First Nations Wallabies: Cecil Ramalli

Sun, Sep 19, 2021, 6:00 AM
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
The Wallabies go back to back against the Springboks

To honour the Wallabies wearing the First Nations jersey against Argentina, along with Honorary Statistician Matthew Alvarez has taken a look back at the incredible efforts by First Nations Wallabies - reflecting on the profile done on Cecil Ramalii: the Wallaby who survived Nagasaki.

Ramalli was a trailblazer in every right, becoming Australia’s first Indigenous and Asian Wallaby.

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However, in rather extraordinary circumstances, his most remarkable claim to fame came during World War II as he survived the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki.

A diminutive, 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.

In 1935, aged just 15, Ramalli was picked 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 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 believed 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 24-9 in the opening Test against New Zealand, Ramalli was handed his Test debut.

Australian team photograph v New Zealand 2nd Test Brisbane
Australian team photograph v New Zealand 2nd Test Brisbane

In an extraordinary coincidence, Winston ‘Blow’ Ide, a Queenslander of Japanese descent, was also picked to make his Test debut that day, making the pair 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, which was followed by a brilliant performance before he was knocked out y a stray All Black elbow.

To cap off his meteoric rise, 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, as judged by the nation’s top sports writers.

The following year he was selected on the Second Wallabies tour to the U.K. but no sooner had the team reached Britain, 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.


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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.

He was, fortunately, overlooked to serve on the Rokyo Maru ship, which was torpedoed by the USS Sealion and killed 549 Australians including his 1938 teammate Ide.

However, the most remarkable feat of fortune came 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’.

“He was down in the mine under Nagasaki Harbour when his 12-hour shift was extended to a 24-hour shift,” his son Peter said via The Guardian.

“By the time he came up there was no city left.”

Light during his playing days at 66kgs, Ramalli came back to Australia horribly malnourished, weighing in at just 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.

He would pass away in 1998 aged 79.

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