First Nations Wallabies: Lloyd McDermott

The Wallabies go back to back against the Springboks

To honour the Wallabies wearing the First Nations jersey against Argentina, Rugby.com.au has taken a look back at the incredible efforts by First Nations Wallabies - starting with the trailblazer Lloyd McDermott

Lloyd Clive McDermott was the first Australian Aboriginal barrister and the second Aboriginal person to represent his country in rugby union.

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A winger who possessed an electrifying pace, blinding swerve and a handy side step, McDermott saw the ugly side of racism as a schoolboy and again at club level, however he used the experience to push himself in order to achieve success.

It was both strength and resilience for which he became synonymous for and ultimately saw him climb to the highest levels in both his sporting and professional endeavours, and provide inspiration for all other Indigenous Australians.

Born at Eidsvold, in central north Queensland, McDermott and his sporting prowess saw him handed a church scholarship to attend the Anglican Church of England Grammar School in East Brisbane, commonly referred to as Churchies. He excelled at athletics, won at the underage level and figured in the Churchie teams that were victorious in successive GPS carnivals (1956-57) and in his final year, won the open 100 yards and 220 yards sprints.

His flashing speed, gave him an affinity with rugby and he played three seasons in the school’s 1st XV (1955-57). Churchie won the GPS premiership in 1955 and 1957, and McDermott was twice selected in the GPS 1st XV (1956-57).

After school, McDermott entered the University of Queensland to study law and in 1961 made his debut for Queensland against Fiji at the Exhibition Ground.

The following year McDermott, after just three representative games to his name, was selected to make his Test debut against New Zealand in Brisbane. McDermott was unavailable for the return Wallaby tour to New Zealand then ended his association with rugby even though there was a Wallaby tour of South Africa in the offing in 1963.

Lloyd McDermott (left) with Kurtley Beale and Gary Ella at the confirmation of the Wallabies Indigenous jersey. Photo: Getty Images
Lloyd McDermott (left) with Kurtley Beale and Gary Ella at the confirmation of the Wallabies Indigenous jersey. Photo: Getty Images

McDermott explained that he was part of a squad from Queensland and New South Wales who were under consideration to tour South Africa.

"I really was in a no-win situation because I would have had to be an honorary white for the period of the tour in South Africa, so I withdrew, resigned from rugby and then played rugby league in 1963," he said, as he made the call to link up with the Wynnum-Manly club in the Brisbane competition.

A decade after his Wallabies debut, McDermott fulfilled his other career ambition. Having graduated in law, he worked in the Commonwealth Deputy Crown Solicitor’s Office and was then admitted as a Barrister in 1972 in New South Wales, becoming Australia’s first Indigenous lawyer. He also earned degrees in criminology and science at the University of Sydney and University of New South Wales.

The Lloyd McDermott Rugby Development Team (the ‘Lloydies’) was established in 1991 as a way to introduce rugby union to Indigenous male and female youth across Australia. This has been integral towards building pathways and providing opportunities for Indigenous players, with the likes of Andy Muirhead, Dylan Pietsch, Gracie Kemp and Maurice Longbottom coming through the program.

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He also maintained strong links to his life in law. In 2009, the Bar Association of Queensland launched the Mullenjaiwakka Trust for Indigenous Legal Students named in his honour.

The Trust was established to assist Indigenous law students towards a career at the bar. He was also a part-time member of the Mental Health Tribunal of New South Wales, and a trustee of the New South Wales Bar Association Indigenous Lawyers' Trust.

Lloyd McDermott played two Tests for Australia in a one-year international career.

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