Lionel Rose Biography

Lionel Rose, the first Aboriginal or Indigenous Australian to win a world boxing title, was a professional boxer from Australia. Despite growing up in a single-roomed hut with his large family and facing hardships, Rose developed his boxing skills from his father and fought his first amateur fight at the age of 15. At 19, he became the world bantamweight champion by defeating Masahiko ‘Fighting’ Harada of Japan. Rose successfully defended his title three times before moving up to the lightweight division. Alongside his boxing career, he also pursued a moderately successful singing career. With a career record of 42 wins, including 12 knockouts, and 11 losses, Rose retired from professional boxing in 1976. He was honored as the ‘Australian of the Year’ for his remarkable achievements in the sport.

Quick Facts

  • Australian Celebrities Born In June
  • Also Known As: Lionel Edmund Rose
  • Died At Age: 62
  • Family: Spouse/Ex-: Jenny
  • Boxers
  • Australian Men
  • Height: 5’5″ (165 cm), 5’5″ Males
  • Died on: May 8, 2011
  • Place of death: Warragul, Australia
  • Diseases & Disabilities: Stroke
  • Cause of Death: Illness

Childhood & Early Life

Lionel Rose was born on 21 June 1948, in Victoria, Australia. His father, Roy, was a skilful fighter and his mother’s name was Regina. His was a big family and he had several siblings. The family used to reside in a single room tin cabin in Jackson Track.

At the age of eight, he was registered at the Labertouche State School. The school was three miles away from his home, leading to irregular attendance. When he turned 10, the Aboriginal Welfare Board helped the family shift into a double roomed house in Drouin, hoping that the children would attend school more regularly. Nevertheless, Rose was a rebellious child and disliked the stringent rules and the crowded bus. He left school at the age of 14.

He learnt boxing from his father at an early age. Soon, he was gifted a pair of gloves by his teacher, Ian Hawkins, who noticed his skills. He travelled to Melbourne for the first time in 1958. The trip was sponsored by Save the Children. Later in Melbourne, he met Graham Walsh and watched his first professional fight. During his teen years, he would hang around with his friends at Warragul, an energetic town not very far from Drouin. Eventually, he met Dave Proctor there who arranged his first amateur fight at Sale. He was just 15 years old at the time of his first fight. He fought against a well-built opponent and got badly injured, leading to a two year sabbatical. He received coaching from Frank Oakes. Two years later, he travelled to Sale again with his coach Frank. However, they couldn’t find anybody in his weight division to fight with.


Lionel Rose began his career by working at a saw mill near Drouin. The job lasted for nine months only as he did not like the role. Following his father’s death, he had to consider employment more seriously. However, he failed to keep any job for long because of his poor work ethics.

After failing to qualify for the 1964 Olympic selections, he embarked on his professional boxing career in Warragul. He was 16 years old and defeated Mario Magriss over eight rounds. After Warragul, most of his fights were held in Melbourne. There he stayed with his first professional trainer, Jack and his wife Shirley Rennie. He would train regularly in their backyard gym.

He won five fights in a row, before being re-matched with Singtong Por Tor in July 1965 whom he had earlier defeated in a 12-round decision. Por Tor defeated Rose in six rounds; it was Rose’s first defeat. Later that year, he fought his first international fight at Christchurch, New Zealand. He defeated Laurie Ny by a decision in 10 rounds.

In the following nine matches, he won eight and lost one. The single loss was to Ray Perez. In October 1966, he defeated Noel Kunde in a 15-round decision for the Australian bantamweight title at Melbourne. In 1967, he won eight belts including a thirteenth round knockout win against Rocky Gattellari to shield his Australian championship.

On 26 February 1968, he won the World Bantamweight title in Tokyo by defeating Masahiko ‘Fighting’ Harada in a 15-round decision. He became the first Indigenous Australian world champion boxer. This win made him a national hero and an icon. In July 1968, he defended his title in Tokyo with a 15 round decision win over Takao Sakurai. Subsequently, in December same year, he defeated Chucho Castillo in Inglewood, California. This enraged Castillo’s supporters leading to a riot that injured 14 fans and the fight referee Dick Young. In March 1969, he defended the title with a 15-round decision over Alan Rudkin. However, in August, he lost the world bantamweight title to Rubén Olivares in a fifth-round knockout at Inglewood.

Not to be disheartened easily, he continued boxing. However, when he started losing against unheard of fighters, he lost his popularity as well. Nevertheless in October 1970, he regained his fame again by defeating Itshimatsu Suzuki in a 10-round decision. After losing to WBC world junior lightweight champion Yoshiaki Numata, in a fifteen round decision in May 1971, he declared his retirement.

During this time off, he began his singing career and delivered hits like ‘Please Remember Me’ and ‘I Thank You’, which went on to become a top five hit in Australia. In 1975, he tried his hands in boxing again but lost four of his six fights, including one against Rafael Limón. This led him to retire from boxing permanently. Post retirement, he became a successful businessman.

Awards & Achievements

As a professional boxer, he recorded 42 wins and 11 losses, with 12 wins by knockout. In 1968, he became the first Indigenous Australian to win the world bantamweight boxing championship. In 2003, he was inducted into the Australian National Boxing Hall of Fame. Two years later, he was featured on a stamp (2005 edition) and was awarded the title of ‘King of the Ring’. In 2010, he was featured in Wendy Lewis’s book ‘Australia’s Greatest People’.

Personal Life & Legacy

Lionel Rose married his childhood darling Jennifer, daughter of his first coach Frank Oakes, at Mernda in December 1970. The couple’s son, Michael, was born in 1974. In 2007, he suffered a stroke that impaired his speech and movement. He died on 8 May 2011 after suffering from prolonged illness.


He was the God-father to model and actress Ruby Rose. In 1991, a television mini-series and period drama on his life called ‘Rose against the Odds’, was produced. It was later released as a feature film in 1995.

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