Vale Lloyd McDermott – A pioneer on and off the field
Australian rugby lost one of it’s most special custodians yesterday, with the passing of Lloyd McDermott at the age of 79. A proud ‘Mununjali and Waka Waka’ man, he was the second Aboriginal player to represent the Wallabies, and went on to become the country’s first Indigenous lawyer.
Born Lloyd Clive McDermott (Mullenjaiwakka) in Eidsvold, central north Queensland, and the son of a farm labourer, his academic and sporting talents earned him a scholarship to the Anglican Church Grammar School in Brisbane. He excelled on the athletics track and on the wing for the schools 1st XV, his searing speed and footwork helping ‘Churchie’ to two Premierships in the late 1950’s and selection for the GPS representative side.
But he also shone in the classroom, and after leaving school he headed to the University of Queensland to study law. Whilst there, he made his debut for his state against Fiji in 1961, and after just three rep games, he became Wallaby number 470 when he made his test debut against the All Blacks at the Exhibition Ground in Brisbane the following year.
At the time, he was believed to be the first Aboriginal player to pull on the Australian jersey. But history now tells us that that honour actually belongs to Cecil Ramalli, who, due to the racial attitudes of the day back in 1938, never formally identified himself as the son of an Indigenous woman.
McDermott too, had to swim against a pretty strong tide some 20-plus years later. He had experienced the ugly side of racism as he made his way up the ladder from schoolboy footy to club rugby. But the way in which he channelled that negativity into a strength and resilience drove him onto his achievements on and off the field, and provided a source of great inspiration for all other Indigenous Australians that followed in his footsteps.
His stance in walking away from the game as a player in 1963, refusing to play a test match against the Springboks in protest at South Africa’s apartheid regime, was bold and brave, and showed his pride in his Aboriginality to all of Australia.
“The Rugby community is deeply saddened by the news of Lloyd’s passing, however his impact on the sport will never be lost and his name will never fade. He was an extraordinary man,” said Rugby Australia Chief Executive Officer, Raelene Castle.
“Through his exploits on the field and in particular for what he did for First Nations people both during his playing career and beyond, he has enriched the lives of so many and provided inspiration and opportunity for thousands of Indigenous Australians.
“Aboriginal Pride was one of the defining characteristics of Lloyd, and he was never more proud than the day he watched the Wallabies run out with an Indigenous design on the Rugby jersey of our nation two years ago in Brisbane, and again on last year’s Spring Tour against England at Twickenham Stadium.
“It was those moments on the global stage that epitomised everything he stood for and strived for in all of his on-field and off-field endeavours, particularly since he established the Lloyd McDermott Rugby Trust and Rugby Development Team with Rugby Australia almost 30 years ago.
“Lloyd had four passions in life – his family and his people, jazz music, law, and Rugby. He was loved by all our in our game and Rugby Australia will ensure that he is given the recognition he deserves for his incredible contribution to Rugby and to Australian life.”
After a brief stint in rugby league in Brisbane, McDermott continued to progress away from the footy field, graduating in law and working in the Commonwealth Deputy Crown Solicitor’s Office. When he was then admitted as a Barrister in New South Wales in 1972, he became Australia’s first Indigenous lawyer, and also went on to earn degrees in both criminology and science at the University of Sydney and University of New South Wales.
In 2009, he launched the Mullenjaiwakka Trust for Indigenous Legal Students, established to assist Indigenous law students towards a career at the bar. He was also a part-time member of the Mental Health Tribunal of New South Wales, and a trustee of the New South Wales Bar Association Indigenous Lawyers’ Trust.
But when he turned his attentions to securing a pathway for young Indigenous players to excel in rugby union, creating the Lloyd McDermott Rugby Development Team back in 1991, it proved to be arguably his most lasting legacy.
‘Lloydies’ as it is commonly known, was set up with the intention of introducing the game of rugby union to young Indigenous men and women across the country, and providing them with the opportunity to combine their academic and sporting ambitions through scholarships, development camps and mentoring.
It has since evolved to encompass the Ella Sevens Tournaments in Coffs Harbour, Cairns and Brisbane, youth sevens Rugby programs, strong women’s and men’s national teams, a schoolgirls development camp in Alice Springs, men’s touring teams who travel the world and a local club – the Eora Warriors for disadvantaged under 8s and under 12s players, based out of the NCIE in Redfern.
“Lloyd will be sorely missed by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities,” said former Wallaby and President of the Lloyd McDermott Rugby Development Team, Gary Ella.
“His legacy is not just his work in promoting sport to young people, it is also about equality in opportunities for young people. The Lloyd McDermott Rugby Development Team’s objectives are based on Lloyd’s leadership of creating education and opportunities for young people and supporting them to make positive lifestyle decisions. Lloyd’s work has positively influenced thousands of young Indigenous people around Australia.
“A proud, but humble man he refused to accept Australia Day honours on several occasions until the rights of Aboriginal people were recognised. We will miss a close friend and we are inspired to continue our work.”
What a man, what a human being, what a legacy. Vale Lloyd McDermott.