The Australian Rugby community is in mourning after the passing of Australia’s first Indigenous Wallaby and lawyer, Lloyd McDermott.
A trailblazing figure and proud Aboriginal ‘Mununjali and Waka Waka’ man, the universally respected McDermott passed away yesterday at his home in Sydney, aged 79.
Rugby Australia Chief Executive Officer, Raelene Castle said: “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.
“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,” said Castle.
Former Wallaby and President of the Lloyd McDermott Rugby Development Team, Gary Ella said: “Lloyd will be sorely missed by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
“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,” said Ella.
Lloyd Clive McDermott (Mullenjaiwakka) was born at Eidsvold, central north Queensland on November 24, 1939. The son of a farm labourer, McDermott’s academic and sporting prowess from a young age won him a scholarship to Brisbane’s Anglican Church Grammar School.
A 100-yard and 220-yards sprint champion on the athletics track at ‘Churchie’, McDermott’s flashing speed gave him an affinity with Rugby and he played three seasons in the school’s 1st XV. A winger who possessed electrifying pace and a blinding swerve, he starred in Churchie’s 1955 and 1957 premiership teams and was twice selected in the GPS representative 1st XV.
But his success at schoolboy level, and later into his representative career was no ordinary feat. McDermott saw the ugly side of racism as a schoolboy and again at club level however he used the experience to push himself in order to achieve success. It was a strength and resilience for which he became synonymous and would ultimately see him climb to the highest levels in both his sporting and professional endeavours, and provide inspiration for all other Indigenous Australians.
After school, McDermott entered the University of Queensland to study law and in 1961 made his debut for Queensland against Fiji at the Exhibition Ground. The following year, with just three representative games to his name, he would become Wallaby number 470 when he ran out for his Test debut on May 26, 1962 against the All Blacks at the same venue.
McDermott retained his place in the team for the second Test at the SCG in Sydney but then sensationally ended his association with Rugby ahead of the 1963 tour to South Africa.
In declaring himself unavailable for the tour, he made his pride in his Aboriginality clear to everyone in Australia by opting not to play as an ‘honorary white’, which was the only basis on which he could compete against the all-white South African Springboks team under the country’s apartheid regime.
McDermott switched codes to rugby league and played for the Wynnum-Manly club in the Brisbane competition but would later use his experiences in Rugby as the driving force behind the creation of the Lloyd McDermott Rugby Development Team, or the ‘Lloydies’ as it is now more commonly known.
A decade after his Wallabies debut, McDermott fulfilled his other career ambition. Having graduated in law, he worked in the Commonwealth Deputy Crown Solicitor’s Office and was then admitted as a Barrister in 1972 in New South Wales, becoming Australia’s first Indigenous lawyer. He also earned degrees in criminology and science at the University of Sydney and University of New South Wales.
Leaving the game with two Tests and 10 representative matches for his beloved home state of Queensland to his credit, McDermott’s influence on Rugby and Aboriginal life was only just beginning.
Through the ‘Lloydies’, which was established in 1991 with the goal of introducing Rugby Union to young Indigenous men and women across Australia, he set out to provide opportunities for Indigenous youth to combine their academic and sporting ambitions through scholarships, development camps and mentoring.
Since then it has evolved to include the popular 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.
He also maintained strong links to his life in law. In 2009, the Bar Association of Queensland launched the Mullenjaiwakka Trust for Indigenous Legal Students named in his honour. The Trust was 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.
This article originally appeared on Rugby.com.au