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A rich Indigenous history

The AFL’s annual Indigenous Round is a celebration of Australia’s Indigenous culture and the proud athletes who’ve played such an important role, not just on the ground but also off it.

The Brisbane Lions boast a rich Indigenous history born largely from foundation club Fitzroy, who were believed to be VFL pioneers in terms of racial tolerance.

In fact, Fitzroy’s Joe Johnson became the VFL's first ever Aboriginal player when he lined up for the Roys against Carlton – coincidentally the Lions’ Indigenous Round opponents this Saturday night – in Round 1 of 1904.

Johnson went on to play 55 games in three seasons with the Club, including the 1904 and 1905 premiership sides.

Another notable Indigenous player from Fitzroy’s history was Pastor Doug Nicholls, who represented the Club in 53 games from 1932-37.

Nicholls twice represented Victoria and received a number of other VFL honours, before devoting his time as a Minister of Christ following his retirement.

He later became the first Aboriginal to receive an MBE in 1957, was the first to receive a knighthood in 1972, and was appointed Governor of South Australia in 1976.

In more recent years, the Club has celebrated some fine Indigenous players – including Chris Johnson (Fitzroy/Lions), Darryl White (Bears/Lions), and Michael McLean (Bears/Lions) – who all form part of the Indigenous Team of the Century.

After starting his VFL career with Footscray, McLean headed to Brisbane where he played a total of 88 games with the Bears/Lions.

He is also a former Captain and Coach of the Indigenous All-Stars team, and spent a further two seasons as an Assistant Coach at the Lions in 1999 and 2000.

White and Johnson, meanwhile, sit among the Club’s all-time games leaders with 268 and 264 senior matches respectively.

The pair shares an enviable record as having won the most premierships (three) of any Indigenous player in the history of the game.

Both also received the highest individual honour at the Club last Wednesday night, when they were inducted into the Lions’ Hall of Fame.

2003 premiership player Ash McGrath continues the Lions’ proud Indigenous history to this day, and sits among former greats White and (Chris) Johnson as one of only three Indigenous players to have reached 200 games with the Club.

Below is a list of every Indigenous player who has played a senior VFL/AFL game with Fitzroy, the Bears, or the Brisbane Lions, throughout the Club’s combined 128-year history:

Matthew AH MAT (Bears)
Peter BIRD (Fitzroy)
Norm BYRON (Fitzroy)
Kevin CATON (Fitzroy/Bears)
Xavier CLARKE (Lions)
Anthony CORRIE (Lions)
Robert CUMMINGS (Fitzroy)
Trent CUMMINGS (Fitzroy)
Fabian FRANCIS (Bears)
Des HEADLAND (Lions)
Rhan HOOPER (Lions)
Shadrach JAMES (Fitzroy)
Russell JEFFREY (Bears)
Chris JOHNSON (Fitzroy/Lions)
Joe JOHNSON (Fitzroy)
Adam KERINAIUA (Bears)
Dale KICKETT (Fitzroy)
Edward LOVETT (Fitzroy)
Wally MATERA (Fitzroy)
Gilbert McADAM (Bears)
Ashley McGRATH (Lions)
Michael McLEAN (Bears/Lions)
Doug NICHOLLS (Fitzroy)
Albert PROUD (Lions)
Jason ROE (Lions)
Shannon RUSCA (Lions)
Sam SHELDON (Lions)
Kevin TAYLOR (Fitzroy)
Darryl WHITE (Bears/Lions)