As we celebrate NAIDOC (National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee) Week, we look back on one of the most prominent Indigenous figures and his involvement in harness racing.

Lionel Rose was an Australian boxer who competed from 1964- 1976, Rose, was the first Indigenous Australian to win a world title and was the first Indigenous person to be named Australian of the year.

Rose was elevated to “legend’ status by the Australian National Boxing Hall of Fame in 2010, shortly before his passing on the 8th of May, 2011. The Australian sporting icon grew up in Warragul and played a part in the 50th running of the Pacing Cup on the 21st of March, 1999.

The Don Pemberton-prepared Rare Air took out the cup with Scott Dyer in the sulky.

The reinsman has fond memories of the day.

“It was very special, I spent a lot of time in Darwin with the Aboriginal community, it was very big for me to meet him (Lionel Rose),” Dyer said.

“We had a bit of a chat, and he mentioned how dirty I was because it was raining. It was a big thrill to get the rug off him. He was very polite and quietly spoken.

“It was a bit surreal to know what he had done as a world champion, and for him to be there on the day.”

The emotion of trainer Dom Pemberton winning the Cup and meeting the former bantamweight champion capped off a very special day.

“It was an incredible day for us and to be presented by a world champion was huge,” Pemberton said. “Our little horse who was given no hope alongside all the champions won and to win and get the cup given to us by Lionel was extremely emotional.

“He was lovely and told us what a lovely race it was and all our family was around, he said ‘We should be very proud of the horse’ and having our family there because he said ’family is everything’.

“We had no idea (Rose) would be there until he gave us the rug and the cup. You don’t actually realise what it means until it is done and finished, but oh god.”

The rug means so much to the wider indigenous community and the Gunditjmara People who Rose was a part of.

“it’s a point of significant and it is very special,” he said.

The rug currently resides with Graeme McIntosh who recently draped the piece of history on his horse (Wattlebank Flyer) before these years running of the Warragul Cup.

“It is (apart of history),” McIntosh said.” The way he has been a part of the Indigenous community and for him to present my mate (Don Pemberton) with the rug is very special.

“Every time we go to the big races, I put it on him and it is a proud moment to say I have a rug presented by a prominent Indigenous Australian.

“It gives you a bit of a lump in the throat every time you think about it.”

Held across the country from July 7-11, NAIDOC Week celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


Image courtesy of the National Archives of Australia. NAA: A1200, L68823.