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Cecil Ramalli was Australia’s first Indigenous and Asian Wallaby who, in rather extraordinary circumstances, survived the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki. A diminutive, nippy scrum-half described as courageous, gallant and with a touch of genius, Ramalli was born in the Queensland-NSW border town of Mungindi to an Indian Muslim trader named Ali Ram - who subsequently changed his name to Ramalli - and Adeline Doyle, a local Aboriginal woman. Success in the family’s grazing business allowed Cecil, the youngest of six children, to be sent to Hurlstone Agricultural High School in Sydney for his education.
In 1935, aged just 15, Ramalli played in the school’s 1st XV where it was said he possessed 'the finest pass from the scrums seen in schools football for many a year’ and showed 'real brilliance’. He captained the 1st XV in each of his final two years and led them to victory in the 1936 and 1937 Combined High School championships. In 1938 he joined Western Suburbs where coach Harry Bosward described him as ‘another Syd Malcolm in the making’ and confidently opined that Ramalli ‘will go to England next year’.
A first grade debut at Wests was quickly followed by his selection for New South Wales where 'neither the Queensland forwards or backs knew what to do about him’. After Australia were humbled 9-24 in the opening Test against New Zealand the Referee reported that the inclusion of Ramalli in the Wallabies would “make a vast difference” to the team. The selectors agreed and Ramalli, just a week after his 19th birthday, replaced Randwick’s Gordon Stone in Brisbane. In an extraordinary coincidence Winston ‘Blow’ Ide, a Queenslander of Japanese descent, was also picked to make his Test debut that day and together the pair became the first Asian Wallabies. Ramalli made a 'splendid debut’ despite playing the second half of the match with a broken nose and two black eyes.
He then played brilliantly in the final Test before being knocked out by a stray All Black elbow and carried off the field by his forwards to a standing ovation. His efforts in those two matches led All Black manager Dr. George Adams to comment that Ramalli “undoubtedly had the makings of the perfect half back”. To cap off one of the most meteoric rises to international rugby in the history of the code, Ramalli won the best first grade player award at Wests, the A.L.Vincent trophy for the best all round club man, and was voted Australian Rugby Union player of the year by Referee, as judged by the nation’s top sports writers. The following year he won selection on the Second Wallabies tour to the U.K. but no sooner had the team reached Britain than war was declared.
Once home Ramalli enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force with the Signallers 8th Division. As a Lance Corporal Ramalli was mobilised to Malaya where he continued to play rugby and captained the AIF in a ‘Test’ against the British Army. When Malaya and Singapore fell to the Japanese Ramalli became a POW, firstly in the Changi camp and later during the construction of the Thai-Burma railway. Despite the harshest of conditions and the litany of tropical diseases Ramalli somehow survived and was shipped to Nagasaki to work in the city’s coal mines. A stroke of luck saw him miss passage on the ship Rokyo Maru which was torpedoed by the USS Sealion and killed 549 Australians including his 1938 teammate ‘Blow’ Ide.
Good fortune looked down on Ramalli on August 9, 1945 when his 12-hour mine shift below Nagasaki Harbour was doubled. When he returned to the surface ‘there was no city left’. Light during his playing days at 66kgs, Ramalli came back to Australia horribly malnutritioned at a mere 38kgs. The combination of his physical condition and the ongoing effects of cerebral malaria forced him to officially retire from rugby. Later he was involved in the formation of the West Pymble Rugby Club and in 1963 began a 14-year association with the Northern Suburbs club to manage junior rugby.
Ramalli won his first Test cap at halfback, paired with former fellow Wests’ flyhalf Paul Collins who had moved to Easts, in the 2nd Test, 6-20 loss to New Zealand at the Exhibition Ground. It was written that Ramalli’s debut was the 'most satisfactory aspect of the game for Australia. His display stamped him as a real international, and a worthy successor to Syd Malcolm in both skill and courage. He gave a fast, intelligent service, had the confidence to go on his own when the openings offered, and used the dive pass effectively when speed was essential.' He 'proved himself the greatest half-back find Australia has had for years.’