Our Sporting Greats | Murri and Ailan Athletes in the Spotlight

Our Sporting Greats

This showcase contains images and references to people who have passed away which may cause sadness or distress, particularly to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. State Library welcomes any further insights and information about the historic photographs, papers and ephemera on display.

Image: Illustrated front cover from The Queenslander (detail), April 18, 1929, Garnet Agnew, John Oxley Library, SLQ.

Our Sporting Greats

Murri and Ailan Athletes in the Spotlight

Some of Queensland’s unsung Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heroes from the sporting world are celebrated in an inspiring showcase of images, memorabilia and digital stories at State Library of Queensland (SLQ).

Admired for their talents and determination to succeed, these sporting greats are also considered champions for their enduring efforts as community advocates.

24 March - 9 September 2018
Open daily | Free entry
kuril dhagun, level 1
State Library of Queensland

Other activities
A night by the fire 2018, share in the stories of sporting greats and other special guests around the Talking Circle, held monthly from 24 March to 16 August.

Celebrate NAIDOC Week with Our Sporting Greats: Sports Day and try your hand at traditional games the whole family can enjoy. Visit Maiwar Green from 10.30am on Wednesday 11 July, free entry.

A Black Gloves Tour of Our Sporting Greats will be held on Saturday 1 September. Enjoy a free, curator-led tour of the showcase followed by an exclusive black gloves experience with State Library sporting memorabilia. Bookings are now open.

Produced by Think Tank Media


Rhonda Purcell

Uncle Charlie King

President of the Brisbane All Blacks Rugby League team and a driving force behind the Boathouse Dance social scene of the 1950s and 60s, as remembered by his daughter Aunty Sandra King.

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Image: Aunty Sandra King, daughter of Uncle Charlie (Chas) King, with his Brisbane All Blacks jersey from the 1950s, 2018. Photo by Joe Ruckli.

Willie Prince

Willie Prince

Cherbourg man, Queensland track and field champion, Paralympic torchbearer (2000) and Gold Coast Commonwealth Games baton carrier (2018).

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Image: Willie Prince in his 2018 Commonwealth Baton Bearer relay uniform holding a photograph of himself carrying the 2000 Paralympic torch, 2018. Photo by Joe Ruckli.

Rhonda Purcell

Aunty Lesley Williams

Member of the ‘Imparas’ Cherbourg Marching Girls team; one of the recently reunited and nationally-renowned marching troupes who travelled the country during an era of restricted movements for Aboriginal people.

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Image: Aunty Lesley Williams with her Imparas (Cherbourg Marching Girls) team photo, 2018. Photo by Joe Ruckli.

Rhonda Purcell

Rhonda Purcell

Quandamooka woman, international bodybuilding Gold Medallist and proud Deadly Choices ambassador.

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Image: Rhonda Purcell with her Miss Olympia Natural Olympia Gold Medal and wreath awarded in 2016, 2018. Photo by Joe Ruckli.

Danny Morseu

Danny Morseu

Uncle of Indigenous basketball; representing Indigenous basketball, past, present and future.

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Image: Danny Morseu with signed Molten basketball, 2018. Photo by SLQ.

Marching Girls at Cherbourg



Image: Eddie Gilbert and Donald Bradman at the Woolloongabba Cricket Ground, 1931, Unknown photographer, John Oxley Library, SLQ, Negative no. 33596.

In Toowoomba in 1988, Richard Lawrence ‘Darby’ McCarthy, a champion Murri jockey of the 1960s and 1970s, provided encouragement to a 15-year-old rising track athlete on scholarship at Fairholme College. Darby was born in a sandhills camp in Cunnamulla, and rode more than 1000 winners in his celebrated career. The young sprinter he inspired was Cathy Freeman, whose Sydney Olympic gold medal winning race in the 400 meter sprint in the year 2000 stopped the nation.

We, Murri and Ailan people, have brought continued excellence to the track, court, boxing ring and on the footy oval over a number of generations. Behind the prominent sporting heroes, there are many athletes who are not household names who have contributed greatly to the legacy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sporting achievements.

The five stories of Uncle Charlie King, Lesley Williams and the Cherbourg Marching Girls, Danny Morseu, Willie Prince and Rhonda Purcell in this showcase represent a small selection of the dynamic Indigenous sports stories across Queensland.

From the Indigenous jockeys in Australian racing history to the boxing troupes that toured country and city Australia from 1914 to the 1970s, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders departed their restricted homes on reserves and settlements to represent their communities on a national and international scale.

Eddie Gilbert was brought to Brisbane in 1930 from Barambah Aboriginal Settlement (later known as Cherbourg), to demonstrate his cricketing ability, and was included in the state team. At a 1931 Sheffield Shield game Don Bradman arrived at Brisbane Cricket Ground as an untouchable, but failed to score a run thanks to a fierce display of fast bowling by Eddie. For the Barambah community this was a remarkable demonstration of courage and defiance during a constricting era for Indigenous people living under iterations of the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897, otherwise known as ‘The Act’.

Our sisters and brothers of sport have often used their platform to bring political awareness to the country, including boxer Jack Hassen’s advocacy leading up to the 1967 Referendum and the symbolic carrying of the Aboriginal flag by Cathy Freeman on her Commonwealth Games victory lap in 1994.

Sport also represents bringing people together and provides opportunity to show our colours. Celebrations during games and before games including the cultural performance at the National Rugby League’s (NRL) Indigenous All Stars games showcase the continuation of culture. No matter the sport, embodying movement connects athletes to storied ground and sky.

The legacy of our sportspeople is also a legacy of giving back to community, healing and empowering future generations.

Ellen van Neerven, Mununjali writer

Top Image:
Marching Girls at Cherbourg, 1960, Unknown photographer, John Oxley Library, SLQ, Negative no. 78819.
Left to right: Iris Hegarty, Lexis Blair, Carmel Kina, Faye Chambers, Lillian Burke, Lynette Bird, Cassandra Duncan, Gloria Williams, Beryl Purcell, Joan West, Lesley Gyemore, Lois Williams.

SLQ Collections

Digital Stories

Interview with Aunty Lesley Williams

Interview with Willie Prince

Interview with Danny Morseu

Interview with Rhonda Purcell

Interview with Aunty Sandra King

Videos produced by Think Tank Media