain legal rights. The constitutional Referendum, to allow Aboriginals rights, was voted in favour by 90.77 of the population, on the 27th of May. Rose won the Title on 26th of Feb, which meant that the 19-year-old had been an Australian Citizen for 9 months. Rose was a Celebrity for both Aboriginals and Caucasians, when the fight against racism was still on shaky turf.
Rose was the first Original Australian to be named Australian of the Year. When accepting the award, he said;
“One hundred and eighty-two years ago one of my mob would have been a dead cert for this.” (www.australianoftheyear.org.au)
RECONCILIATION WEEK May 27 – June 3