Lionel. He was like a big brother of a different colour. I loved him as a bloke and as a boxer. There were obviously fights out of the ring Lionel Rose couldn’t win, but enclose him and an opponent in ropes, and few came away unscathed. He was only five years older than I was, but he had done so much, seen so much . . . and probably heard so much he shouldn’t have had to. Born at Jacksons Track in West Gippsland, just up the road from where I was reared, Rose was to become better known in the towns of Drouin and Warragul than the Princes Highway. (A footballer by the name of Gary Ablett Sr. followed suit). Rose grew up in hardship and learned to box from his dad Roy, a skilled “scrapper”. As an early teenager, Rose came under the influence of Frank Oakes, whose daughter Jenny he was to marry. Rose missed selection for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and began his professional career on September 9 of that year, aged just 16, at Warragul, where there is now a statue of him. He was to hang up his gloves following 53 fights, 42 of which he won, 12 by knockout. Just weeks ago, Festival Hall in Melbourne was bought by the Hillsong Church. The only prayers said there decades ago were by pugs getting a flogging. Festival Hall was Melbourne’s home of boxing, and the sport was second only to Aussie Rules in that city, with fight time on Monday nights telecast live as TV Ringside. Rose fought at Festival Hall 22 times, and was only beaten once. Talk about home-ground advantage. But there was anything but home-ground advantage on other occasions, when he travelled overseas for fights. I lay under sheets at a rural boarding school with a transistor radio, listening to Rose beat Masahiko “Fighting” Harada for the world bantamweight title on February 26, 1968, in Tokyo. He became the first Aboriginal Australian to be a world boxing champion. Rose became a national hero and an icon among Australian Aboriginal people. More than 100,000 people witnessed a public reception at Melbourne Town Hall. Rose later became the first Indigenous Australian to be named Australian of the year. He suffered a stroke in 2007, which limited his speech and movement. He died in May, 2011, aged 62. Rose was a leader in his sport; more importantly, he led a path for his people.