Beale, Ella lead tributes to Indigenous trailblazer Lloyd McDermott

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

UPDATE: Wallabies back Kurtley Beale says Lloyd McDermott's legacy will live on for generations to come.

McDermott, 79, passed away in his Sydney home this weekend, but his mark on rugby will not fade anytime soon.

Beale spent time with McDermott in recent years with the Wallabies utility a key driver in developing the Wallabies Indigenous jersey that was worn in Brisbane in 2017 and England in 2018.

“Lloyd was a great man. He did so much for First Nations people and paved the way, not just in Rugby but in all that he did," Beale said.

"I got to know Lloyd pretty well over the last few years and he was always so passionate about helping fellow Indigenous Australians.

"I was very sad to hear about his passing but his legacy doesn’t end here. His name will continue to live long in Australian Rugby and i’ll be doing all I can to help what he started.”

McDermott was the first Wallaby who identified as an Indigenous Australian and he left an incredible legacy in Australian rugby and in Australian society in general.

Born in central north Queensland, McDermott's athletic talent earned him a scholarship at prestigious Brisbane school, Anglican Church Grammar School (Churchie).

It was there that he began to really excel in rugby, playing in the 1955 and 1957 GPS premiership sides and twice picked in the representative GPS team.

McDermott studied law at the University of Queensland and made his Queensland debut in 1961 against Fiji at the Brisbane Exhibition Ground.

Just a year later, he made his Test debut against the All Blacks in Brisbane, a moment that spawned an incredible career.

He sensationally ruled himself out of a 1963 tour to South Africa, refusing to classify himself as an "honorary white" in order to play against the Springboks under the country's Apartheid regime.

Lloyd McDermott (left) with Kurtley Beale and Gary Ella at the confirmation of the Wallabies Indigenous jersey. Photo: Getty ImagesMcDermott made the move to rugby league after that, playing for the Wynnum-Manly Seagulls in the Brisbane competition but his involvement in rugby was far from over.

A decade after his Wallabies debut, McDermott was admitted as a barrister, becoming Australia's first Indigenous lawyer.

He was the driving force behind the establishment of the first Indigenous rugby development program in 1991, named the Lloyd McDermott Rugby Foundation Team.

The program aimed to introduce Indigenous boys and girls to the game of rugby and McDermott was also involved in awarding scholarships to talented Indigenous children to help combine their academic and sporting pursuits.

That team has now expanded to include an Indigenous Sevens tournaments called the Ella 7s, and a number of development programs around

Former Wallaby and Lloyd McDermott Indigenous team president Gary Ella paid tribute to McDermott in a statement on Sunday.

"Lloyd will be sorely missed by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities," he said.

“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."

Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle said McDermott's legacy would live on for years to come.

"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," she said.

“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,."

Australia's Men's Sevens team and the Queensland and Waratahs women's sides will wear black armbands in their matches on Sunday to honour McDermott and a moment's silence will be observed before Sunday's Super W Grand Final.