Picture: 123RF/RADUTUTA
Picture: 123RF/RADUTUTA

Sydney — Trailblazing Lloyd McDermott, the first indigenous man to play rugby for Australia and who later became the country’s first Aboriginal lawyer, has died aged 79, sparking tributes y to “an extraordinary man”.

The son of a farm labourer, McDermott made his Wallabies debut as a winger in 1962 against the All Blacks in Brisbane and retained his place for the second Test in Sydney. But he then sensationally ended his association with the sport ahead of Australia’s 1963 tour to SA, famously declaring himself unavailable because he did not want to be labelled an “honorary white”.

This was the only way he could compete against the all-white Springboks team under the country’s apartheid regime at the time.

“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 CEO 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.”

After he left rugby union, McDermott switched codes to rugby league for a time before being admitted to the bar in the state of New South Wales and eventually becoming Australia’s first indigenous lawyer.

He also set up the Lloyd McDermott Rugby Trust and Rugby Development Team, with the goal of introducing the game to young indigenous men and women. It allows Aboriginal youth to combine their academic and sporting ambitions through scholarships, development camps and mentoring.

McDermott also maintained strong links to law with the Bar Association of Queensland launching the Mullenjaiwakka Trust for Indigenous Legal Students in his honour in 2009.

Former Wallaby Gary Ella, president of the Lloyd McDermott rugby development team, said his legacy was not only about promoting sport to young people, but equal opportunities.

“Lloyd’s work has positively influenced thousands of young indigenous people around Australia,” he said.

McDermott died on Saturday at his home in Sydney.